What gets you most excited for the upcoming football season?
I’m not sure I can narrow it down to any one thing. I love everything about football season. I love the anticipation, the tailgating, the campus, the stadium. I love the scoreboard montage, the Lone Bugler, and calling the ‘Dawgs. I love cheering during the game, listening to the postgame show on the drive home, and catching “GameDay Final” so I can watch the highlights from the game I just attended in person. The only thing I don’t love about football season is losing and, fortunately, Georgia has been doing less of that lately.
What gets me excited about this particular season, though, is the potential for picking up where the Bulldogs left off last year. Following a maddening downcycle, the Red and Black managed to recover, reel off three straight wins over ranked opponents to end the season, come within a fumble of upending the eventual national champion, beat two of Georgia’s four main rivals (and three out of five, if you count South Carolina), and win nine games.
There are days when I get panicky at the thought of facing solid Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech squads in addition to what ought to be improved Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky teams, but, when I think about what could happen if this team catches fire, I can’t wait for football season to arrive.
Athens is on my list of campuses I MUST visit for a fall football weekend. Map out the ideal Fri, Sat, Sun itinerary. (yes, bars = good)
Given your “bars = good” equation, I’m assuming you’re a younger man and a freer spirit than I, so I will try to break out of my staid married responsible mode and steer you towards a good time.
Take a walking tour of the campus . . . the old part of campus, at least. A University of Georgia professor, Nash Boney, actually prepared a short booklet to help visitors guide themselves on a walk of the scenic campus. You can pick one up at the campus bookstore and take the tour from Sanford Stadium north to the Arch. Be sure to check out the Chapel and Phi Kappa Hall.
Once you get to the Arch, you’re on the cusp of downtown Athens. Take a stroll along Broad Street and up College Avenue. Eat a meal at the Mayflower and stop by Barnett’s Newsstand. You’ll have your choice of bars, but, back in the day, there was something to be said for the City Bar. You’ll want to go by the Globe just to say you’ve been there, but, to an old-timer like me, the Globe is still just that place where the Athens Yacht Club used to be.
Take in a show at the 40 Watt. Other than the Drive-By Truckers, I don’t know who you’re liable to see there now, but, when I was still there, you had at least a 25 per cent chance of catching the Dave Matthews Band, Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’, or the Kinchafoonee Cowboys on any given weekend. (I’m pretty sure I misspelled “Kinchafoonee.”)
Once you’ve hit all the bars you care to hit, go by the Grill and order something ludicrously greasy from a waitress with way too many visible piercings. Then, please, have someone call you a cab.
Get to campus early on game day. Tailgate with folks who know what they’re doing, preferably folks who’ve been tailgating in the same spot for at least 20 years. Enjoy the scenery. Walk to the stadium. See the tree the drunk guy fell out of multiple times during Bloggerpalooza ’07. Be in your seat in time for the Lone Bugler. Enjoy the game. Ring the Chapel bell afterwards if Georgia wins.
Feel free to repeat your Friday night activities on Saturday night, or, if you prefer, grab something to eat at the Varsity first. Wake up Sunday morning with no way to hold your head that doesn’t hurt. As penance for your activities the previous evening, take in a service at the Beech Haven Baptist Church. At least while I was in town, the pastor there preached a mean sermon.
What are you most concerned about for the Dawgs this season?
Although the offensive line concerns me somewhat, I’m not terribly worried because the Red and Black have improved across the board offensively: Mike Bobo will do a better job as a full-time offensive coordinator than Mark Richt could as a play-calling head coach, Stacy Searels represents a distinct upgrade from Neil Callaway, and there is much more raw talent along the line than before. I am confident of Coach Searels’s ability to mold an effective line out of the material he has before him.
That leaves me with the front seven as my biggest concern. While I don’t doubt Georgia’s talent at linebacker and along the defensive line, I fret about the depth, experience, and leadership present at those positions.
I haven't bought into Matt Stafford's second coming status yet. Have you? If so, convince he's going to be able to lead Georgia into the National Title Hunt.
I am completely on board the Matthew Stafford bandwagon. After a rocky first few outings to his true freshman campaign, the Georgia quarterback began to mature after a season’s worth of on-the-job training.
In his final three games under center, Stafford faced three top-notch defenses and led the ‘Dawgs to victory over a trio of ranked opponents. Against Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech, Stafford completed 39 of his 70 pass attempts for 519 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
While he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, Stafford began playing up to his potential against some very stiff competition, which bodes well for the Bulldogs heading into his second season under the tutelage of the man who guided Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke to the Heisman Trophy and who turned David Greene into the winningest quarterback in Division I-A history.
Who's the one player on the Dawg that you think might be flying under the national radar that will become a major factor in Georgia's success?
