Normally I wait until July or August to come out with my Georgia football predictions for the coming season. But this year, ever since the end of the 2007 season, all the talk around here has been about Georgia winning the national championship this year. As the price of gas has escalated over the last few months, so has the intensity and fervor of the talk coming from Georgia fans who are fully expectant of a national championship this year. And this is only expected to continue through the remaining months between now and the start of football season. So I feel that now is just as good a time as any to bust out the old bulldog tooth and see what it has to say about Georgia’s upcoming season.
Now before we begin, let me say this: Georgia’s football team this year is certainly good enough to contend for a national championship. But until the powers-that-be in the world of college football decide to scrap this BCS monstrosity that we are currently forced to live with and replace it with a playoff or my contract bridge-style bidding system, being good enough to contend for a national championship doesn’t count for jack s–t.
It also takes luck.
Lots of luck.
Just ask LSU.
You see, last year LSU had what was arguably the best team in the country, and the preseason No. 1 ranking to back up that assessment. But if not for a whole lot of luck, they would never have had the opportunity to show it in the BCS championship game. Key injuries hurt them down the stretch, and they suffered two debilitating losses as a result. After the loss to Arkansas, which took place in LSU’s final regular season game, LSU went so far down in the polls that no one gave them a snowball’s chance in hell of playing for the national championship. But with a whole lot of luck–and a whole lot of love from ESPN–LSU leapfrogged about half of Division 1-A after winning the SEC championship and wound up playing Ohio State for the national championship, a game which they went on to win easily after having a whole month to get everyone healthy again.
So we know that Georgia is good enough to contend for the national championship.
That leads us to the first–and only–burning question: Will Georgia win the national championship in 2008?
1. That schedule.
Georgia plays a murderous schedule which includes five teams coached by coaches who have won at least one national championship at some point in their career, all of which are more recent than Georgia’s. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier won a national championship at Florida in 1996. Alabama’s Nick Saban won a national championship at LSU in 2003. Tennessee’s Philip Fulmer won a national championship in 1998. LSU’s Les Miles won a national championship in 2007. And Florida’s Urban Meyer won a national championship in 2006.
And that’s just in the SEC alone. If we look outside the conference the first thing we see is Arizona State, whose coach Dennis Erickson won national championships at Miami in 1989 and 1991. Looking at national championships outside of Division 1-A, we find Georgia Southern, whose coach Chris Hatcher won a national championship at Valdosta State in 2004. And Georgia Tech, whose coach Paul Johnson won national championships at Georgia Southern in 1999 and 2000.
Just for fun, let’s look at coaches who contended for national championships but did not win. Here we find Vanderbilt, whose coach Bobby Johnson took Furman to the Division 1-AA title game in 2001.
And to make things really interesting, let’s not forget to mention Auburn, whose coach Tommy Tuberville went 13-0 in 2004 yet for some reason never got so much as a whiff of a national championship that year. Which only serves to prove my earlier point that being good enough to contend for a national championship doesn’t count for jack s–t under the current system.
So that makes nine teams whose coaches have either won or played for national championships more recently than Georgia.
Definitely NOT the kind of schedule that you want to line up for yourself in your big year to make a run for the national championship. But I will say this: If Georgia can somehow manage to go undefeated against THAT schedule, then by all means they deserve to win the national championship this year.
2. Willie Martinez.
Willie Martinez has not gotten a lot of love on this blog, as those of you who have tracked with me for any extensive period of time are no doubt well aware. That is because his defenses have been maddeningly inconsistent over the course of his tenure as Georgia’s defensive coordinator.
Now don’t get me wrong, people. “Inconsistent” does not mean the same thing as “bad”. I am not saying that Willie Martinez’s defenses have been bad. If I were intending to say that, I would have said that they have been consistent–consistently bad.
No, Willie Martinez’s defenses have put in several strong showings over the years. Such as Florida in 2005 and 2006, when the defense at least kept Georgia in the game while Tereshinski and then Stafford struggled to generate some semblance of offense. And considering that Florida went on to win the national championship in 2006, their showing that year looks even more impressive. Or Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech in 2006, and Auburn and Kentucky in 2007. And I dare not forget to mention his defense’s complete and utter manhandling of Colt Brennan and Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.
Nevertheless, Willie Martinez’s defenses have been known for catastrophic collapses against big-name opponents–and some not-so-big-name opponents as well. Such as Auburn in 2005, when somebody blew a coverage and Devin Aromashodu got loose on 4th-and-forever to set up the winning field goal for Auburn. Such as West Virginia in the 2005 Sugar Bowl, when West Virginia hung 28 points on Georgia’s defense before the bands had even come down to the field for the pregame show, and then went on to win 38-35. Such as Vanderbilt in 2006–how on earth did they ever manage to get down the field and get that field goal set up? Such as South Carolina in 2007, when Georgia needed a quick defensive stop at the end of the game and instead got punked by Cory Boyd for 38 yards and 3 first downs and left Matthew Stafford with less than 30 seconds and almost the full breadth of the Milky Way galaxy to go for the winning score.
And the most notable of all is Tennessee in 2006 and 2007, when the Vols completely and totally punked Willie Martinez’s defense for 72 points over a span of less than 3 quarters. It all started right before the end of the first half in 2006. With Georgia leading 24-7, Tennessee outscored Georgia 44-9 over the remainder of the game en route to a 51-33 win. In 2007 Tennessee picked up right where they left off, ringing up 28 easy points before calling off the dogs about midway through the first quarter and cruising to a 35-14 win.
Georgia’s defense is going to be good this year, I have no doubt about that. But I want to see consistent goodness on defense in a national championship contender. And until I see evidence that the excellence which I have seen at times from Willie Martinez’s defense has become more consistent, I cannot in good conscience pick Georgia to win a national championship.
