January 28, 2008

Taking an early look at '08

Don't get Georgia coach Mark Richt wrong.

He's definitely looking forward to the Bulldogs' 2008 campaign.

With 17 starters returning, Georgia will enter the season with a top-5 ranking, and a popular pick to contend not only for the SEC championship, but a national title as well.

However, when Richt takes a look at the schedule his Bulldogs will have to tackle, he can't help but cringe.

"It's not going to be easy," Richt said recently. "It's going to be a tremendous challenge for all of us."

No kidding.

Georgia's 2008 schedule features games against eight teams that went 5-3 in bowl games, and with the exception of NCAA Football Subdivision member Georgia Southern, a group that posted a combined record of 89-53.

The Bulldogs' road schedule is especially brutal.

After opening with back-to-back home games against the Eagles and Central Michigan, Georgia is on the road for two straight weeks at South Carolina and Arizona State before a trio of home contests against Alabama, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

The challenge gets even tougher after that.

An Oct. 25 game at LSU, followed by the annual grudge match in Jacksonville against Florida on Nov. 1 will do a lot to determine Georgia's postseason fate, and whether or not the Bulldogs will be national title contenders.

Two more road games at Kentucky and Auburn are next on the agenda before Georgia Tech and first-year coach Paul Johnson and the new-look Yellow Jackets stroll in Sanford Stadium.

The following is a quick look at the schedule:

[b]Georgia Southern (Aug. 31, Athens)[/b]: This will mark the third meeting between the Bulldogs and Eagles, with Georgia winning all three by a 111-42 margin. The Eagles, under second-year coach Chris Hatcher, finished 7-4 last year, but one of those victories was against eventual national champion Appalachian State.

[b]Central Michigan (Sept. 6, Athens)[/b]: This will be the first-ever meeting between the Bulldogs and the Chippewas, who captured the Mid-American Conference championship for the second straight year before falling to Purdue in the Motor City Bowl on a last-second field goal, 51-48. … CMU's total of 18 victories over the last two seasons is the most since the 1979-80 teams combined for 19 wins. The 13 MAC regular season victories the past two years are the most since the 1993-94 teams also combined for 13 conference wins.

[b]South Carolina (Sept. 13, Columbia)[/b]: The Bulldogs will be hungry for revenge when they open their SEC schedule on the road in Columbia against [b]Steve Spurrier's[/b] Gamecocks, who beat Georgia 16-12 last year in Athens. … South Carolina will be minus 21 seniors from last year's squad, including starters [b]William Brown[/b], [b]Andy Boyd[/b], [b]Blake Mitchell[/b], [b]Cory Boyd[/b], [b]Lanard Stafford[/b] and [b]Casper Brinkley[/b].

[b]Arizona State (Sept. 20, Tempe, Ariz)[/b]: One of the season's more intriguing inter-conference matchups will see the Bulldogs make their first trip to Tempe, Ariz. To face the Sun Devils of head coach Dennis Erickson. … ASU was on the cusp of a BCS berth itself in 2007, before getting bumped down to the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl where the Sun Devils fell to Texas, 52-23. … This game will feature two of the game's better quarterbacks in Georgia's Matthew Stafford[db], along with ASU's [db]Rudy Carpenter, who completed 246 of 398 passes for 3,202 yards and 25 touchdowns.

[b]Alabama (Sept. 27, Athens)[/b]: The Crimson Tide will be hungry for revenge after Georgia's thrilling 26-23 overtime win when Stafford hit Mikey Henderson for a 25-yard touchdown. … The Tide finished their 2007 season with a win over Colorado in the PetroSun Independence Bowl and a 7-6 record in Nick Saban's first year as head coach at the Capstone. … Alabama will return the bulk of last year's squad, including quarterback John Parker Wilson and running back Terry Grant, who rushed for 891 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman.

[b]Tennessee (Oct. 11, Athens)[/b]: No doubt the Bulldogs will have this game circled after last year's 35-14 loss. Georgia, quite honestly, wasn't able to match the Vols' intensity, but that should not be a problem this time around. … Tennessee will be breaking in a new quarterback after the graduation of Erik Ainge, although the Vols will return running back Arian Foster who rushed for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. Another key for Georgia will be that the Bulldogs have an extra week to prepare for the game.

[b]Vanderbilt (Oct. 18, Athens)[/b]: It took a comeback of monumental proportions for Georgia to beat the Commodores last year in Nashville. … Vandy will return 11 starters from last year's squad, although wide receiver Earl Bennett won't be one of them after the junior recently declared for the NFL draft.

[b]LSU (Oct. 25, Baton Rouge)[/b]: Georgia gets their crack at the defending SEC and national champions in what will be the first of two huge games for the Bulldogs. … The Tigers will feature another talented team, but will be without the graduated quarterback Matt Flynn, who gives way to rising junior Ryan Perrilloux, who led the Tigers past Tennessee in the SEC Championship. Fullback Jacob Hester is also gone, as is defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who will be one of the top picks in the upcoming NFL draft.

[b]Florida (Nov. 1, Jacksonville)[/b]: This one's going to be fun. No doubt the Gators will be anxious for some revenge after Georgia pounded Florida 42-30. … There's also sure to be a lot of pre-game talk over what happened last year when most of the Bulldogs team charged the field after a first-quarter touchdown by Knowshon Moreno. … Not only will this game likely determine which squad wins the SEC East, but the victor could very well find themselves in line for a shot at the national title.

[b]Kentucky (Nov. 8, Lexington)[/b]: Kentucky will be breaking in a new quarterback after the graduation of André Woodson and hope to extend their streak of eight-win seasons to three. It won't be easy. Woodson had 3,516 yards total offense, the fourth-best single-season mark in school history and No. 9 in SEC history. He ranked second in the SEC in total offense.

[b]Auburn (Nov. 15, Auburn)[/b]: Auburn is going to a spread offense for the first time in 2008 and will be looking to extract a measure of revenge from the Bulldogs, who have embarrassed the Tigers for two straight years. … Auburn will lose 17 seniors in 2008, plus defensive tackle Pat Sims who declared for the NFL draft, but will still return plenty of weapons. … The Tigers will return nine starters on offense, and seven on defense, plus all of its kickers and top return specialists. … Of Auburn's 38 touchdowns scored in 2007, players who scored 33 of those touchdowns will return. Defensively, of the 19 players who recorded at least 15 tackles in 2007, 13 will be back in 2008.

[b]Nov. 29 (Nov. 29, Georgia Tech)[/b]: Georgia Tech will most certainly have a different look as Johnson will install the option-oriented offense that brought him great success at Georgia Southern and the Naval Academy. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Richt and his assistants have an open date before their regular-season finale so it's safe to assume that Georgia will be ready.

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