For Bulldog Nation, 2009 promises to be a holding action

Mark Richt seeks to exhort Bulldog Nation, which needs a bit of prodding. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mark Richt seeks to exhort the masses by going to Fist City. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The mood was as sedate as is possible in a ballroom containing 1,000 or so barking human beings. There was anticipation, yes, but the annual meeting of the Greater Atlanta Bulldog Club always brings anticipation. What was lacking at the Cobb Galleria this July was the sense that Georgia’s time is at hand.

Because, to be blunt, it probably isn’t. The Bulldogs will play football this fall in a division that houses the reigning national champion, which is also the prohibitive choice to retain its title. A year ago the Bulldogs sat preseason No. 1 for the first time in school history, but the 2009 team seems properly slotted somewhere in the second 10.

This won’t be a bad team. (Mark Richt has never had anything close to a bad team.) Neither does it seem a champion-in-waiting. It has a new quarterback and a new tailback and the same defensive coordinator, though Willie Martinez has gotten a co-coordinator in John Jancek. Also different is the air of expectancy. This time there isn’t one.

Most summers since 2002 have been filled with Georgia optimism, Georgia bluster (from fans if not Richt), Georgia manifest destiny. That’s what happens when a new coach arrives and wins three division titles and two SEC championships. His constituency comes to believe anything is possible, and for most of that time anything was. But 2009 has been all but conceded to the repellent reptiles.

Yes, the first question to Richt from the audience had to do with “stomping the Gators” and it drew the expected cheer, but there was no passion behind it. Even as Richt was saying, “We’ve never gone into a game thinking we’re not going to win it,” the game in Jacksonville on Halloween already seems a bridge too far. If you couldn’t beat Florida in 2008 with Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, are you apt to do with Joe Cox and Caleb King?

That said, we shouldn’t confuse this season of presumed retrenching with those two angst-ridden decades that spanned Vince Dooley’s last SEC title and Richt’s first. Bulldog backers believe in Richt in a way they never believed in Ray Goff or Jim Donnan, and for good reason: Richt has proved he can win at the highest level of the nation’s finest conference, and there’s no reason to think he won’t again soon.

Does Georgia have a realistic shot at Florida in 2009?

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Tim Tebow has one year of eligibility remaining. Shrewd as he is, Urban Meyer will never find another Tebow. (Has Georgia found another Herschel?) To use a Meyer expression, the checkers will be equal — or at least more equal — when Georgia and Florida meet in 2010. And now for the really good news: There seems no other school in the SEC East apt to trouble the top two anytime soon.

Kentucky and Vanderbilt are just happy to have the occasional winning seasons. The threat of Spurrier in Columbia has all but subsided. And Lane Kiffin might be able to recruit players to Tennessee but will have to coach them once there, lest he become a brasher Ron Zook. We can believe the Vols are back only when they beat somebody on an autumn Saturday, not a Wednesday in February.

If this sounds like cold consolation to Georgia folks — your team is still good but not quite great — it really shouldn’t. The Bulldogs aren’t going away. Last season didn’t turn out as planned (not that 10-3 can ever be dismissed) and this one wouldn’t appear to be a great leap forward, but there’s always 2010. Tim Tebow won’t be around then. But Mark Richt will be.

141 comments Add your comment

mcdawg

July 28th, 2009
10:51 am

Forget Florida-UGA needs to worry about the first 6 games

DawginLex

July 28th, 2009
10:53 am

I love how people are writing us off before the first snap.

The first game is probably the most important game in the WM tenure at UGA. It will define his legacy and determine his future employment. I’m still not certain that it is all his fault, yet. With a lot of players returning on the DL and the OL, this can become a ball controlling team with a good defense.

That wins a lot of games in any league.

DawginLex

July 28th, 2009
10:56 am

Hey Mark,

Where is my paycheck for consistently saving the GT topic blogs from imploding after 20 minutes with only comments from the 3 GT fans?

tee martin

July 28th, 2009
10:58 am

I agree. New qb = no chance in the sec…I mean no chance for a national championship. You are a genious!

sammiamm

July 28th, 2009
11:00 am

mcdawg is spot-on.

one game at a time–starting with game one

handshandy man

July 28th, 2009
11:01 am

Here’s the deal DawginLex, Florida treats UGA like UGA treats Tech. For the last 20 some-odd years you have had no respect or acknowledgement from the UF community, just like GT gets no acknowledgement from you. Nuff Said.

charlotte_dawg

July 28th, 2009
11:19 am

handshandyman:

And UF is STILL 10 or 15 games back in the series record.

