While catching up with some friends in Athens a few weeks ago, we agreed that you could pretty much say the same thing about Joe Cox as you could about new basketball coach Mark Fox: everything sounds great so far, but now let’s win some games.
Fox, for his part, has made all of the right moves. His staff makes sense. He’s reached out to the fans whether meeting with local boosters or evangelizing on the football-focused Road Tour. He’s even signed a player at a position of need and hit the recruiting trail hard in the talent-rich state of Georgia. Short of actually putting a competitive team on the court, he seems to be off to a great start.
It’s much the same for Cox. Coaches rave about his attitude and ability. His teammates speak well of his leadership. Strong marks in those intangible areas aren’t a form of homely-person-has-nice-personality; Cox has talent. Greg Biggins of Rivals.com gushed at the 2004 Elite 11 camp,
In fact, with the exception of Mark Sanchez, no one was more impressive than Cox. He won every accuracy contest during the week, showed better than average arm strength, is incredibly smart and is a natural born leader. In fact, the college counselors voted Cox as the Best Leader of the group….He drew raves from all of the college counselors because of his mature game and his keen understanding of the position.
There’s that leadership thing again. Anyway, all that’s left to do is actually take the field, as Jim Donnan was fond of saying, when the band’s playing.
The level (or lack) of experience and quality among SEC quarterbacks is a big topic this week getting play everywhere from Get the Picture to Dr. Saturday to EDSBS to TSK. Without getting too deep into that discussion, it seems that it’s a pretty normal year with a few standouts, some teams dealing with known rubbish, and a healthy group of teams hoping that their young or inexperienced (or both) quarterback is going to develop into someone who can do more than just “manage the game” (a euphemism that usually means you’d better have a strong running game and defense).
Georgia is firmly in that final group. Cox isn’t a proven quarterback yet. Yes, there’s the Colorado comeback. (Everyone remembers the Colorado game, but memories become hazy when his subsequent start at Ole Miss comes up.) Though we’ve seen Cox on the field, he’s still as unproven as any incoming Bulldog starter since David Greene in 2001.
Depending on your level of pessimism, you’ll see Georgia’s quarterback situation in one of Hinton’s scenarios:
If your team has a quality returning starter, or a long history of producing quality starters and strong candidates to continue the line (a la Aaron Corp and Taylor Potts at Southern Cal and Texas Tech, respectively), that’s one thing; you have nothing to worry about except injuries.
The vast majority of offenses are either breaking in new starters or welcoming back a so-so option they’re just hoping will emerge as a respectable within-the-offense type, in which case, don’t get your hopes up.
During the offseason I’ve seen Cox compared to every recent Georgia quarterback but Quincy Carter. The comparisons, I’ve found, have little to do with Cox and more to do with how people view the state of the program. Cox is neither Shockley nor is he Tereshinski (or Zeier or Bobo or Stafford or Preston freaking Jones), but the split is definitely there between those who see him as the next in a long line of quality starters and those who see him as a placeholder until one of the younger quarterbacks is ready.
No one’s claiming that Cox will be able to step in and duplicate the throws we saw from Stafford. We’re talking about someone in Stafford who left as the #1 draft pick after his junior season. It’s hoped instead that a more experienced and healthy offensive line will give him enough time and room to do what he’s able to do well. You don’t need a first-rounder under center to win in the SEC, but you also can’t do much with a stiff. Cox is neither, and Georgia will find out pretty quickly against some quality competition whether he’s up to the job.
How do you expect the season to go for Cox? Will his leadership and talent make him an above-average performer in a relatively weak year for SEC quarterbacks? Will he prove to be more like Snead and Tebow or Crompton and Burns? How much will he struggle with a young group of receivers? Will he make the most of his one year as starter, or could someone else finish the season at quarterback?