Georgia Faces National Title Talk

HOOVER, Ala. — Apparently, red-and-black is in style this fall, and it has become trendy to like Georgia.

Over the past few months, the Bulldogs have emerged as the popular choice to win a national championship in 2008. Preseason magazines have raved about the offensive talent in Athens, and Georgia football has become a hot topic on sports talk radio shows.

The hype isn't expected to die down anytime soon, whether that's a good thing or not. After all, the media needs something to talk about more than a month before the start of the college football season.

"I told the players that this preseason hype could be a blessing or a curse," Richt said Thursday morning on the second day of the Southeastern Conference Media Days. "It's a curse if you think it gives you a sense of entitlement to where you think you don't have to prepare.

"It could be a blessing if you look at it as one of the greatest opportunities of your life and you put the work into even being in position to have a chance (to win a national title)."

As much as Georgia wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi has tried to ignore all the national championship talk, he admits it's been hard to avoid it when it's constantly being thrown in his face.

For nearly an hour Thursday, hundreds of reporters crowded into a ballroom inside the Wynfrey Hotel to ask Richt, Massaquoi and Georgia defensive tackle Jeff Owens about the high expectations being placed on them for the upcoming season.

"A lot of teams start out No. 1 and they kind of get derailed throughout the course of the season," Massaquoi said. "If we're fortunate to be No. 1 (in the preseason polls), we're going to try to play every game our hardest and try to put ourselves into a position to succeed."

It's easy to see why Georgia — not LSU, Southern California or Oklahoma — is being tabbed as perhaps the favorite to win a national title in 2008.

The Bulldogs have arguably the nation's top quarterback-running back tandem in junior Matthew Stafford and sophomore Knowshon Moreno. Stafford is considered a possible top 5 pick in next year's NFL Draft if he decides to leave school early, and Moreno is being mentioned as an early Heisman Trophy candidate.

The duo has the potential to be the next Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, or as Richt sees it, the next Charlie Ward and Warrick Dunn.

"These guys, I don't know if they rival that or not," said Richt, who coached Ward and Dunn when he was Florida State's offensive coordinator in the 1990s. "When you look at the production of Charlie and Warrick together, it's pretty outstanding, pretty spectacular.

"Will (Stafford and Moreno) be as productive as those two? I don't know."

Stafford was a part of the same heralded quarterback class as former Springdale High star Mitch Mustain and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow in 2006. He started most of his freshman season, and as a sophomore, he helped the Bulldogs finish ranked No. 2 by the Associated Press.

Stafford threw for 2,523 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2007. Not surprisingly, though, he got overshadowed at times by Moreno, who rushed for 1,334 and 14 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.

Of course, anything can happen during Georgia's potential national championship run. The Bulldogs have a young offensive line, a lack of depth at running back, fullback and safety and a brutal schedule that includes road games at LSU and Auburn.

"We can't control who plays in January; we're still in July," Owens said. "So we can't look in the future and know what is going to happen."

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