Uga's limp noodle season

July 28th, 2009
11:22 am

Darn right there are low/no expectations…

The season to end all UGA coach’s careers is about to begin – gauranteed losses to UT, Ga Tech, FL, LSU plus a surprise beatdown or two from a KY or Auburn or a Vandy. Bank on it.

º¿º

RabidDawg1980

July 28th, 2009
11:25 am

I usually hold out hope that the Dawgs can go undefeated every year, but this season I’ll be happy with 9 or 10 wins. The schedule is pretty brutal this time out. We don’t get that cakewalk conference schedule that the winged-pests in Atlanta get.

Daniel

July 28th, 2009
11:31 am

Writing us off against Florida before the season even begins? Injuries happen, players underachieve, players overachieve, and plenty of other variables are guaranteed to take place between now and October 31st. They happen every season and it’s foolish to think otherwise. Take one game at a time, and let’s worry about the Florida game when the time comes.

Here's hoping

July 28th, 2009
11:42 am

This is the year for both coordinators (Bobo & WM) to step it up or step down! Bobo has to show we can score points without a Stafford or Moreno. WM has to show we can stop good teams in big games. Richt is a great coach but it’s the coordinators that run the show on game day. Let’s hope they are up to the challenge!

Awwww Yeah

July 28th, 2009
11:44 am

The Pundits are rarely correct. That’s one of the things that concerned me last year. Conversely, it gives me a good feeling about this year. I like our chances based on one simple fact: WHen teams are deep with dominating lineman (on both sides of the ball), options (and new stars) grow exponentially. Look at any championship caliber football team (any era, any age group)and you’ll see it starts with controlling the line of scrimmage….Period

Mark Bradley

July 28th, 2009
11:46 am

The lines are indeed a major consideration. But Georgia, at least to me, is a finesse team on both sides of the ball.

MiltonDawg

July 28th, 2009
11:55 am

Under the radar is where we need to be. Richt is a great coach with great talent. Sometimes, the cards don’t go our way (see last year with injuries, too many penalties, and off-season activity). Cox will be a huge surprise for us (in a good way). Florida shouldn’t be a concern right now…OK ST should be #1 priority…then we’ll see what kind of cards we’re dealt.

dan

July 28th, 2009
11:59 am

Mark,

After seeing the 2007 New England Patriots lose in the Super Bowl, I will never say a team is unbeatable again. Contrary to popular opinion, UGA can beat Florida this year, but they have to match Florida’s intensity because if they expect the Gators to overlook them, especially after the stunt in 2007; their fooling themselves.

Win or lose, I want the Dawgs to give the Gators a game. I want them to go into that game with the mentality of ” I don’t give a damn if Tim Tebow is on your team! Because we’re going to hit him and you for the next 3 hours and I promise that you won’t want to hit us back!”. That’s the mentality the Dawgs had in 2007, and they whooped the Gators ass.

I think UGA vs. Florida has the potential to be the next FSU vs. Miami, where both teams hate each other and where the games have National Title implications. But for that to happen, UGA has to grow a pair and get up for that game, because last year they played with zero intensity.

mitch

July 28th, 2009
12:07 pm

Dear Mr. MB–find out who Josh Nesbitt’s dream date is and let us know. Me and Tyrell can hardly wait. Your pal, Mitch

Desert Dawg

July 28th, 2009
12:13 pm

This is a definite “under the radar” year. Win big in Stillwater and everything is rolling. GA can beat FLA but it will take its best effort and very few injuries. The 2009 DAWGS have the potiential to win the SEC but it definitely will require some breaks that have not been forthcoming in past seasons. Regardless, DAWGS will be playing in the post season and I agree that 2010 could be much different.

WBK

July 28th, 2009
12:13 pm

I am sorry if I insult someone’s intelligence, but I always thought Stafford was a poor college QB. He did not impress me at all. Joe did win a game he played with as second string. Maybe Stafford will do better as a pro.

Stafford was mediocre at best!

Courtney

July 28th, 2009
12:15 pm

Forget Florida, Forget the “first 6 games”; we need to concentrate on Game 1.

Is the Florida game unwinnable? Unwinnable for Florida if Tebow does not play. He is great and a big part of their success.

