#8: The Georgia Bulldogs

The Georgia Bulldogs will roll into Death Valley on August 30th missing most of their offensive line, their top running back, and 8 additional players who were suspended by AD Vince Dooley just one week ago. Does that give the Tigers a better chance of pulling off the upset? You bet it does!

Coach Mark Richt must replace the entire offensive line and linebacking corps from last season's Southeastern Conference champions. Running back Musa Smith, who rushed for 1,324 yards, and defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan are also history.

What Richt has in stock are not one but two of the best quarterbacks in the nation in David Greene and D.J. Shockley, most of the receiving corps led by flanker Fred Gibson and tight end Ben Watson, and seven defensive starters. All-American David Pollack carves his own niche in opponents' backfields, accounting for 23.5 tackles behind the line and 14 sacks last season. All-SEC safety Kentrell Curry is still the leader of the back seven. If Tony Milton or scatback Tyson Browning can't pick up the slack at tailback, prize recruit Kregg Lumpkin might step in.

A three-game stretch in late September and early October at LSU, Alabama and at Tennessee could make or break the Dawgs' title defense. And it doesn't get any easier in November, where Florida and Auburn show up.

Stubborn: Georgia finished fourth nationally last fall in scoring defense, allowing 15.1 points per game.

It's about time: Georgia's SEC championship in 2002 was its first since Herschel Walker's Heisman year of 1982.

In closing: The Bulldogs beat three bowl teams in a row Ole Miss, Auburn and Georgia Tech to conclude the regular season.

2002 results: 131 (71 SEC)

2002 Bowl Game: Beat Florida State 26-13 in Sugar Bowl

Returning starters: 3 offense, 7 defense, placekicker

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 at Clemson
S. 6 Middle Tennessee
S. 13 South Carolina
S. 20 at LSU
O. 4 Alabama
O. 11 at Tennessee
O. 18 at Vanderbilt
O. 25 UAB
N. 1 #Florida
N. 15 Auburn
N. 22 Kentucky
N. 29 at Georgia Tech

Schedule Analysis: It ain't easy. Clemson gave the Dawgs fits last year, as did South Carolina. Georgia plays the top three teams in the SEC West in LSU, Alabama and Auburn, and the Tennessee game is on the road. Oh yeah, then there's that game with Florida.

Final Word: Yes, we pick Georgia to repeat as SEC East champs, but it is not going to be easy. The strength of the team will be defense at the outset, with seven starters back and three new, athletic linebackers starting for the first time. Expect the Bulldogs to be awfully stingy on that side of the ball.

Offensively, Mark Richt will have to figure out how best to use his two talented quarterbacks behind a young and inexperienced offensive line. Georgia has recruited well recently, so finding production and running back and receiver should not be an issue, but the offensive line will have to mature quickly for the Dawgs to move the ball. Georgia may have some flaws this year, but Florida and Tennessee do, too. After playing third fiddle for too long, the Bulldogs may grab their second straight SEC title.

Clemson Slant: The Tigers gave Georgia all they could handle last year in Athens, losing a 7-point 4th quarter lead to fall to the Dawgs 31-28. Aaron Hunt missed two field goals in that game and Clemson gave up a long kickoff return for a touchdown to help set the tone for the rest Georgia's season.

For the first since 1995, the tables will turn as the Dawgs make the 100-mile trip up to Clemson, South Carolina.

Unfortunately for Georgia fans, the outlook for their 2003 opener took a major hit last week when eight players were declared ineligible for selling their SEC championship rings, four players were suspended for other rules violations and it was announced another possible starter will transfer.

After losing most of their offensive line and their star running back in Musa Smith, the suspensions will only make the Dawgs more vulnerable come August 30th.

Head coach Tommy Bowden spent most of the offseason a year ago preparing for the Dawgs, and it should have paid off in a victory. This year, he'll do the same thing again and have the luxury of facing a team that isn't as talented or experienced in his own backyard.

Nevertheless, the task at hand for the Tigers in the season opener is monumental. A win would no doubt ignite a confidence in this team that has been lacking, while a loss would certainly keep expectations low for Tiger fans in 2003.

Stopping SEC Player-of-the-Year DE David Pollock will be of prime importance against a Clemson offensive line that still appears to be overmatched.

In addition, the quarterback tandem of D.J. Shockley and David Greene looks to be lethal once again, but how will these two respond with an entirely new offensive line in a season opener, on the road?

Only time will tell what happens between these two old rivals, but one thing can be said with certainty: Death Valley will be the place to be on August 30th.

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