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The Contenders: Georgia

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Making the case for number one. 
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I’m sure Georgia boards have made the point ad nauseum since last October, but for those who thought it was a prime example of a classless act, the most classless act in the history of college football, the most classless act you’ve ever seen, or just absolutely bush league, for the record, after Mark Richt instructed his team to do this: 


...Georgia’s poll position did this:


The win over Florida was on Oct. 27; the big upshot at the end– including the Cocktail win, a 25-point win over Auburn, double-digit margins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech and the very un-subtle bludgeoning of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl – begins Oct. 28. Prior to that, if you ignore the "spike" facilitated by the 2007 offseason, the Bulldogs hadn’t been on an upward trend at any point more than three weeks in a row before they started down again. But then they got theyselves motivated, or something, and they’re the hottest stock of the early summer prognostiscenti: in the early polls, UGA is number one by the Worldwide Leader, The Sporting News, and (watch out) Sports Illustrated; and College Football News have them second. I expected opinions to be more mixed, but the early returns say if there’s a preseason frontrunner, Georgia is it. 

Bow Down. One of the clichés of being as young and gifted as UGA was in 2007 is the "wait until next year" treatment, which only sounds like poor consolation until next year actually arrives. Then, the quarterback, secondary and offensive line were green (or "untenably young in a lot of areas") and scared voters away. Now, they’re stacked. There’s not even room here for sleepers and overachievers. The stars on the defense are still more prospective than fulfilled, with the possible exception of scout favorite Jeff Owens in the middle of the line, but it’s very possible the defense will field a lineup made up entirely of guys rated in the top dozen at their position out of high school. This is exceptional recruiting, retention and development: at worst, there won’t be a regular on the defense who was ranked outside of his position class’ top 25 by Rivals, and even the feted units at USC and LSU can’t say that across the board. All the noobs in the secondary are now upperclassmen who ended last year by holding André Woodson and Colt Brennan to their worst games of the season.

No, Matt: We’re talking about number one.
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The offense is not as monolithically talented, but it is equally loaded in the right spots. The late season turnaround coincided with the commitment to Knowshon Moreno as the focal point of the offense, which was so dramatic that Kyle King thinks Moreno can be the special player of his generation who enshrines Richt in the pantheon. And that’s only if he doesn’t lose carries to Caleb King. Matt Stafford progressed as expected, less spectacularly but by every measure: his passer rating improved 20 points over his freshman effort, and if this year’s gains are only half that dramatic, he can probably take his bomb-throwing, keg-wielding arm to the NFL a year early. Again, though, because it’s Moreno’s show, Stafford just has to be good enough in the occasional crunch, not the all-American his recruiting hype predicted. That’s not really in question. 

Bust Out. Essentially, the bet is that the transition to "next year" occurred during the bye week before the Florida game, and the team that rolled from that point is the team. That ignores the inconsistency that defined the team over the preceding year-and-a-half, during which time the Bulldogs were a very pedestrian 7-6 in the SEC and had to survive regular squeakers (six wins in 06-07 by five points or less) to get there. UGA was a fringe poll team that rocketed upward in a little less than half a season. The only reason to think that brilliant half will override the sketchy half in the future is Moreno, and if just a couple stout defenses commit to bottling him up – almost guaranteed to happen at some point, with Arizona State, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, LSU and Auburn in a brutal eight-game span – there’s still at least a member or two of the jury out on Stafford, if for no other reason than the unreliability of his receivers. Without some pop from the passing game, a team can only win so many tightly-wrought defensive slugfests.

In the Immortal Words of Meatloaf... The absence of a steady receiver – a big play guy or a reliable possession type – is the only quibble with the personnel; the depth chart is definitely mythical championship quality. Georgia’s problem is every SEC team’s problem: there’s not one giant hurdle amid more routine obstacles, but about four of them, especially in a year when the rotating draw from the West division is Alabama and LSU instead of Mississippi State, Ole Miss or momentarily de-fanged Arkansas. Knowshon Moreno is a pretty good reason for guessing Late ‘07 Georgia is the best predictive model for ‘08 Georgia all the way, but anyone who likes UGA at the top either thinks the schedule is somehow manageable for an undefeated season or that surviving Florida, at LSU and at Auburn with just one loss will be good enough with some help. Neither is necessarily likely, but if you’re playing the odds, the twists of championship Saturday the last couple years reinforce the latter. The first decade of the BCS has taught us that two undefeated teams is always a bad bet – it's only happened three times. So where the USC-Ohio State winner or the Big 12 champion might be more likely to run the table, if they don't, they almost certainly won't be able to hang with Georgia's strength of schedule when voters put them on the scales. So maybe two outta three ain't bad.