So far, the 2008 offseason has followed the familiar sine wave of buzz, consensus, backlash, and backlash to the backlash. The buzz surrounding the 2008 Dawgs started about the time Knowshon Moreno strolled into the end zone for his second Sugar Bowl touchdown. At that point, I am certain some of our fans bought full sets of custom made shirts, tableware, and Jack Davis prints honoring the 2008 national champions, the Georgia Bulldogs. The consensus crested when seemingly every publication selected Georgia as the 2008 preseason top pick. But just as the consensus was reached, however, detractors appeared. Most of the backlash centered around one thing: the schedule. Recently, the backlash to the backlash has sprouted and gained momentum.
If you just thumb through the schedule, it looks daunting enough, with two BCS nonconfence games and a grueling four week road stretch that sees the Dawgs go to LSU, play the Gators in Jacksonville, and end up at Jordan-Hare. T. Kyle King has already gone on record as saying this is Georgia's year to win its third national championship, despite the schedule. Senator Blutarsky presents the schedule as an opportunity. Orson Swindle has stated that one cannot eliminate Georgia from the title discussions based solely on schedule difficulty. Orson's theory is that at least two teams that appear formidable in preseason will collapse.
While I share Kyle's general optimism, I think the Dawgs will need a good measure of luck to get to Pasadena (oops ... Miami). How much luck? Another ridiculous season where no one wants to take the title race by the short hairs. A season where the upset of the decade happens every weekend. A season of destiny. A season where every close play goes your way and when you need a miracle, you seem to get it. A season where even when you lose, you still somehow come out ahead. A season, oh, like LSU enjoyed last year.
Here's why. Take a look at the schedules of the past two SEC national champs when compared with the 2008 Georgia schedule:
|UF '06||LSU '07||UGA '08|
|Beginning Ranking||# 7||# 2||?|
|vs. Ranked Opp.s at Game Time||4||6||?|
|vs. Ranked Opp.s by Preseason Poll||5||4||5|
|vs. Ranked Opp.s by Final Poll||4||3||?|
|Defending Conference Champions||2 (FSU, UGA)||2 (MTSU, UF)||2 (CM, LSU)|
|Defending National Champions||0||1 (UF)||1 (LSU)|
|Bowl Teams from Prior Year||8 (3-6)||8 (4-4)||9 (5-4)|
This analysis only contemplates regular seasons, not SEC Championships or bowls.
All of those numbers are scary and none are necessarily determinative, but to me, it looks like our 2008 schedule looks slightly more like LSU's schedule last year than UF in 2006. UF played the same SEC West opponents in '06 as the Dawgs will play this coming year, but got LSU at home instead of in Tiger Stadium. The Gators also played their traditional big nonconference game in Tallahassee, only 150 miles from Gainesville. FSU was the Gators only real nonconference opponent that year. And, they played only four ranked teams during the year. My guess is that we will play five at the least.
Last year, it appeared that God saw the LSU play early, decided they were going to win the national championship, but felt it necessary to toy with Tiger fans by decreeing one miracle finish after another, culminating with Pitt's victory over West Virginia, giving LSU a slot to play Ohio State in New Orleans. LSU had a big nonconference game with Virginia Tech in addition to their normal SEC schedule, during which they faced the defending national champions. The Tigers also played the Sun Belt champion and 7 other bowl teams. UGA is playing the defending national champs, the most difficult SEC schedule possible, and has a big nonconference game in Tempe, a long way from sweet tea and stately oaks. The Dawgs also face the MAC champions and 8 other bowl teams from last year.
There are, however, key differences in last year's LSU schedule and the 2008 Georgia slate. LSU played every key game last year in Baton Rouge. The only road game of significance was at Alabama, a team that lost the Independence Bowl a year before. In the coming season, Georgia is playing its most significant games away from Sanford Stadium: at South Carolina, at Arizona State, at LSU, in Jacksonville with the Gators, at Kentucky, and at Auburn.
The good news is that Coach Richt has a spectacular true road record. The bad news is that he has not won in Tiger Stadium and his record in Jacksonville is 2-5. Those two games are back-to-back. With that many tough road games, you'd think Richt's road run will be tested mightily. Also, LSU's schedule allowed them to build momentum late in the year, despite the team's bumps and bruises. Virginia Tech, Florida, and Auburn all came in the beginning or middle of the year. After the Bama game, the Tigers could coast against Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss. Georgia has no such luxury. The end of the schedule is the brutal part. A loss early is going to be tougher to overcome because the Dawgs will have a nasty October 25 to November 15. This isn't to say it can't happen. This year showed what can happen when the Dawgs catch fire.
As you also may recall, LSU got extremely lucky last year because no one else seemed to want to go to the BCS Bowl. The Tigers were the only team in history to play for the championship with two losses. Anyone taking odds on that happening again this year? I'd bet the winner of the Ohio State/USC game will get one of the championship game spots, even if they drop one along the way somewhere. If Oklahoma gets through with only one loss, it will be close to impossible to send a two-loss SEC team over a one-loss Oklahoma team. Thus, two losses should eliminate a team from title contention.
My bottom line on the schedule is this: It's tough, but not impossible. We probably won't make it through undefeated, just as LSU didn't. We will need some luck to get to the BCS Bowl. If we can get to Atlanta and win, the schedule should give us a strong argument for the BCS Bowl. Two losses, however, probably ends the dream.
It's bad timing that we could have the best team we've had in a long time right as our schedule goes from its normal difficulty to absurd. Get your heart medicine out and keep the defibrillator handy. If we can replicate the past two national champs, we can expect tight games and exciting finishes. If we can make the clutch plays like LSU did last year and UF the year before, the Rose Bowl (oops ... Dolphins Stadium) awaits.