Can you believe it's only three months to kickoff? I don't know if it's because I'm getting old or what, but time really seems to be flying...seems like it was just yesterday we were beating up on the Aggies of Texas A&M, and now it's already Athlon/Lindy's/Phil Steele season.
I am definitely optimistic about this upcoming season. I define success for the Dawgs as winning 10 games and at least competing for the SEC title...we won 8 games last year, and I think we have an EXCELLENT chance of picking up at least one or two more wins.
- I think we easily pick up at least one more win just based on the schedule.
Looking at out-of-conference scheduling first...Let's say the Tennessee Tech - Idaho State tradeoff is a wash. Outside of that, we lose an away game at Oklahoma State and a home game against Arizona State from our OOC schedule and replace them with a home game against La.-Lafayette and an away game at a bad Colorado team. So, basically the away game at Oklahoma State is replaced by an away game at Colorado (MUCH easier opponent, and also not the first game of the season), and the home game against Arizona State is replaced by a home game against La-Lafayette.
On top of that, the game against the gnats will be in Athens this year. Not that we are intimidated by playing at The Joke by the Coke at all, but it's still a plus.
Let's turn our attention to the SEC schedule...for our SEC west opponents, we lose LSU and pick up Mississippi State. Even having to travel to Starkville (we played LSU at home last season), I think that's definitely an easier road.
Last year, we played Arkansas and UT on the road...they both come to Athens this season.
Now the bad news...Auburn and South Carolina were both home games last year, so we will be on the road for both of those this season. The Auburn game, especially, makes me nervous...I think Cam Newton may end up a star in Gus Malzahn's offense, and we've beaten them 4 times in a row now in a series that's usually a lot more back-and-forth than that.
To sum up...our OOC schedule is TONS easier, we trade LSU for Mississippi State, and we trade a couple of really tough road opponents for another couple of really tough road opponents. In my opinion, one of the extra wins we are going to need to reach 10 is already baked in to the schedule.
So..what do we keep hearing from pundits who think that the Dawgs might NOT be as good this season as last? "Freshman QB and brand new defense", right?
Well, allow me to retort....
- First, let's look at the quarterback position. Now, I have no idea what Aaron Murray is going to be, and you don't either...he's never taken a snap in a game. I've seen his high school tape, which was very impressive, and I've seen him play really well in one meaningless spring practice and just so-so in another meaningless spring practice.
So, let's look at a couple of comparison points.
The last time we went into a season with a RS freshman as our game 1 starter was 2001, with a young man by the name of David Greene (maybe you've heard of him). Here are his 2001 stats (bowl game included):
362 passes, 214 completions (60%), 3,077 yds (256 ypg), 18 TD, 11 INT
I have a feeling that Dawg fans would be pretty happy with those numbers, right?
Yes, David Greene was a special case...mature beyond his years, incredibly smart, understood the offense perfectly, etc. But...can anybody watch Aaron Murray play and not say that, at least PHYSICALLY, he is more gifted than Greene was? I think those physical gifts (stronger arm, TONS more mobility) wipe out at least some of Greene's perceived "mental" edge. For that matter, all we've heard about Aaron from the coaching staff seems to indicate that he is another guy who understands the offense, is a great leader, and is also extremely mature for someone his age.
Another factor in Aaron's favor...his supporting cast is going to be better than what Greene had in his freshman year. Not only did David not have an A.J. Green to throw to, I don't think he even had a Tavarres King or Kris Durham. Terrence Edwards, Damien Gary, freshman Fred Gibson...all nice pieces, sure, but I think we are in much better shape now at the WR position, and that doesn't even include the tight ends. Randy McMichael was very good and made tons of big plays for us, but I don't think he was as good as Orson Charles is right now...and then behind him we have 3 other All SEC caliber tight ends in Aron White, Arthur Lynch, and Bruce Figgins.
The running back position is not even close...David had nothing approaching the two-headed monster of Ealy and King in the backfield his freshman year. Verron Haynes (besides doing THIS) came in at the end of the year and played very well, but it was a position in flux all season long.
I think the offensive lines are comparable, though this one is more seasoned than that one was...Greene's offensive line didn't really come into their own until the 2002 SEC championship season.
So I think I can make the case that Aaron Murray has a very good chance to be as successful as David Greene was in his freshman year. But, if you think that may not be the best comparison, let's look at some more recent numbers...Joe Cox's stats in 2009:
331 passes, 185 completions (56%), 2,584 yards (199 ypg), 24 TD, 15 INT
Wouldn't you think Aaron Murray could maybe land somewhere in the middle of those two, adjusting for the fact that he will probably have fewer attempts because of the running game? Let's say something like:
290 passes, 165 completions (57%), 2,310 yards (178 ypg), 20 TD, 12 INT
If he is able to pull that off (and honestly, I think I am being pretty conservative there), then I say the "Freshman QB" excuse for the Dawgs this year turns out to be basically a wash. I mean, I love the Ginger Assassin, but he was basically a freshman at the position last year, as well...it was his first meaningful experience as a college QB, and you could often tell it.
- Now for the defense...I'm just going to put it like this: brand new scheme or not, is it reasonable to expect this defense to be WORSE next year than it was in 2009? 37 points vs. South Carolina...41 points vs. Arkansas...45 points to a mediocre Tennessee team...41 points vs. Florida...34 points vs. Kentucky, for crying out loud...
If the 2010 produces results that are the same as last season I'm going to be bitterly disappointed...which means that at worst, the "brand new defense" excuse should be considered a wash as well.
That's a whole lot of words, just to say this...I think the schedule sets up for the Dawgs to get from 8 wins to 10 pretty easily, and I think that what are considered to be our biggest "question marks" are at worst a wash vs. last season, and at best they may even turn out to be upgrades.
Now the real question...if we win 10 and lose three, who are the three losses going to be against? Because, although I will most likely be happy with 10-3, who those three losses come from will go a long way in determing the ultimate success level of this team.
My WAY too early prediction? We lose to South Carolina (first true test of the season for Murray, on the road, noon start, early enough in the season that the 'Cocks still think they may actually be good), Auburn (for reasons already specified), and Florida (out of habit).
Win the bowl game, and we are 10-3, 5-3 in the SEC, probably playing in the Capital One or Outback bowl.
What say you, Dawg fans? Would that be a good enough year for you to qualify as a "success"?
P.S. - to the Anonymous poster who has been trolling every Dawg blog and spewing your nonsense after every similar post to this one...just prepare to have your comments deleted if you show up here again.