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Dawg Sports: The gridiron interview

The following is a series of questions and answers about the state of the Bulldog Nation, as it appears to Dawg Sports blogger extraordinaire T. Kyle King.

My replies to his questions on the Kentucky football program appear here, and as always I welcome any response or comments you, the readers, may have.

Thanks to Dawg Sports for the exchange. And may the best basketball team win ...

Sea of Blue: First things first, can the Bulldogs win the BCS national title with this year's team?  If so, why ... and if not, why not?

Dawg Sports: Probably not . . . but, then again, if you'd asked me a year ago if the 'Dawgs could win a conference championship with the 2005 team, I'd have given you the same wrong answer.  While there is no dearth of talent in the Classic City, there is a lack of experience at some key positions and the schedule is too tough for me to believe that the Red and Black can make it through the campaign unscathed.

2007 very well could be "The Year of the 'Dawg," but I expect 2006 to be for Georgia what 2005 was for Iowa . . . a rebuilding year in which the string of 10-win seasons comes to an end, yet the squad still makes it into a January bowl game.

Sea of Blue: Who is more likely to win the starting QB job out of spring, Matthew Stafford or Joe Tereshinski?  Which do fans believe holds the brighter near-term future for the UGA program?  What are the chances of a two-QB system, a la Shockley & Greene?

Dawg Sports: It is almost a given that, barring injury, Joe T. will start the Western Kentucky game.  Since the first game should be a laugher, I'd like to see Mark Richt put the "quarter" back in "quarterback" by letting Tereshinski play the first period, Matthew Stafford the second, Blake Barnes the third, and Joe Cox the fourth.

I'm starting to think Tereshinski will hold onto the job longer than most folks expect, but, at the end of the day, Stafford appears to be the future of the program and it is clear that, despite Joe T.'s multigenerational Bulldog pedigree, Stafford is the fan favorite.  Still, there's a big gap between throwing a touchdown in the spring scrimmage and taking the field in a hostile environment like Williams-Brice Stadium, so Stafford will have to be brought along much more slowly than many in Bulldog Nation would like.

While Stafford will get playing time, I doubt whether he will see as many meaningful minutes in the early going as, say, D.J. Shockley (pictured at left) saw against Clemson in 2002.  The more apt analogy, in my view, would be to 1991, when the reliable yet unspectacular Greg Talley held the reins until the true freshman Eric Zeier was ready to man the controls.

Talley started the first five games that fall, including outings against L.S.U., Alabama, and Clemson.  Zeier took over the starter's role beginning with the Ole Miss game and never relinquished the helm.  If we witness a similar progression in 2006, with Tereshinski starting the first five games and Stafford succeeding him in the season's sixth contest, that will put Joe T. in charge against South Carolina, Colorado, and Ole Miss but give Stafford the nod starting with Tennessee.  We shall see.  

Sea of Blue: How tough will DJ Shockley be to replace in the huddle?

Dawg Sports: Obviously, D.J. Shockley was a special kind of player and there is no way that his successor under center will bring exactly the same intangibles to the table as Georgia's departing signal-caller.

That having been said, replacing Shockley won't be as difficult as it seems.  When I was on my way out of Sanford Stadium following the 2004 Georgia-Georgia Tech game, I overheard a Yellow Jacket fan talking on his cell phone and saying that, if D.J. Shockley was the Bulldogs' 2005 starting quarterback, the Ramblin' Wreck would beat the Red and Black for sure.  Well, he was . . . and they didn't.

There may be no head coach in Division I-A with a better record at developing collegiate quarterbacks than Mark Richt.  He guided a pair of Florida State Q.B.s to Heisman Trophies (Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke), turned David Greene into the winningest quarterback in major college history, and enabled Shockley to guide the 'Dawgs to a conference title.

With Joe Tereshinski III, Matthew Stafford, Blake Barnes, and Joe Cox on the roster, Mark Richt has enough arrows in his quiver to be able to find the right quarterback to lead this team.  There will be some growing pains, but, in the end, the right man for the job will be lining up in the offensive backfield . . . and that man will be fully capable of getting the job done.  

Sea of Blue: How likely is it that Coach Richt (pictured at right) will finish all eight years of his new contract?  Do you think he's worth $2 million a year?

Dawg Sports: Barring personal tragedy, the likelihood of Mark Richt finishing his career in Athens is as close to 100 per cent as you are likely to get in this day and age.  He always said that he and his family either wanted to remain in Tallahassee or move once, and his actions, both as a coordinator who spurned other offers and as the head coach who signed the longest-term contract (with the largest buyout) in University of Georgia history, support his claim.

While I am certain that Coach Richt's name will appear atop Florida State's wish list when Bobby Bowden retires, I am equally certain that the Seminoles' attempt to hire Mark Richt will pan out exactly the same as the Gators' attempt to hire Bob Stoops when Steve Spurrier resigned.  In each case, the connection was to the departing coach, not to the school itself, and the coach being pursued wisely concluded that he had a better chance of competing for championships by remaining where he was than by accepting the hopeless challenge of attempting to replace a legend.

