FAYETTEVILLE — Georgia's Joe Cox has been waiting and waiting and waiting for his opportunity.
After spending the past three seasons behind Matthew Stafford on Georgia's depth chart, the senior doesn't have to wait anymore: He is finally going to be the Bulldogs' starting quarterback.
"I'm right where I want to be," Cox said. "I've worked hard and a lot of guys look up to me and are ready and willing to follow me."
A new era begins at Georgia when Cox takes over for Stafford, who was the top pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. The fifth-year senior has been in the program for awhile, but has played in just 13 games and has logged one start. It came during his redshirt freshman year.
The change at quarterback — as well as the departure of running back Knowshon Moreno — has altered expectations for Georgia's offense this season. But coach Mark Richt is confident the Bulldogs will be in good hands with Cox under center.
"When it comes to quarterback play, in my opinion, you need to have an accurate passer, you need to have a great decision maker, you need to have a young man who can handle the pressure of the job," Richt said. "Joe really personifies all those characteristics."
There's reason for hope, too. The path Cox has followed is similar to another Georgia quarterback — D.J. Shockley. Shockley was stuck behind David Greene on the depth chart most of his career, but led Georgia to an SEC title in his season as a starter in 2005.
"He had everybody on his side," said Cox, who was a true freshman that season. "I think I'm in the same situation. I think all the guys I've been with the past few years and have seen me wait want me to succeed and really want to help me out this year."
Of course, Cox still has to earn some respect and will get plenty of opportunities against opponents like Oklahoma State, Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. He won't have much experience surrounding him at the skill positions, either, outside of receiver A.J. Green, the SEC's reigning Freshman of the Year.
But Cox is ready for the challenge. He has waited long enough.
"There is pressure, but it's not something I think about," Cox said when asked about being the starting quarterback. "The success of this team is not all on my shoulders. I won't carry the team. We'll work together and that is where our success will come from."
DIFFERENCE MAKER: Georgia found out what life without DT Jeff Owens was like last year when the senior went down with a knee injury in the season opener. Without him, and with other injuries mounting, the defense struggled mightily. Especially down the stretch. But Owens has recovered and is expected to anchor the Bulldogs in the trenches alongside teammate Geno Atkins. Owens' leadership and performance will play a big role in Georgia's success.
RISING STAR: WR A.J. Green was impressive as a rookie. The SEC's freshman of the year caught 56 passes for 963 yards and 8 touchdowns. With QB Matthew Stafford, RB Knowshon Moreno and WR Mohamed Massaquoi gone, Green now stands as the team's offensive star. The Bulldogs are expecting plenty, too.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: The offensive line was a problem area for the Bulldogs in 2008 because of injuries and inexperience. The group is led by All-SEC performer Clint Boling. Trinton Sturdivant missed 2008 with an injury. But Ben Jones, Justin Anderson and Cordy Glenn all gained valuable experience as freshmen.
BIGGEST QUESTION: Who in the world is going to replace the talented Moreno? Georgia coach Mark Richt said he's OK with a tailback-by-committe approach. Returners Caleb King, Richard Samuel and Carlton Thomas will get their chances. So will incoming freshman Washaun Ealy, who should be impressive. The backs have big shoes to fill for an offense depending on the run.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: If the Bulldogs have any hope of toppling Florida in the SEC East standings this season, they need to keep a clean slate before facing Florida on Oct. 31. The Sept. 19 game at Arkansas could be a dangerous one, though. On paper, Georgia is better, but the Bulldogs will face an early season road test after opening the year at Oklahoma State and against South Carolina.
FORECAST: Second in SEC East
Georgia's Cox Steps Into Starting Role
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