Monday night on CSS, I watched an evening dedicated to the Dawgs. They replayed the Spring Game and had interview segments with coaches, players, ex-players, etc. In a one-hour span, I heard Bob Neal say the same thing three times. In paraphrase, here was his comment:
"When I look at how good a team might be, I look at three things. Number one - schedule. Number two - quarterback. Number three - coach."
Now I don't necessarily want to dump on Bob, but his three keys seem to ignore defense. Hasn't he gotten the memo that defense wins championships? Well, in his defense (pun intended), most pundits overlook the value of defense because offense is sexier and sells better. Still, a quick survey of the last several National Champions profoundly illustrates how great defense brings home the crystal football.
LSU has won two since Y2k and in both cases they were led by stout defenses.
Despite the irrefutable genious of Urban's spread offense, Florida won almost exclusively because of a great defense that sent 9 players to the NFL.
Oklahoma won their recent title with a defense that kept FSU out of the end zone.
Miami, well pick any of their fistfull of rings - defense, defense, defense, defense, and defense.
Alabama in 1992 - let's see, ummm, was it the QB play of Jay Barker or could it have been the defense that gave up only 109 points in 12 games and held teams to less than 200 net yards per game.
Ohio State's title came by way of great defense all year long and especially against Miami in the BCSCG.
USC had great offenses, but Pete Carroll is a defensive coach and it wasn't until he built great defenses that USC became a perennial title contender.
Having said all of this, my optimism for a great season this year for UGA is because we have great players on defense. We are returning 9 starters. We have 5 tackles who will rotate freely and no one will run in the middle. Rushing numbers between the tackles will be in the range of the Stroud/Seymour era. Our two best LBs - Ellerbe and Curran - compare to any pair in the SEC. Our 5 best DBs form what is probably the best nickel package we have ever had at UGA. We have depth all over the board. When Vance Cuff and Akeem Hebron are third team guys, you have tremendous depth.
To counter Bob Neal, I would say that when I look at a team's chances for success, I look at (1) a defense that can stop the run, (2) a defense that can pressure the QB, (3) an offense that will neither keep the defense on the field all day nor put the defense in bad field position time after time.
I love me some defense!