Take heart, Georgia fans. The Bulldogs may not be in for such a disappointing season after all.
At least that that's the take of Phil Steele, who's "College Football Preview" magazine is widely regarded as the most in-depth and accurate preseason publication that covers the sport today.
In an exclusive interview with UGASports, Steele broke down the 2009 Bulldogs and suggested that Georgia won't be as bad off as some other experts predict, despite the losses of players like quarterback Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno.
"I think when most casual fans look at their team for the upcoming season, they take a look at the quarterback, the running back and the receivers and if those players are coming back as to whether or not their team will have a good year," Steele said. "But when I break down teams, I look at the offensive line, the defensive line, the linebackers, the defensive backs and the schedule then add it all together."
When Steele does that, the numbers add up nicely for the Bulldogs.
According to Steele's position rankings, Georgia is one of only seven schools in the entire country that ranks in the top 32 in seven of the eight categories he dissects - quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, secondary and special teams.
Ironically, the one position for the Bulldogs that Steels doesn't have ranked in the top 30 is quarterback, where Joe Cox will take over after serving as Stafford's understudy for the previous three seasons.
So how does this set up for 2009? Steele believes he has an excellent idea.
"Georgia is undervalued. In 2007, nobody liked them but I had them ranked higher and they finished second in the country. In 2005, I had them ranked higher than anyone and they finished 10th in the country," Steele said. "You look at the schedule. The only game I have them being a definite underdog is Florida in Jacksonville. Even the game at Oklahoma State is a toss-up in my eyes, but they'll have the ability to win the rest of their games.
"I think they'll win at Tennessee, the game at Arkansas might be a tossup and the Vanderbilt game is winnable. Even though they lost to (Georgia) Tech last year, they lost by just three but they had the game under control at the half before it got away. I think without question you'll see Georgia put on a better performance."
For the record, Steele picked Georgia to finish 13th nationally and second in the SEC East behind the Gators. He also lauded Mark Richt as one of the top coaches in the entire country.
Steele also believes that Georgia's offensive line will prove to be one of the best such units in the entire country and believes that Caleb King will make a definite impact in the running game.
"I know everybody looks at losing Moreno as something that will hurt but I expect Caleb King to do really well," Steele said. "There's great depth at running back, and coupled with A.J. Green, who knows the ins and outs of the offense, there's a pretty good supporting cast."
Steele isn't giving up on Richard Samuel as a possible contributor at running back, either.
"I had him as my No. 10 running back coming out of high school and I think he'll have a fine season," Steele said. 'Like I said, Georgia has great depth at running back and I fully expect somebody to emerge and provide some outstanding production."
Steele said he's looking forward to the season-opener at Oklahoma State, a contest that should tell both schools about their respective teams.
"I think most people will have Oklahoma State favored and they'll start out the year in the Top 10," he said. "Like Georgia, they're also one of just seven of eight schools which rank in the top 32 in my position rankings. I'm sure they'll open as a three- to four-point favorite. But again, in my opinion, this one is a tossup."
NOTE: Don't look for Steele to attend a college game in person. Not with as much research as he has to do. "I've got 12 TVs in front of me. If I took off on Saturday and drive 2-3 hours, including the game that's about nine hours. I'd miss somewhere between 12 and 36 games. There's no way I could devote that time for one game when I've got 12 games in front of me. On Saturdays, I'm in the office glued to the TV." ... For more on Steele and his publication, be sure to check out philsteele.com
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