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Post Five worn-out preseason memes

Monday July 25, 2005

1) Tennessee 1998

Some Georgia fans bring up the transition from Peyton Manning to Tee Martin almost as proof that Georgia won’t miss a beat in the post-Greene era. OK, the Vol run to the title in 1998 and many other instances before and since showed that life can go on or even get better after a superstar leaves. Can we leave it there? If I never hear another comparison to the 1998 Vols, my blood pressure will be much better off. Shockley and Martin have skin color in common, and that’s about it.

If you want something from Tennessee 1998 to think about, look to the other side of the ball. Those Vols came into Athens and held a sky-high Georgia offense to three points. That’s championship football. Does Georgia have anything resembling the defense that Al Wilson led into Athens and into the postseason that year?

2) Relishing the underdog role

There is a line of thinking that Georgia’s likely preseason ranking in the low-teens is somehow an advantage. There is somehow less pressure on Georgia and they can make some noise in the underdog role.

Don’t buy it.

To begin with, underdogs are usually underdogs for a reason – you’re not as good as the favorite. But overlooking that obvious point, let’s look at the realities of this season. The Tennessee and Florida games are the only instances where Georgia might be an underdog. OK…possibly Auburn as well. Tennessee will be hungry to end a two-game home losing streak to Georgia. Florida will be very focused on showing that the new coach can dominate Georgia as well as the past couple of coaches have. We are past the 15th anniversary of Georgia’s last consecutive wins over the Gators. Entering those huge games as underdogs is somehow supposed to be a good thing?!?! The Vols are going to think less of Georgia and the Hobnail Boot and Sean Jones because the Dawgs’ ranking is slightly lower?

I guess some people are just gunshy. Georgia is not the kind of program that “sneaks up” on an opponent from the underdog role – there are too many rivalries on the schedule for that to happen. Teams like Northwestern or TCU come out of nowhere and surprise people. It’s not a good thing to make a run at a title or even the BCS coming from so far behind. A top program like Georgia, even in a “down” or “rebuilding” year should strive to be the hunted. All of this is silly anyway – no team with three straight 10+ win seasons is going under anyone’s radar.

3) Georgia will just run over people this year.

I don’t doubt the talent in the backfield or on the line, but in this case it’s all Missouri: Show Me. Show me the attitude and will to run the ball that prevailed at the end of the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Show me the ability to stay healthy and turnover-free in the backfield. Show me the next fullback ready to get nasty and lead the way. Show me a line that is not only not a liability anymore but is a strength. Show me a passing game that prevents a defense from focusing on stopping the run.

What’s led to the optimism about the running game is the flashes that were shown by Lumpkin, Ware, and Brown over the past two seasons. Who couldn’t be excited about the way Thomas Brown closed the Outback Bowl? But a dominant running game is built on consistency, and Georgia hasn’t come close in a while. The Dawgs were able to run the ball to hold off Wisconsin and their NFL-quality defensive line, but they couldn’t get out of reverse against Georgia Tech. As soon as one back heated up, an injury or the long offseason has cooled him down.

The pieces seem to be in place, but several big things must change if the running game will be a strategic weapon for the Dawgs. It can’t just be measured by yardage. The effective running team must be confident enough to use the ground game at key situations and remain with it even if early success is slow to come.

4) Boise St. has no idea what a summer night in Athens is like

This ballgame is not being played in the Iraqi desert or even Waycross, and Boise State players don’t have to dodge polar bears during summer workouts. An early September evening in Athens could very likely be warm and sticky and even stifling. Both teams will have to deal with the conditions, and both will be practicing in plenty of heat this summer. Besides – if we’re counting on oppressive heat to turn the game…there are bigger concerns.

5) Increasing academic standards

All handwringing to the contrary, there has not been a single instance where a football player was denied admission who legitimately met NCAA minimum standards and who has kept his nose clean. There certainly have been some bizarre and unfortunately very public cases over the past couple of years. Still, every report about the several signees who will not enroll at UGA this fall seems to mention athletics and football in particular faced with a “climate of increasing academic standards”. That’s nice, and entrance standards at UGA certainly are increasing for the average applicant, but the entrance standard for a scholarship athlete remains the same: meet the NCAA minimums, do so honestly and legitimately, and stay out of serious trouble in high school.

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