I’ve been high on Asher Allen since he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown and blocked an extra point in his first G-Day game. Although Allen did not start last season, he appeared in all 13 games in 2006.
Along the way, Allen tallied 24 tackles, gained 420 yards on 19 kickoff returns, returned four punts for 54 yards, and was named the team’s defensive newcomer of the year. With Paul Oliver gone, Asher Allen will be called upon not only to make plays, but to become a leader of the Georgia defense. By New Year’s Day, his will be a household name even outside the Peach State.
In brief, your prediction for the Dawgs this season ... and the players we need to know?
Aside from the names you already know from their offseason arrests and trips to Talladega, the monikers you need to remember are these:
Sean Bailey will lead a resurgent Georgia receiving corps. Kelin Johnson and Reshad Jones will make their presence felt in the secondary, while Brandon Miller will be called upon to exercise leadership in the linebacking corps.
Knowshon Moreno will get his chance to make some noise in a crowded backfield, while Brannan Southerland will throw blocks, catch passes, and make the most of his limited carries by turning his touches into first downs and touchdowns.
Joe Cox, the hero of last year’s Colorado game, will get his snaps and will prove to be a solid backup under center. Brandon Coutu will turn Georgia’s placekicking from a 2006 weakness to a 2007 strength.
The Bulldogs will contend strongly for the Eastern Division title and they will cap off a season of double-digit victories with a January bowl berth.
What incoming freshman do you have the highest hopes for?
I want to say Caleb King, but I’m hoping the ‘Dawgs get enough production out of Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin, and Knowshon Moreno that King (no relation, by the way) is able to redshirt.
The incoming freshman who needs to meet or exceed expectations in the worst way is Trinton Sturdivant, the offensive lineman responsible for protecting Matthew Stafford’s blind side. The importance of his impact is obvious.
I've always had the utmost respect for head coach Mark Richt. From an outsider, he's a guy I've always felt does things the right way. Have you had a chance to meet him in person? Is he highly thought of in Georgia, or does he need to get to 10 wins to keep fans on his side?
I’ve never met Coach Richt in person. I believe he is well-regarded in Bulldog Nation and I believe he ought to be highly thought of among the Georgia faithful.
Mark Richt took a storied program that had wandered in the wilderness for 20 years and restored it to its former stature. Coach Richt is one of only six coaches in S.E.C. history to have won two conference championships in his first five years. He is one of only five coaches in S.E.C. history to have posted four straight seasons of 10 wins or better.
Mark Richt is one of only nine coaches in Division I history to have won 60 or more games in his first six years on the job and his 61-17 won-lost record is the best ever tallied by a Georgia coach in his first 78 games. Coach Richt is the 25th head football coach in University of Georgia history and he already has won more games in his career with the Red and Black than 22 of his 24 predecessors.
Above and beyond his stellar record of achievement on the field, Mark Richt is a man of character. He instituted mandatory character education classes for incoming freshman athletes, kicked his top running back off the team the week before his first game against in-state rival Georgia Tech, and enforces the strictest alcohol policy in the Southeastern Conference.
Coach Richt has been open about his Christian faith, putting his beliefs into action both personally and professionally. He and his wife, Katharyn, adopted two Ukrainian orphans through their church and they remained in Tallahassee an extra few days after Coach Richt’s hiring, in order for them to bid a proper farewell to their faith family there. When his prayer life led him to believe his refusal to relinquish the play-calling duties was disobedience to God, Coach Richt called Mike Bobo into his office and told the quarterbacks coach he would be calling the plays in the following Saturday’s game.
Last fall, I took my son to his first college football game. The boy was three years old at the time and he went with me to the season-opener against Western Kentucky. He got to watch the 2005 S.E.C. championship flag raised over Sanford Stadium, then I got to point out Mark Richt to him and know that I was directing my son’s attention to a worthwhile role model.
Mark Richt is a great coach and a good man. I think---and I certainly hope---that Bulldog Nation knows what we have in Coach Richt, which is why there was relatively little grumbling during last season’s downcycle. We all know we have the right man getting it done in the right way.
Team you fear the most in the SEC?
As a Georgia fan, I know I’m supposed to answer “Florida.” As everyone in the country knows by now, the Gators have beaten the Bulldogs in 15 of the last 17 seasons. However, just prior to Florida’s recent run of dominance, the Bulldogs beat the Gators in 15 of the previous 19 outings in what has always been a streaky series.
For me, hatred and fear are close cousins, which is why the team I regard with the greatest dread is Auburn. The Plainsmen are Georgia’s oldest rival. The Red and Black first met the Tigers in 1892, in Auburn’s first football game and Georgia’s second. Since 1898, it literally has taken a world war to keep these two teams from playing.
Georgia has played Auburn more times than Georgia has played Georgia Tech. Auburn has played Georgia more times than Auburn has played Alabama. On top of that, there has been a great deal of cross-pollination between the two programs.
