If you believed the polls, Georgia underachieved in 2008. If you believed Mark Richt, he and his staff did a masterful job overcoming a raft of injuries. Almost nobody expects as much from these Bulldogs, which has led some Georgia fans to suggest this might indeed be a big season. Got that? Good. Because we’re about to examine the questions facing the new-look Dogs:
• Is Joe Cox the next D.J. Shockley, who led Georgia to an SEC title after waiting his turn, or the next Joe Tereshinski III, who waited to little avail? Can Cox make the throws Richt requires of his quarterback? Can Cox maximize the talents of A.J. Green and freshman Marlon Brown? Since Green is the Bulldogs’ most gifted player, isn’t it mandatory that Georgia’s quarterback is more than just a game manager? Who takes over if Cox can’t move the team — true freshman Aaron Murray?
• Is Caleb King, of whom Bulldog Nation expects so much, really a first-string SEC tailback? Is Richard Samuel better than King? Is Carlton Thomas better than either? In his absence, are we about to see how good Knowshon Moreno really was?
• Can an improved offensive line make lesser backs look like Moreno? Is Stacy Searels as good an O-line coach as his reputation suggests? Is Trinton Sturdivant, back from injury, ready to become the SEC’s best left tackle? Is Georgia’s line, which lists no seniors among its starters, poised to be the new foundation of the program, as opposed to the annual question mark?
• Does bumping up John Jancek to co-defensive coordinator suggest Richt is displeased with Willie Martinez, with whom Richt insists he’s never displeased? Can the team that managed only 24 sacks in 13 games last season find a pass rush? Can Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens mount a push as defensive tackles? Wouldn’t it work even better if Justin Houston, who had three sacks on G-Day, turned into a real edge rusher?
• Is there a playmaker on D other than Rennie Curran? Is Curran the best Georgia defender since David Pollack? Can Curran make every single tackle? If not, why not?
• Will Branden Smith, the defensive back from Atlanta’s Washington High, start as a true freshman? Is he the best Bulldog DB since Champ Bailey? Will Richt, as he has hinted, let Smith return kicks and even play offense?
• Were the three losses last season, each featuring a shocking breakdown, a sign that Georgia’s program, thought for so long to be on the rise, has crested? Will a tougher offseason approach yield fewer penalties? Will the realization that Moreno and Matthew Stafford are no longer around engender more of a communal urgency? Will Georgia walk the walk this season, as opposed to talking the talk?
• Is Richt really at his most dangerous when less is expected? Was the surprise 2005 conference title, achieved against an unassuming-by-SEC-standards schedule, the guidepost for this team or a false clue? Does Richt himself have something to prove after being ranked No. 1 in preseason and finishing out of the Associated Press Top 10?
Bradley says: Georgia will go 8-4, losing at Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech, losing to LSU at home and to Florida in Jacksonville.
(Coming next: At 3 p.m., check out the questions facing the 2009 Atlanta Falcons. And look here for an appraisal of Georgia Tech. It’s All-Football Friday!)