If Austin is the capital of the college sports world these days, Athens is the capital of the college sports blogosphere, with no fewer than six outstanding blogs devoted to the Georgia Bulldogs. I'd be lying if I told you that I'm deeply interested in Georgia athletics, but when you've got so many first rate writers that cover not only Georgia athletics, but college sports in general, with such poignant, thoughtful commentary, it's impossible to resist. That's why we've brought in the writers from I'm A Realist, Georgia Sports, and the DawgSports site formerly known as T Kyle King, to kick off our spring football coverage. The impetus behind bringing in all three was my own curiosity as to how much consensus, if any, existed among these talented bloggers. There's more than I guessed there would be, actually. Points of agreement have been underlined for your convenience.
We've got a hell of an interesting, and closely-scrutinized, quarterback battle brewing here in Austin, but we're not the only ones. Who do you like to emerge as the main man behind center for the Dawgs next fall?
Realist: The coaching staff is being very reticent about the progression of the quarterbacks. Right now, I would guess that Joe Tereshinski III is the number one guy. One of the other three would have to take it away from him, and I don't see that happening with Blake Barnes and Joe Cox. I expect Tereshinski to start the opener with newcomer Matthew Stafford getting a lot of snaps as well. The real question is "Who will start the SEC opener at South Carolina?" My guess is that Richt won't throw Stafford to the SEC wolves unless he is really ready...at which point I would be really giddy.
DawgSports: The smart money would have to be on Matt Stafford, but I'm not ruling out Blake Barnes and I'm starting to believe Joe T. will hold the job longer than most folks think he will. Barnes carried a fair degree of hype coming out of high school and I'm not yet sure whether Stafford is generating more buzz because he's actually better or because he has novelty going for him. The picture will come into slightly sharper focus after the spring game on April 8, but, during the opener against Division I-AA Western Kentucky, Mark Richt might just put the "quarter" back in "quarterback," giving Joe T. the snaps in the first, putting in Stafford in the second, starting Barnes in the second half, and giving Joe Cox the chance to do mop-up duty in the final period. (Speaking of Cox, let's not forget that he spent his high school days throwing to Mohamed Massaquoi, so he may sneak into the starter's role out of sheer muscle memory.) In any case, I'm just hoping we get enough production out of the running backs to take some of the pressure out of whichever signal caller ends up earning the job.
Georgia Sports: Joe Tereshinski III will probably start the first game because he knows the system, but it's going to be almost impossible for him to hold off Matt Stafford all season. Physically he reminds me of a young Brett Favre. Broad shoulders, rocket arm, release points from every imaginable angle, ability to scramble a bit and a stone cold gunslinger. Besides, Tereshinski is too much a pain to spell and the drink named in his honor is a total jinx so I'm hoping Stafford takes the job. Videos of Stafford here. I still can't believe Mack Brown let Stafford sneak out of Texas.
What other spring positional battle is most critical to the Dawgs this year?
Realist: Three-fourths of the secondary is missing, but I think they have the studs to fill those holes. I'm most concerned about replacing offensive linemen Dennis Roland, Max Jean-Gilles, and Russ Tanner. It's not really a positional battle, I don't guess, but those are the shoes that most need to be filled.
DawgSports: The receiving corps. With Leonard Pope in the N.F.L. and Sean Bailey out for the season, opposing defenses are going to concentrate on Mohamed Massaquoi the way Georgia Tech's opponents key on Calvin Johnson. We're hearing good things about Mikey Henderson coming out of spring practice, but several guys have to step up if all that Q.B. talent is going to be used for anything other than handing off to Thomas Brown 25 times a game. (Not that I'd mind if we handed off to Thomas Brown 25 times a game, of course. . . .) Heading into last season, I was looking for A.J. Bryant to become the next big thing, if only because I was hoping Rece Davis's David-Greene-to-Reggie-Brown touchdown call ("Greene . . . Brown . . . gold") would be replaced by the D.J.-Shockley-to-A.J.-Bryant call ("D.J. . . . A.J. . . . T.D."), but it didn't happen. Georgia's entire receiving corps has to start living up to its potential if the Bulldogs are going to contend for a fourth division title in a five-year span.
Georgia Sports: First, I love Richt. He walks on water, heels the sick, taught me to make love to woman and scold a child. But, he recruits Offensive Tackles like they are some sort of trendy fad. Like the Pet Rock, lava lamps or eating veggies. OTs? Who needs 'em. This year we return a 5th year senior at OT who has played brilliantly at times and played like a short bus rider at other times. We return another senior who has never started a game and has never really played well as a backup. There is only 1 scholarship OT on campus to back them up. We have two elite freshmen that will come in if they qualify. Who knows. To describe me as concerned about OT would be a gross understatement. Otherwise, we look really solid across the board. Some depth issues at DL, but nothing terminal. QB is important, but with Richt on board the QB thing will be fine no matter who wins the job.
