As I mentioned in my posts this week on players I think will break out and players I think need to step up, we put together a package for the Telegraph this weekend on five reasons Georgia will be better and five reasons they'll be worse.
Perhaps surprisingly, putting together the five reasons to think the Bulldogs can improve wasn't difficult. There's a lot to like about this team, starting with its attitude -- and that's a pretty big departure from last year.
Even on the field, the talent is pretty solid. It's just less experienced than you might want, particularly in the same division with big, bad Florida.
When I put together the five reasons for concern, the list was a little more difficult. Obviously the loss of Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and company is huge, so by grouping it together as one reason the team will be worse is probably understating the impact.
Then again, if you have to trade Stafford, Moreno, Asher Allen and Mohamed Massaquoi and in exchange you get this year's freshman class along with all of last year's injured players -- Trinton Sturdivant, Vince Vance, Jeff Owens, Marcus Washington, Rod Battle -- isn't that a trade you'd feel OK about?
Beyond that, it was tough for me to actually come up with five reasons to think Georgia could struggle this year. Yes, the defense was bad last season -- but doesn't the unit almost certainly have to be better this year?
No, there isn't a ton of experience in a lot of areas -- but the Dawgs do have veterans in all the key positions like O line, quarterback, interior D line, linebacker and safety.
Sure, the pass rush off the edge looks problematic -- but that interior line might be one of the best in the country.
So all of that forced me to ask one key question: If it's so easy to find reasons to be hopeful and so difficult to find causes for concern -- shouldn't we expect Georgia to be better than it was in 2008?
The answer depends on how you define "better."
Yes, I think this team has a good chance to be better in terms of sheer performance. When you watch the games on Saturdays, I think you'll see a team stronger in the fundamentals, more dynamic in what it can do overall, more reliable at key moments in games. Those would be welcome improvements.
But in terms of wins and losses, it's just hard to find more than nine or 10 wins on this schedule. Are any marginal improvements enough to close that 49-10 gap with Florida? Haven't teams like LSU and Georgia Tech improved, too? And remember how bad Georgia played the week after its two biggest road wins last year? That should probably have you worried about the South Carolina game this season.
The bottom line is, Georgia may well be better. You could even make the argument that the Dawgs should be better. But when you put all of it into the perspective of wins and losses, it should also illustrate just how hard it is to put together a 10-win season and serve as a good reminder that maybe last year wasn't so bad after all.
Anyway, below is the full list of my "Five Reasons" from today's Telegraph. You might also want to check out the story I wrote to accompany the list, which focuses on Georgia's biggest reason for hope in 2009 -- the offensive line.
Five Reasons Georgia Will Be Better in 2009
1.) The offensive line. Eight different offensive linemen started games for Georgia last year, and that doesn't include left tackle Trinton Sturdivant, who hurt his knee in fall practice and missed the year. The upside is that the Bulldogs now have a bevy of veteran lineman that could become one of the top units in the country – a huge benefit to an offense that will have a lot of new faces elsewhere.
2.) Joe Cox's leadership. Georgia will certainly miss the cannon arm of Matthew Stafford, but what the Bulldogs lose in talent, they may make up for in heart with new quarterback Joe Cox. Cox is a vocal leader, a true rah-rah guy, and a veteran who isn't afraid to call out a teammate who isn't getting the job done. He's been the backbone of a dramatically more focused offseason, but only time will tell if that pays dividends this fall.
3.) Lower expectations. Last year, Georgia began the season as the No. 1 team in the country and faltered miserably under the spotlight that comes along with such lofty expectations. This year, the Bulldogs are flying quietly under the radar, and that's a role Mark Richt and company say they're far more comfortable playing.
4.) Dominant defensive tackles. Jeff Owens hurt his knee in Week 1 last year, depriving Georgia of what could have been a dynamic tandem on the interior defensive line. This year, he's back to full health and will pair with Geno Atkins to give the Bulldogs a dominant defensive front up the middle that can cause plenty of havoc in the backfield while still shutting down the run.
5.) They have to be healthier. There's virtually no way Georgia could be bitten any harder by the injury bug this year than they were in 2008. More than 30 players missed action or were hindered in practice last year due to injuries, and the run of bumps and bruises caused Richt to scale back practice. This year, the injured Bulldogs are on the road to recovery and everyone's keeping their fingers crossed that last year's bad luck is balanced by an injury-free 2009.
Five Reasons Georgia Will Be Worse in 2009
1.) So long to the stars. The talent possessed by Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi, Dannell Ellerbe and Asher Allen were big reasons why Georgia was last year's preseason No. 1. All will be playing on Sundays this season, and it remains to be seen whether Joe Cox, Caleb King and company can fill the void left by so many stars.
2.) The pass rush lacks pressure. Georgia finished 10th in the SEC in sacks last season, and things didn't improve much over the offseason. All but two defensive ends missed all or parts of spring practice with injuries, and one of the healthy ones – Justin Houston – will be suspended for the first two weeks of the season. When the Bulldogs open against Oklahoma State, they'll do so without a single defensive end who recorded so much as half-a-sack in SEC play last year.
3.) The schedule looks tough. Phil Steele ranks Georgia's 2009 slate as the seventh hardest in the country with 11 games against BCS conference opponents. The opener against Oklahoma State may be the toughest of Mark Richt's tenure and dates with South Carolina and LSU and a trip to Arkansas in the first five weeks mean things won't get easier for a while.
4.) Skill position experience. There is talent at Georgia's offensive skill positions, but not many veterans. Cox threw just 15 passes last season, tailbacks Caleb King and Richard Samuel both struggled in minimal reserve duty in 2008 and beyond Michael Moore and A.J. Green, there isn't anyone on the roster with more than 10 career catches.
5.) Defensive struggles. The defense could be better this season. In fact, it might be tough to be worse. But as much as the Bulldogs' D struggled last year, no significant changes have occurred – on the coaching staff or in terms of personnel. So can Brandon Boykin and Bryan Evans replacing Allen and CJ Byrd make them better or will it be another year of shootouts for Georgia?