The anticipation and buildup for the Matt Stafford Era played out for a long time and was electric. NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper predicted Stafford would be a No. 1 overall pick before he even got to Georgia. Mark Richt told people off the record Stafford was the best high school quarterback he'd ever seen. Instantly an Athens celebrity, everyone on campus raved about the time they "saw Stafford in the dining hall!!!!!!!"
Stafford didn't disappoint either.
He quickly assumed the starting role as a freshman, leading the 2006 team to a 9-4 finish as he learned lessons in good and bad fashion.
The following year, Stafford went from being a gun-slinging freshman to the best quarterback in the SEC. He led Georgia to 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl victory.
In 2008 Stafford began the season as a Heisman favorite as the team started the season ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press for the first time in school history. He threw 25 touchdowns, breaking D.J. Shockley and Eric Zeier's record of 24 in a single season.
He declared for the NFL shortly after his junior season, leaving Georgia with 7,731 yards and 51 touchdowns.
Stafford's talent was undeniable, and he was probably the most popular or talked-about player of the Richt Era. The knock though lies in the fact that he never played in the SEC title game, although he left a lasting legacy by never losing to Auburn, beating Florida in 2007 and winning a Sugar Bowl. His iconic moment came in Tuscaloosa in 2007 with an overtime touchdown throw to Mikey Henderson to knock off Alabama in overtime.
Just as Kiper predicted, Stafford was taken No. 1 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL Draft.
After battling injuries in his first two seasons, Stafford became on the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season.
An interesting note: After Stafford came to Georgia from Highland Park High in Dallas, Texas, applications to the University from students at the school rose dramatically. This was dubbed "The Matt Stafford Effect" by the hometown newspaper Park Cities People.