As I mentioned earlier in the week, Eight in the Box has a post up about their fears of an LSU smackdown of our own beloved Tide in the coming season. LSU is certainly nothing to blink at. They've replaced Miami as the prep-school for the NFL, placing four players in the NFL in the first round this year and almost certainly placing multiple players in the first round after this season, with a level of stockpiled talent that should mean they have the ability to dominate the SEC, and they also have a masterful defensive co-ordinator in Bo Pelini. But their biggest weakness is the man walking the sidelines in the gooberish hat who's done less with more than anyone else in college football. Further, the architect of their marauding horde of an offense, Jimbo Fisher, is now at Florida State, and new OC Gary Crowton was last seen crying uncle in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.
Besides, it comes near the end of the season when, if past patterns have been reversed like we hope, the Tide will be playing better football than it was earlier in the season and should be able to hold it's own at home against the Bayou Bengals. I'm not saying we'll win, necessarily, but I don't think it will be a smackdown either. Instead, I'm worried about the start of the season, when the team will still be adjusting to the new staff and schemes and making mistakes that can cost games because they're still green, and the first team on the schedule that can take serious advantage of this is the Georgia Bulldogs.
Why they scare me:
After a shakey start last season, including a last second TD to top a dreadful Colorado team in Athens, and losses to SEC also rans Vanderbilt and Kentucky (though, to be fair, both are much improved from the Vandy and Kentucky we thought we knew and loved), the 'Dawgs put it together down the stretch with wins over rivals Auburn and Georgia Tech, and a stunning come from behind second half rally in the Peach Bowl against Va. Tech. Returning from that late season surge is sophomore QB Matt Stafford, of Talladega Days fame, who threw an astouding 13 picks last year, but only one in the final three games. With a better grasp of the offense, plenty of targets to throw to including returning starters Mohamed Massaquoi and A.J. Bryant at WR, deep threat Sean Bailey returning from knee surgery, and big play TE Tripp Chandler, Stafford could rewrite the record book at Georgia by the end of the season. Plus, their backfield is almost as crowded as ours, but with the benefit of an experienced and exceptionally talented FB in Brannan Southerland. While I think our offensive talent level matches up well against theirs, we'll still be learning and adjusting while the 'Dawgs will already be comfortable in their own skin, so to speak, and will have the ability to take advantage of a still inexperienced defense.
Stafford will probably want to cuddle after he has his way with the Tide defense.
The glimmer of hope that I desperately cling to:
Finally I can talk about O-line troubles and a thin front seven without referring to the Tide! The two returning starters on the UGA O-line, Center Fernando Velasco and RT Chester Adams, were both guards last year, while the rest of the line consists of freshmen (including true freshman Trinton Sturdivant at LT) and JUCO transfers, and new line coach Stacy Searels (replacing Neil Callaway who is now the HC at UAB) brings in new blocking schemes, though with the turnover in personnel this is hardly the problem it would have been if the line was made up of seniors used to the old ways. On the defensive side of the ball, the 'Dawgs return only four starters, with the bulk of their experience in the seconday (they really are the Alabama of the East). DT Jeff Owens is the only returning starter on the line and he's joined by NT Kade Weston, a Freshman All-American, to help clog up the middle for the 'Dawgs, but end Marcus Howard is a fifth-year senior with no starting experience while his counterpart at the other end of the line is an untested sophomore, Roderick Battle, and both are backed up by freshmen. No starters return at LB, though Brandon Miller, who filled in at times last year for injured starters at both weak and strongside linebacker is now in the middle and has the talent to become an All-SEC performer.
Personally, I can see this game turning ugly for both teams. Alabama's D could exploit the weakness of a rebuilt UGA O-line and 'cause Stafford headaches all day, or UGA's potent offense could burn the inexperienced Tide D all afternoon and leave Tuscaloosa with a springboard into the rest of the season and, sadly, I'm far more afraid of the latter than secure in the probability of the former.