A Tale of Two Rankings: Where Does Georgia Really Belong In Preseason College Football Rankings?
So far, ranking the Georgia Bulldogs for this upcoming football season has been about as consistent as a political campaign platform.
Few preview "experts" can find common ground on just where the Bulldogs will fall when college football kicks off in just under a month.
At one extreme, you have Orlando Sentinel columnist Jeremy Fowler's absurd ranking of No. 64, placing the Bulldogs between powerhouse programs like Tulsa at No. 66 and the always intimidating Troy University at No. 48. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the bold but questionable No. 3 ranking bestowed by College Football News.
Both rankings should be taken with about a shaker of salt.
About the only thing most experts and fans can agree on is that Georgia's roster is laden with a slew of talent, but more than a couple of questions will follow the program as it tries to right the ship following a five-loss 2009 campaign.
One of the biggest will be how quickly new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme will take effect for the Georgia defense. Can they show significant improvement over a 2009 unit that showed less punch than a preteen catfight.
Can it limit opposing offenses' big plays while getting more pressure on the quarterback and making a few of its own? Most of all, can it play hard-nosed, disciplined football as opposed to the bend-not-break style that got it into so much trouble over the past two seasons?
There is no question that it is a unit filled with talented athletes, but performance, not potential, is at a premium this season.
On the other hand, however, the host of talent populating the other side of the ball as the potential to put together a very formidable unit.
The Bulldogs will return 10 starters to an offense that showed signs of brilliance early a season ago and again began to click in the final few contests.
They will sport a formidable offensive line unit, potentially one of the best in the country if it remains healthy, and enough playmakers to fill a Miami Heat roster. Running backs Washaun Ealey and Caleb King may be one of the best thunder-and-lightning tandems in the country when its all said and done and All-World wide receiver A.J. Green will try to make his mark in Georgia football history in this, likely, his last season.
And don't forget about athletic tight end Orson Charles, wide receivers Tavarres King and Rantavious Wooten, and speedy crossover athlete Branden Smith (assuming he gets his academics in order).
Each of these weapons on offense will in large part serve one particular purpose: to help the unit's lone question mark, freshman quarterback Aaron Murray, adjust to the college level.
Murray, a redshirt out of Tampa, Fla., was one of the top rated passers coming out of high school and yet he has not stepped foot between the hedges on a game day. The key to the Georgia offense will be whether the young signal-caller can sit back, drive the bus and allow his playmakers to do what they do best--make plays.
Can he limit his mistakes and pick himself up when he makes that inevitable poor read? The answer to this question may determine whether Georgia makes a run at a conference championship or places head coach Mark Richt firmly on the hotseat at the end of the season.
So what should our expectations really be when Sept. 4 rolls around?
How about somewhere in the middle?
Reports from camp indicate that the team is still a ways off from where it would like to be. Murray has impressed and given the indication that he will be more than prepared to step into the lead offensive role, but he has still shown a tendency to be careless with the ball at times, as evidenced by his lone interception in the team's only scrimmage.
Recent history of freshman quarterbacks with a year in the system leads me to believe Murray will be just fine (see: Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford). Green his better than ever and the offensive line is--knock on wood--still healthy.
And while questions still remain over the team's transition to a 3-4 defense--not to mention a number of injuries that have slowed progression--I would expect an improvement over the last two years.
College Football News considers Georgia a darkhorse title contender. I'm not ready to go that far yet. But a nine- or 10-win season is more than a possibility.
The team seems to be headed in the right direction and should, I expect, put some distance between itself and the Tulsa Hurricane sooner rather than later.