Billy Bob

July 28th, 2009
12:19 pm

I’d like to offer some pithy commentary on the ‘09 season, Willie’s coaching future or Joe Cox’s arm strength, but I just can’t get Halle Berry and that love scene from Monster’s Ball outta my mind. I did that work pro bono if ya know what I mean.

Dawgs are 9-4 at season end.

DawginLex

July 28th, 2009
12:21 pm

Mark I disagree on this being a finesse team. They better not be. With all the OL returning and Sturdivant coming back, they better not be finesse. The DL has the potential to be really good and actually have depth.

We don’t have a headhunter in the middle but we have a “football player” in curran. I don’t see the finesse label fitting.

benadawg

July 28th, 2009
12:22 pm

if the players come to RV city and see the fierce loyalty we have for our dogs they might actually get some enthsiasm. Go Dawgs

benadawg

July 28th, 2009
12:22 pm

Evil Richt 2009 S.E.C. World Tour: "Banned in Columbus"

July 28th, 2009
12:23 pm

One problem, UGA will be breaking in a new QB in 2010. If Richt were about nothing other than trying to win titles (and to an extent I’m glad he’s not) he would start one of the freshman QBs this year and keep Cox on the bench in order to put the program in a better position to win it all (or at least another SEC title) in the next 2 or 3 years.

bali smith

July 28th, 2009
12:24 pm

maybe in 2010 Georgia will beat Florida and Tim Tebow will lose his virginity

James

July 28th, 2009
12:29 pm

If a chariot of fire comes down and takes Tim Tebow up to heaven sometime before the world’s (former) largest outdoor cocktail party, you guys will have a good chance.

I agree with Mark. 2009 bulldogs will be decent–and still have a season most other teams wish for.

PT

July 28th, 2009
12:30 pm

With the talent UGA has the title can come any year. To say we are a team in waiting is absurd. Teams that win titles have 3 things. Talent, Breaks, and most importantly a confidence that builds as a year progrogresses. That is why usually teams that are preseason 1 or 2 dont win it. There really is not a lot of difference in the top 10-15 teams at the starts of the season but by mid season that number drops to about 7 teams and at the end 1 to 3 teams seperate themselves. You can win it with new QB so that wont be UGA probelme this year. We are going into a season with the deepest O Line we have ever had. It will fall all on our defensive improvement. We can beat Florida. If we do than we roll into the end of the season as one of those teams.

OldFan

July 28th, 2009
12:38 pm

Okay, this season’s over! Let’s see how quickly we can get 2010 settled. 2009 doesn’t “promise” anything, any more so than 2008 did. As far as I can tell that’s still why they suit up and play the games. UGA ought to be a good team this year, great on some Saturday’s, and with growing confidence should they beat OK State, capable of beating anyone they play. Let’s analyze the losses after they happen. Until then, the only “holding action” should be restraining ourselves from signing up for loses now.

Kim

July 28th, 2009
12:41 pm

“I think UGA vs. Florida has the potential to be the next FSU vs. Miami, where both teams hate each other and where the games have National Title implications. But for that to happen, UGA has to..” become a figure on the national stage. Please!!! This game has national title implications for FL, every year, but for GA the implications are for… SEC title game.

Huh?

July 28th, 2009
12:49 pm

Anyone who has seen Rocky IV knows that Georgia can beat Florida this year. ‘Nuff said there.

Bradley’s columns are one of the bigger ways to waste your life away as you will find folks. Don’t fall in to the trap of wasting precious moments reading this garbage. You’ll never get them back. True story.

dooley

July 28th, 2009
12:50 pm

There is really no reason to be pessimistic about the upcoming season, seeing as though all teams are 0-0. I for 1 am very happy to be flying under the radar this year. I also believe that this will be a very magical season.

C from Marietta

July 28th, 2009
1:06 pm

Alright. Everyone is down playing UGA this season. I like it:-). I knew they never live up to hype. UF on the other hand knows how to live up to hype.

athensdawg

July 28th, 2009
1:07 pm

thanks mark for ridding the world of a few more bandwagon georgia fans.

keep it up, there’s a few more people with staph infection that need to throw up their hands in disgust at our “poor chances” this year, write off the dawgs, and go buy their favorite #7 in lions blue, or #24 in orange and blue, stay at home, and watch the nfl.

what uga needs are a few MORE faithful fans and a few LESS ESPN zombies who walk around chanting ‘….national championship or else…national championship….or else…’

NRBQ

July 28th, 2009
1:08 pm

Mark,

Rennie Curran swam here from Liberia to discuss “finesse football” with you.