3. Previous SEC collapses.
It has been an all-too-familiar pattern over the last decade and you can count on it happening at least once every three or four years: Some SEC team starts out ranked ridonkulously high in the preseason Top 10, and then collapses dreadfully over the course of the season. It happened to Alabama in 2000, when they started off ranked #3 in the preseason poll and then went on to win only 3 games that year. It happened to Auburn in 2003, when they started off ranked #6 and then finished a very pedestrian 7-5. Could this be the year Georgia suffers the same fate?
4. 2008–Year of the Choke.
2008 is quickly coming to be known as the Year of the Choke. The New England Patriots choked in the Super Bowl with the goal of the first ever perfect season in the modern era of NFL football (I consider that to mean 16 games in the regular season) within easy reach. North Carolina and UCLA, the odds-on favorites to play for the national championship in college basketball, choked in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Memphis, with the national championship game all but won, choked in the final minute and a half of that game. And Tiger Woods, who said he felt confident of winning the Grand Slam this year, choked in the Masters.
I also forgot to mention that the Boston Celtics, the odds-on favorite to win the NBA championship this year, may be in the process of choking; already they have lost two games in their first-round series with the Atlanta Crocks.
All of that–and it’s only April!!!
Does it not seam reasonable, then, to expect Georgia to choke at some point along their path to a national championship in 2008?
So with that, let me turn my attention to the individual games on Georgia’s schedule. Out with the bulldog tooth and on with the predictions!!!
Georgia Southern: Brian VanGorder tanked and then bolted following the 2006 season. Chris Hatcher has come in and managed to mend a lot of the wounds. But this game still figures to be a strong launching point for Georgia’s bid for a national championship.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Georgia Southern 12.
Central Michigan: Thank you kind sir, may I have another?
Prediction: Georgia 35, Central Michigan 14.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier had better figure out some kind of way to get Stephen Garcia back in school and back on the team–like now. Otherwise it is going to be VERY hard times over at the Dead Cockroach this year.
Prediction: Georgia 14, South Carolina 3.
Arizona State: Arizona State figures to be the sternest test that Georgia will face in September. And what a test it will be. Still, Arizona State is having issues trying to find some protection for quarterback Rudy Carpenter. Also, a little birdie told me that Rudy Carpenter wasn’t all that hot in the spring game this year.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Arizona State 31.
Alabama: Nick Saban has landed a top-notch recruiting class at Alabama. But Alabama is still a couple of years away–even Nick Saban is preaching patience to his fan base.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Alabama 24.
Tennessee: Get this: Dave Clawson, Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator, came from the University of Richmond, where he was the head coach. Usually this works the other way: if you are an assistant coach at a major football program who wants to be a head coach at a major football program the typical career path is to become a head coach at a lesser program and then eventually parlay that into a better position.
Now think what this says about the University of Richmond’s football program: Their head coach was willing to GIVE UP being a head coach in order to become an assistant coach at Tennessee! And he sees this as a step forward in his career!
I’m definitely hating life for you right now if you’re a U of R fan.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Tennessee 21.
Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt has been gutted by the loss of NFL-bound stars Earl Bennett, Chris Williams, and Jonathan Goff. Not to mention the fact that they must replace just about their entire offensive line.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Vanderbilt 3.
LSU: Playing LSU in Baton Rouge is no mean feat. And LSU is expected by many to be just as strong this year as they were last year–except that Les Miles has got to find a way to keep Perrilloux out of trouble. Nevertheless, Georgia has beaten two defending national champions so far this decade by a combined score of 87-46.
Prediction: Georgia 31, LSU 24.
Florida: The Florida-Georgia soap opera has now begun. Does Florida plan to bum rush the field in Jacksonville after their first touchdown? Does Georgia plan to pull a repeat of their 2007 bum rush? If so, does Urban Meyer plan to send a couple of his scrubs out there to start a fight and get a whole slew of Georgia players suspended, as Steve Spurrier not so subtly suggested last year?
Unfortunately, Georgia’s path to a national championship runs right smack through Jacksonville, where their hopes depend in VERY large measure upon beating Florida for a second consecutive year–something which has not happened in almost 20 years. And it will not happen this year.
Georgia beat Florida in 2007 because they were able to take advantage of a banged-up Tim Tebow and keep him off-balance for the duration of the game. But Chris Rainey is a stud at running back, and he will take inordinate amounts of pressure off Tebow this year and allow his true giftedness to shine through for all the world to see. Plus, after a tough game in Baton Rouge the week before, does anyone out there seriously think that Georgia is going to have anything left in the tank for Florida?
Prediction: Florida 48, Georgia 28.
Kentucky: Life after Woodson has now begun for Kentucky.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Kentucky 14.
Auburn: New offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will give a lot of Auburn opponents a lot to think about. He came to Auburn just in time for the Peach Bowl, and managed to get just enough of his new offense installed to where Auburn was able to come back in the second half (once their players had gotten comfortable with it) and beat a very good Clemson team. Just wait until this fall, when Tony Franklin has the full package installed!!!
Tony Franklin’s offense at Troy State was able to ring up 34 points on Georgia’s defense in a 44-34 loss last fall. And his offense at Auburn should easily notch at least 30 points against Georgia. Things have not gone well at all for Georgia when Auburn has managed to score 30 points or more during regulation. This has happened 6 times since 1990, and Georgia has lost all 6 of those games. (The 56-49 win in 1996 does not count: Auburn only had 28 points at the close of regulation.)
Prediction: Tony Franklin flips the script–Auburn 44, Georgia 34.
Georgia Tech: No doubt Paul Johnson will build Georgia Tech into a very competitive team. But Georgia still has one year–at least–of being able to count on success in this game.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 17.