I don't know that anyone is worth the kind of money head coaches are paid these days, although, as flush with cash as the Georgia athletics department appears to be, I don't mind spending what we have to spend to keep Coach Richt happy.  Mark Richt has attained a number of favorable "firsts" during his five-year tenure in the Classic City and he has put back among the nation's elite a program whose day appeared to be done.  Georgia hadn't won a conference title in 20 years before Mark Richt brought us two S.E.C. championships and three division crowns in a four-year span.  $2 million a year seems like a bargain for class, character, and conference crowns.

Sea of Blue: What kind of year do you expect out of freshman Knowshon Moreno?

Dawg Sports: Unless he lives up to every iota of hype imaginable, I expect Knowshon Moreno to spend the 2006 season standing on the sidelines clapping his hands and patting his teammates on the back when they come off the field.

Don't get me wrong . . . I am looking forward to the Moreno era once it gets underway, but the fact that he was ranked among the top ten tailbacks by and doesn't change the fact that Moreno is a true freshman listed at 5'11" and 205 pounds.  With so many talented tailbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, he'll have a tough time cracking the lineup, especially since the coaching staff is almost certainly hoping to redshirt him.  

Sea of Blue: Who are the most likely impact players this fall on defense?

Dawg Sports: Paul Oliver is about to establish himself as the S.E.C.'s next great shutdown defensive back.  Greg Blue's departure means that the line from "Old School" ("Blue, you're my boy!") no longer will ring out in Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoons, but a modified version of the theme song to "Charles in Charge" might be warranted once Charles Johnson swallows a couple of opposing quarterbacks whole.  Kade Weston will make his presence felt and I am expecting great things from Asher Allen, who puts his passion into action and is bursting with the potential to make some serious noise on a first-rate defensive unit.  

Sea of Blue: Which is more important, beating Florida or winning the BCS title but NOT beating Florida?

Dawg Sports: Not a tough call . . . beating Florida.  As much as I would like to win another national championship, and as confident as I am that, within the next five years, Mark Richt will guide Georgia to a No. 1 ranking in the final polls, I place greater importance on rivalry games and conference honors.  Finishing first in the Eastern Division, beating Georgia Tech, and winning the S.E.C. championship game all are prerequisites to getting a shot at the national title, but, even if they weren't, I'd rather have a run of dominance over the teams I know and dislike.

The Florida situation is particularly maddening.  After Georgia dominated the first 85 years of the series, the Gators have owned the 'Dawgs since Steve Spurrier left Duke to return to Gainesville.  From 1990 to 1997, Florida was 7-1 against Georgia.  From 1998 to 2005, Florida also was 7-1 against Georgia, but the second eight-year run was a bit different.

In the first eight-season stretch, Steve Spurrier's Gators generally demolished the Bulldogs, winning by scores such as 38-7 in 1990, 45-13 in 1991, 52-14 in 1994, 52-17 in 1995, and 47-7 in 1996.  Even the Red and Black's lone win during that period was by a convincing margin (37-17 in 1997).  Since then, though, Georgia has changed coaches once and Florida has changed coaches twice.  Although the Gators' run of Cocktail Party success has continued, the games have been much closer; in fact, the last four games (including the lone Bulldog win during that period) have been settled by a total of 21 points.

Moreover, the Evil Genius's Florida squads of 1990 to 1997 finished first in the S.E.C. six times, captured five straight Eastern Division crowns, and competed in two national championship games.  Seven of those eight U.F. teams were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game in Jacksonville.  From 1998 to 2005, on the other hand, the Gators finished with a single-digit win total five times, represented the S.E.C. East in the league championship game twice, and won fewer conference crowns (1) than Georgia (2).  None of the last four Florida teams have gone into the Georgia game as a top 10 team.  In short, the 1-7 record from 1990 to 1997 was excusable; the 1-7 record from 1998 to 2005 is inexplicable.

Historically, Georgia has had Florida's number and it has only been in the last 15 years that the tables have turned.  As dominant as the Gators have been since Darth Visor's homecoming, the Orange and Blue still have an all-time losing record against the Red and Black.  It's more important to me to restore the natural order of things and have the Bulldogs, whose tradition dates back to the 1890s, go back to beating the Gators, whose tradition dates back to the 1990s, than it is to finish first in the coaches' poll.

Sea of Blue: What's your projected order of finish in the Eastern Division next fall?

Dawg Sports: Before the start of the 2005 season, I made two predictions in the Eastern Division race:  a "heart pick" and a "head pick."  Emotionally, I had to choose Georgia, but, logically, I had to pick Florida.  I feel the same way heading into 2006 . . . and I hope my brain is just as misguided this year as it was last year.

The Gators had an up-and-down season in 2005, but, at the end of the day, they won nine games, beat all three of their major rivals, and gave everyone a reason to believe that, even though Urban Meyer (pictured above left) probably will never become the dominant force in the conference that the Evil Genius once was, the former Bowling Green and Utah skipper at least has the ability to hit big-league pitching.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a three-way snarl atop the division, with a trio of teams sporting 6-2 records in the conference and 1-1 records against one another, but, in any case, I foresee Florida holding the tiebreakers.

I expect Georgia to finish second, followed by Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, in that order.