Auburn's winningest coach and one of the namesakes of its stadium, Shug Jordan, was a former Georgia assistant. Georgia's winningest coach (for the next 15 or 16 years, at any rate), Vince Dooley, is an Auburn graduate and former Auburn assistant. Arguably Auburn's most accomplished coach and the namesake of its playing field, Pat Dye, was a two-time all-American lineman at Georgia.
Five of Auburn's six S.E.C. championships and Auburn's only national championship were won by head coaches who either played or coached at Georgia. Six of the eight S.E.C. championships captured by Georgia since 1960, as well as the Bulldogs' most recent national title, were won with an Auburn alumnus at the helm.
Unquestionably Georgia's most beloved assistant coach, Erk Russell, went to Auburn. Two of the best assistant coaches on Georgia's current staff, Rodney Garner and Stacy Searels, played at Auburn. Two of the best assistant coaches on Auburn's current staff, Hugh Nall and Will Muschamp, played at Georgia.
The heated nature of the rivalry renders the usual measuring sticks essentially useless. Home field advantage is meaningless: Auburn has a winning record against Georgia in the Classic City and Georgia has a winning record against Auburn in the Loveliest Village. As often as not in recent Georgia-Auburn games, the lower-ranked or unranked team has pulled off the upset.
The series is filled with such close ties and unique quirks, making it virtually impossible to know what to expect in any given contest between these ancient rivals. Accordingly, I worry about Auburn on the road and I worry about Auburn at home. I worry about Auburn when they’re better than Georgia and I worry about Auburn when they’re worse than Georgia. I worry about Auburn when everything is on the line and I worry about Auburn when nothing is on the line. I hate Auburn.
Most overrated team in the SEC ... Most underrated?
The most overrated would have to be L.S.U. I say that with all due respect to the team, the fan base, and the program. As long as Les Miles has a Baton Rouge mailing address, though, 13-0 talent will continue to find a way to go 11-2.
The most underrated is clearly Vanderbilt. The Commodores have been competitive under Bobby Johnson, pulling off upset road wins over Arkansas and Tennessee in 2005 and over Georgia in 2006. Vandy has played Florida within a touchdown three times in the last five years, including a near-upset of last year’s eventual national champion. The 2006 Commies also dropped a three-point decision to Alabama at Tuscaloosa and fell to Western Division champion Arkansas by two points.
While I doubt whether Vanderbilt will ever be able to put it all together long enough to become a conference contender, Coach Johnson’s Commodores are capable of surprising any team in the league and S.E.C. squads ignore the former perennial conference doormat at their peril.
October 27th – revenge *
Mark Richt -- character
Tim Tebow -- fullback
Urban Meyer -- whiner
Kregg Lumpkin -- workhorse
National Champs – 2008
* In the last 43 years, Georgia is 5-1 against defending national champions.
Who's your all time favorite Bulldog?
Asking a Georgia fan to name his all-time favorite Bulldog is like asking an N.B.A. fan to name the greatest player he ever saw. The N.B.A. fan will look at you for a moment to see if you’re serious, then he will say, “You mean besides Michael Jordan?”
It’s Herschel Walker. It’s Herschel and it’s not close to not being Herschel.
You're a 5-star recruit, you have the choice of any college in the country (besides UGA) where are you headed?
Are you kidding me? Southern California, of course! The Trojans have the Song Girls, a storied history, the Song Girls, a great climate, the Song Girls, a successful coach who seems like he’d be fun to play for, and the Song Girls.
Oh, also, they have the Song Girls. It’s a no-brainer; Peach State homerism and regional pride aside, you’d have to go with U.S.C. (By the way, they are the University of Southern California and their mascot rides a steed who bears the same name as Robert E. Lee’s horse, so, really, you can be a good Southerner and root for the Men of Troy, anyway!)
First blogs you read each morning?
I’ve already alluded to this elsewhere, but I think Arizona will be good. Provided that Willie Tuitama stays healthy, the Wildcats almost literally have to improve offensively after finishing 115th in the country last fall. They have four starters back on the offensive line and Sonny Dykes now calling the plays.
Despite their struggles, the 'Cats were bowl-eligible last season after closing the campaign with a 4-2 run. The defense, which returns nine starters, posted four second-half shutouts last year.
Mike Stoops's team nearly knocked off an Oregon State team that was starting to peak and, in their final four games, the Wildcats beat Washington State, Cal, and Oregon in consecutive outings. Two of those wins were on the road, two of those wins were over ranked opponents, and Arizona's combined victory margin over all three was 88-47. No one is paying much attention to the Wildcats, but I believe Arizona is poised to have a decent season. They won’t challenge for their first Rose Bowl berth, but they’ll be much improved and will make it to a respectable postseason destination.