This time last year, the preseason #1 ranking and related media hype was unraveling upon the news of Trinton Sturdivant's injury. Almost immediately upon learning of the loss of Sturdivant for the season, Mark May celebrated and announced that UGA's 2008 quest for the National Title was done. He would be correct, a rarity, but for a lot more reasons than the injury to our starting left tackle. It was, arguably, more the lack of healthy and productive defensive ends throughout the season that derailed our chances to win the SEC East or more. The Dawgs were quickly bounced from the top two spots in the polls for not beating Georgia Southern by 60 points - and the loss of defensive team leader, Jeff Owens, for the season on the third play of the game. The season of so much promise quickly devolved into the anathema of modern UGA football. Sure we had 10 wins. But the 3 losses were all painful and embarrassing and continue to serve as a reminder of why our love affair with the red and black is equal parts joy, pain and madness.
Now we gear up for another season with a chance to experience euphoric highs, suicidal lows and everything in between. This pre-season our team has not been wreathed with the albatross of a stratospheric ranking and I like it this way!
This season is all upside. While I know we will win at least 10 games - because it's what we do - I honestly enjoy that we are underdogs as we prepare to open on the road in the debut of T. Boone's Shrine against the reportedly unstoppable offensive juggernaut that is Oklahoma State. I love that we are being underestimated. The burden of expectation is light as a result. The reports from the off-season and camp have indicated that this group has galvanized into a "team" with more focus and exponentially less distractions than we had one year ago. While we have the need for players to step up at QB, RB and CB, our trenches are in great shape right now and that reminds me of a wise Naval saying from John Paul Jones... "Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship." In my view, in the rating of a team, look to the trenches. If you have a solid core of big nasty lineman willing to bust ass for little recognition, then your skill players will all look better. In Athens, it is our strength this season with defensive pillars like Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins, Kade Weston, DeAngelo Tyson, Demarcus Dobbs, a healthy Rod Battle and an unsuspended Justin Houston and offensive road pavers like Clint Boling, Trinton Sturdivant, Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn, Bean Anderson, Chris Davis, Tanner Strickland and Vince Vance. There are even more capable back ups that I didn't name. If this was the eighties, Wendy's founder Dave Thomas would not ask "Where's the beef?" when evaluating the 2009 installment of UGA football. We have veterans upon of veterans in the trenches and I like it this way!
We start the season with a "real" game against a highly ranked opponent instead of brave-but-overmatched1-AA (can I still use that?) team or a middling 1-A program with an enigmatic mascot. For whatever reason, our teams have historically had much higher focus and intensity in seasons in which we open with a quality opponent (Clemson, Boise State, Oklahoma State.) A big win early on the national stage is exactly our team needs to set the tone for this season and I like it this way!
We have receivers and tight ends that our opponents have never heard of who will have great seasons by making teams pay for doubling AJ Green. I am talking about Tavares King, Michael Moore, Marlon Brown, Rantavious Wooten, Israel Troupe, Aron White, Orson Charles, Arthur Lynch and Bruce Figgins (when he returns.) When they don't double team AJ Green, he will make them pay and I like it this way!
As usual, we have a stud fullback to pancake unsuspecting defenders while paving the way for a stable of young capable tailbacks. In addition, Shaun Chapas has the best hands of any fullback we have had since Verron Haynes, and I like it this way!
We have about fiftyleven linebackers with significant game experience - Gamble, Dewberry, Dent, Dowtin and Washington (though he may play end exclusively). Then there is the heart of this team personified wearing #35 tackling everything on the field not carrying pom poms. When you have Rennie Curran, you have a chance of stopping any team... and I like it this way!
So, instead of dwelling on the departures of Stafford, Moreno, Massaquoi and Allen, I prefer to look at the huge upside of returning the tremendous core of veterans that may be the most experienced group on both lines of scrimmage since Dooley danced in red pants. And I like it this way!
After a long, long quiet off-season, bereft of barking on Saturdays, 32 ounce gin and tonics, beautiful coeds by the busload, and 93,000 of my closest friends... I am ready for Continental Airlines and Avis to get my ass out to Stillwater in exactly ten days so I can watch my Dawgs Get After Their Asses in exactly 11 days. And I like it this way!!!
Hunker Down Dawg, reporting for duty Sir!