What is Mark Richt's greatest strength as a coach? His greatest weakness?
Realist: Strength? His calm demeanor. I think the team takes the personality of the coach, and Richt puts football in perspective. He's just a good guy that people flock to. Weakness? His play calling can be too conservative at times (in my opinion, anyway), but as long as he keeps winning conference titles and pumping out ten win seasons, I guess I can't complain too much.
DawgSports: Let's start with the bad news. When asked about Mark Richt's greatest weakness, my knee-jerk reaction is to say late-game time management. It's an exaggeration to say that poor clock management cost the `Dawgs the Auburn game and the Music City Bowl in Coach Richt's first year, but it's not much of an exaggeration. In 2002, it appeared that this problem had been solved in the offseason; Coach Richt's clock management at the end of the Alabama game that year was exceptional and the result was Georgia's first win in Tuscaloosa in the program's history. However, the same problem has reared its ugly head again, most recently in the Sugar Bowl against West Virginia. When highlighting Coach Richt's greatest strength, it's hard to narrow it down to just one. Given the coach he followed in Athens and the coach under whom he studied in Tallahassee, Coach Richt's insistence upon discipline has been a pleasant surprise and a refreshing change of pace. His calm sideline demeanor is not only dignified, it instills confidence in his players (without which I am certain the Red and Black would have lost some games---most notably, the 2001 Tennessee game in Knoxville, which marked a changing of the guard as assuredly as the 1983 Auburn game in Athens) and gives extra force to those rare instances in which he expresses his displeasure (as when he chewed out the offense on the sidelines at last year's Mississippi State game). On the field, I would have to say that Coach Richt's greatest strength is his ability to get his team to open up a can on what ought to be a daunting opponent once each season (51-7 over Georgia Tech in 2002, 41-14 over Tennessee in 2003, 45-16 over L.S.U. in 2004, 34-14 over L.S.U. in 2005) and his greatest weakness is a tendency to stumble against one opponent every year that has absolutely no business taking the field with the `Dawgs (Boston College in 2001, Florida in 2002 and in 2003, Tennessee in 2004, West Virginia in 2005). Vince Dooley didn't win every game he could have won, as evidenced by his record against his alma mater, but, with rare exceptions (like the 1979 season opener against Wake Forest), he won every game he was supposed to win. I'll be glad when Coach Richt gets to that point, but, in the meantime, I'll just have to content myself with winning 10 games a year and being in contention for the Eastern Division title every autumn. (It's a `Dawg's life.) If I had to sum up Coach Richt's greatest strength in a single word, there's no question that word would be "character."
Georgia Sports: His strengths are his ability to hire and recruit people who want to work hard and do what it takes to win. Realistically, everyone WANTS to win, but most folks have no idea of the amount of work that it takes to actually get it done. And when they find out how much work is required, most folks aren't interested. Richt builds teams, builds leaders and gets them all pointed in the right direction. That alone is worth its weight in gold. His weakness is his offensive playcalling. It's scattershot.
Come on, Mark! React already!
Fearless Prediction: ____ will be the biggest challenger to Georgia in the SEC East, and _____ will be the biggest flop.
Realist: There will be a three-way tie (again) for the SEC crown with Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Assuming Vanderbilt and Kentucky don't count, South Carolina is left as the biggest flop. They'll compete, probably go to another bowl, but for those hoping for a repeat of the `Cocks' wins against Tennessee and Florida will be disappointed.
DawgSports: If Vandy, fresh from the dizzying heights of nearly getting the win in Gainesville that would have made the `Dores bowl-eligible, crashes back to earth and goes back to winning two games a year, do they count as the biggest flop? There's no question that Florida is the favorite to win the division this fall and Urban Meyer showed me enough in his first year to convince me that he can hit big league pitching. Whether this whole spread option thing takes off in year two or (more likely) Coach Meyer shelves his gimmicky offense for a more reliable approach, I look for the Gators to be the major challengers for the East crown. I don't know that any team will qualify as a "flop"---Kentucky and Vanderbilt will be bad, as usual; Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee will be good, as usual---so, by default, I'd have to pick South Carolina. The reports of the Gamecocks' improvement were greatly exaggerated last year; the Evil Genius took over a 6-5 team and led it all the way to 7-5. South Carolina will win some games---and I take the Bulldogs' date with the Palmetto State Poultry in Columbia very seriously---but anyone who's expecting the Big Chickens to turn into consistent winners is bound to be disappointed.
Georgia Sports: The Gators are loaded in the East. They should win the division. I don't think anyone will flop like UT did last year, but I'm expecting another 7 win season for the Gamecocks. Is it a flop if Spurrier never gets them above 8 wins?
Georgia bloggers think it won't just be Spurrier's hair that flops.
Thanks to all three writers for their thoughts.