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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Media Days Notes: Lower Expectations For Dawgs

Joe Cox wasn't sure what to expect when he arrived at the Wynfrey Hotel for SEC Media Days on Thursday, but there was one question he figured he would hear early and often.

"I figured a lot of questions would just be about how we're going to come back this year after losing so many guys, about everybody's expectations," Cox said. "Our expectations haven't changed. We know a lot of people are probably overlooking us, and that's probably the best thing for us. It's made us have a good offseason."

Georgia's expectations may not have changed, but the perception of the program by the great majority of the media members in attendance Thursday had.

A year ago, Mark Richt and his Bulldogs contingent came to Hoover as the consensus No. 1 team in the country, fresh off an 11-win season and with star quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno the backbone of what figured to be an offensive juggernaut.

This year, Moreno and Stafford are gone – both were selected in the first round of the NFL draft – and so are the hefty expectations that Georgia failed to realize last season. The way Richt sees it, that's a good thing.

"Everybody expected us to win 'em all because we had two guys that everybody considered stars, and then maybe subconsciously our guys thought, we can count on these guys," Richt said. "Now that they're gone, I think our team understands the only chance they hace is to play together, work together, earn it as a team. They've done a great job of buying into that."


Beyond Florida's Tim Tebow and Mississippi's Jevan Snead – both of whom made appearances at Thursday's second session of SEC Media Days – there isn't a lot of experience among the SEC's quarterbacks. But that didn't stop one Arkansas columnist from slotting Cox, who has started just one game in his four seasons in Athens, at the bottom of the class in a well-publicized column recently.

The slight might come as a major insult to some quarterbacks, but not Cox, who admitted he probably wouldn't have ranked himself much higher.

"I'm probably the one with the least amount of playing experience," Cox said. "If I had to choose between all those guys, I wouldn't put myself up very high. It's something I'm going to have to prove to everyone, and I'm looking forward to doing that."


Richt spent a good portion of his time in Hoover hyping his new starting quarterback, but he couldn't avoid a question about the three players behind Cox on the depth chart.

Freshmen Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray both arrived in Athens in January and managed to impress coaches with their quick adjustments to the college game. While nothing is set in stone yet, Richt said there's chance one of the two will earn considerable playing time this year.

"When it comes to the true freshmen, if I feel one is the true second-team quarterback, we will play him, get him as much experience as we can," Richt said.

Of course, for that to happen, either Murray or Mettenberger will need to pass sophomore Logan Gray on the depth chart first. Gray looked sharp this spring, and his athleticism makes him an interesting change-of-pace on offense for Georgia's coaching staff. With that in mind, Richt said he expects Gray to see the field regardless of where he ends up on the depth chart.

"We may still have a kind of package for him separate from our overall package just because he is athletic enough to do those kind of things that people do in the wildcat (offense)," Richt said.


After creating a bit of controversy earlier this offseason, Richt seems to have learned his lesson when it comes to discussing the future of the Florida-Georgia game.

This spring, the coach told reporters he felt Florida had an unfair advantage by playing the game in Jacksonville, but when posed the question again Thursday, Richt dodged any potential bulletin-board fodder.

"I want to focus on winning that game," he said. "That's all I want to focus on when it comes to that game. That will be my pat answer from now on."


Cox, Snead and Tebow appear to be among a select group of SEC quarterbacks with a firm grasp on the starting job this season, a trend that has grown during the past two years.

A year ago, only five quarterbacks in the conference started every game for their teams, and three are no longer with those programs. The fluid situations at so many programs may be a function of increasing impatience by SEC fans.

Cox thinks the same pressure to win early and often that cost established coaches like Tommy Tuberville and Phillip Fulmer their jobs last year has trickled down to the quarterback position, and potentially productive quarterbacks simply aren't being given the chance to develop.

"That comes with when people start recruiting different types of quarterbacks and two in the same year, and when something goes wrong or someone gets injured, things get shuffled all around," Cox said. "Then you get in a situation where people say they don't have a quarterback. Well, obviously they have one, you just need to find the one who can get it done."


Day 2 of Media Days found most of the coaches a bit more prepared for the interrogation by reporters wanting to know who left Tebow off their All-SEC ballot. For his part, Richt assured everyone it wasn't him.

"If I had a vote on a national level, I'd have voted for him, too," Richt said. "I think that guy might be the greatest player/leader, maybe the greatest one ever in college football. When you take his ability, his productivity, his leadership, his ability to get everybody to rally around him, I don't know if there's been many like that."

For what it's worth, Nick Saban and Houston Nutt also said they had Tebow on their ballot as well. Urban Meyer, the day's fourth presenter, was barred from voting for players on his own team.


Tebow was the topic du jour Thursday, as he has been most of the week. While the Florida quarterback finally addressed media as the final speaker of the day, virtually every other coach and player in attendance were forced to answer at least one Tebow-related inquiry.

By the time Georgia's Jeff Owens was posed a few questions about the former Heisman winner, the Tebow hype alone had become its own story. But when a reporter asked Owens if he was tired of hearing so much about Tebow, the Georgia defensive tackle said the hype would only make a game-day matchup that much sweeter.

"He's a great football player and will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever play college football," Owens said. "He's a great talent, great leadership ability. You don't get tired of hearing about him. You just want to get after him, that's all."


atlstew said...

I love it Jeff!

Dog44 said...

Yes, Mr. Owens... get after him indeed.

Hypothetical question for UGA fans: would you rather go 8-4 and land in a third-tier bowl but somehow miraculously beat FL and ruin their chances for undefeated glory... or, would you rather go 11-1 (loss to FL), play in a great bowl game, and watch them go undefeated and win another NC while being labeled one of the greatest college teams to ever play?

(not saying either scenario is likely, just a fun question to ask)