His friends Strickland, Jones, Chapas, etc, would like to join the conversation.

Class of '98

July 28th, 2009
1:13 pm

DawginLex, I must kindly disagree with one point.

The most important game of the Richt era was in November, 2002, in Auburn, Alabama.

braveswin

July 28th, 2009
1:22 pm

athensdawg, I shall humbly state, that your post at 1:07 could not have been stated better. Generally, I read the article and blow off the responses because of their lack of originality and lack of information. Today I’m glad I read your post.

gdawginkalamazoo

July 28th, 2009
1:25 pm

Tee, thanks for setting the record straight on that one.

athendawg, Stafford might end up being #9 for the Lions. #7 has been retired.

Brett

July 28th, 2009
1:32 pm

UGA has always had the talent and ability to do whatever and whenever, including beat Florida. I think the problem, for years, has been a lack of drive, determination and passion from the players and more importantly the coaches, even CMR. Not too mention being too conservative. I’m so tired see the team walk out of the red zone with 3. I’m tired of seeing and hearing from the team a ‘good enough’ attitude.

Look at what they did to Florida 2 yrs ago (excluding the end zone dance off). They’ve always been able to do it when they want to. If it were reiterated what they’re capable of doing, but not forget that the other team won’t go down without a fight (see Alabama), the sky would be the limit.

The Bulldogs have been leashed ever since Dooley stepped down as Head Coach. They break loose every now and then, but I think we need to just put the leashes away, at least when they’re on the field.

SomewhereinGA

July 28th, 2009
1:35 pm

Anybody seen Saint Simons?

DawginLex

July 28th, 2009
1:37 pm

class of 98,

I agree totally. The 2002 AU game defined Richt. The 2009 opener will define WM, not Richt. It will either shut up the pieholes of all the haters or will pour gasoline on the fire.

gdawginkalamazoo

July 28th, 2009
1:37 pm

athendawg, btw, I agree. I for one am happy with UGA football at this time. Great coach, steady program and recruiting, 10+ wins a season, BCS bowl appearances, a couple of SEC titles. Of course the Florida thing would be nice to get over. That’s tough as Tebow is one of the all time greats so far. Oh well that’s the way it goes sometimes. Being consistent helps us get closer and closer.

DawginLex

July 28th, 2009
1:39 pm

Ever heard of Underdogs to Wonderdogs?

It could happen again boys………………………….

Jefferson

July 28th, 2009
1:40 pm

#1 preseason or “flying under the radar” — sill rabbits.

Joe

July 28th, 2009
1:44 pm

Mark Bradley- you are an Idiot…..soooo sick and tired of the UGA bashing. Go get in bed with Teblow.

Jeff

July 28th, 2009
1:46 pm

Do me a favor Mark- when we beat Fla or win the SEC…Hope like heck you keep bashing us…would hate to find out you’re a two face sportswriter…..jerk!

dooley

July 28th, 2009
1:47 pm

Brett hit it right on the nose. The Dawgs need to let it loose use all of the TALENT that we are supposed to have. We need to figure out how to get the most out of all of the great atheletes we have on the team. It seems to me that we are unwilling or unable to go all out on all plays in all games at all times. This is probably the only difference between Florida and the Dawgs at this point. Urban Meyer seems to get 110% of his players while we get 99%. I dont know if this is coaching or what????

hem o'roid

July 28th, 2009
1:52 pm

You will never see as much wasted talent as there is at maggot u, aka ugay. They’ll blow it again this year, probably starting with OSU and ending with the Yellow Jackets. thwg

Mike

July 28th, 2009
1:53 pm

and the love affair with UF continues. Maybe the AJC would be considered a good paper if they really had sportswriters instead of the crap we get day after day…week after week. Really a sorry state when the Atlanta paper continually bashes the home team. Do you think the Knoxville paper, Birmingham paper, Baton Rouge paper, Columbia paper or any other kisses FLorida’s backside like the AJC does??? Cant imagine articles like the ones we see on a daily basis would even appear in those other papers once a month, let alone daily. How about a comment on that Mark???

DawginLex

July 28th, 2009
1:56 pm

I got some Preparation H for the poster at 1:52 pm…………………………………..

Paddy

July 28th, 2009
1:57 pm

MB come on now you should know better. We couldn’t beat Fla with Greene at qb, what makes you think we can do it with Shockley? Now that you see it in print it does sound a little silly when you say it.