It’s no secret that the Dawgs are getting a lot of love from the national media right now. Despite the fact that the SEC media don’t think we can win our division, the national powers (ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, etc.) seem pretty fixated on our boys. There are some obvious reasons for this: we ended last year on a strong seven game winning streak, beating some good teams impressively along the way and lost very few starters. But if you pay attention to the media darlings every preseason you’ll notice that those early predictions are often more about players than they are about teams. For example, Florida, who is also receiving a lot of preseason praise, has some major holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball. But whenever you hear them lauded it is almost solely for Tebow and speedy Percy Harvin. Many in the media see Tebow/Harvin=unstoppable, therefore Florida=unstoppbale, whether that is true or not. And Georgia is no different this year, we have our own celebs for the first time since Greene and Pollack left four years ago.
Ask anyone outside the South to name a Georgia player and you are guaranteed to hear one of two names: Knowshon Moreno or Matthew Stafford. They were both on the SI cover and Knowshon has also played cover boy now for ESPN The Magazine, USA Today and The Sporting News. Meanwhile Stafford has drawn unrelenting praise from the likes of Kirk Herbstriet, Carson Palmer, Bob Griese and the Manning family for his ability and knowledge of the game. Make no mistake, the media loves UGA right now primarily because Stafford and Knowshow are so easy to love.
As UGA enters this season you can expect Stafford and Knowshon to continue to live in the spotlight, but one of the interesting subplots to the season will be the chances of UGA retaining either player for the 2009 campaign. Both Stafford and Moreno have NFL scouts drooling. At the Elite 11 camp out in California every NFL guru got googily-eyed over Stafford and it seemed College Gameday’s Herbstriet had a legit man crush on him by the time the camp was all wrapped up. Similarly, scouts love Knowshon’s vision and competitive spirit. The NFL is undoubtedly in the future for both players. The only question now is how soon will they get there? Obviously any number of factors could affect their draft status over the course of the next few months. Here’s my best guess as to what might keep each one here or send them packing:
Beginning with Stafford, and despite Coach Richt recently saying that he expects Stafford to finish out his four years here, I don’t like the Dawgs chances of seeing him in red and black in 2009. He’s already receiving huge praise from Mel Kiper and Co., some expecting him to go as high as the first five picks. He has all the NFL tools and understands the game well. He could very well be destined to play for one of the worst teams in professional football (after an early pick and big money) in 2009. But’s it’s certainly no done deal. What could keep him here? The first thing that comes to mind would be an unaccomplished goal, like say, winning an SEC or National Championship. Stafford does seem like a team player, who knows the NFL is in his future and might want another shot at glory if all doesn’t turn out as we hope this year. The second possible retainer for Stafford would be a down year statistically. After having twice as many interceptions as touchdowns in his freshman year Stafford flipped his numbers last year, throwing for 19 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. If this trend continues in a positive way, scouts will continue to drool and his draft stock will continue to go up. With teams planning around Knowshon as a run threat and with a good corps of receivers I can see the numbers getting much better if the line holds up. And is there any thing that almost certainly sends Stafford packing? An outstanding year statistically is the most likely push toward the pros. If he could go 25 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, throw for a few hundred more total yards and hit a 65% completion percentage, the money may just be too much to turn down. As far as the implications of winning a title go, it’s always hard to predict if a player will want to go out on top or come back for more. Obviously a good bit of his supporting cast would be back in 2009 so that might have some pull, but it’s really too unpredictable to speculate. His name will also show up in Heisman talk this year. If he wins the trophy, expect him to be gone, not because they trophy is that important to him, but because that means he had an incredible year and he’s ready for the next level.
Knowshon, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as easy to forecast. Running backs in general are a bit more fickle and more difficult to predict from year to year. While Stafford’s progress has been well-documented this off-season it’s more difficult to gauge the progress of a running back until you put pads on the player and 11 players on the field. As one of the best backs in the SEC last year he had few areas that needed drastic improvement, but I also wouldn’t put it past him to surprise us with his talent and effort yet again. He could take a step back this year as SEC coaches have had a year to prepare for him and teams begin to pack the box (which opens Stafford up for a phenomenal year). Or he could play every game like he did last year in Jacksonville and then sprint from his seat to the stage in Radio City Music Hall to accept the Heisman Trophy. So what keeps Knowshon in Athens for another year? Either a down year statistically or one that is on par with 2007. One has to expect him to get more overall touches as the starter all year. If he can get a minimum of 20 touches a game (maybe as many as 30 in a few games) and maintain almost 5 yards per carry (which is outstanding), he would have a good shot at 1500 yards next year. Moreover, if he continues to have a nose for the end zone his status could jump on the draft boards. While a down year statistically seems improbable as he heads into the role of full-time starter, running backs just tend to be tough to predict. As far as titles will affect him, I really have no idea. I get the idea that Knowshon isn’t really much of a scholar at heart and I know that if you’re comparing economic backgrounds, the money may have more appeal right now for Knowshon that it does for Stafford. The NFL may hold a little more appeal for him, especially with the great risk of injury that running backs face every year that they play.
Obviously there a number of other factors at play with both players. Injury is probably the most feared and impactful of all. For all we know one of them may be headed to a medical redshirt for 2008 (Please, God, do not let this happen). The beauty of college football is the total lack of surety that runs through all of it. And anticipating the life decisions of 21 year old kids is pretty far from a sure science. As for me, I’m hoping for wins and championships now. Once those dreams either succeed or fail I’ll begin hoping for another year of Stafford and Knowshon between the hedges.
Other news and tidbits of note:
It appears that Knowshon may get some punt return opportunities. Other potential candidates are Logan Gray (the dual-threat QB) and Carlton Thomas (remember that name, he’s gonna be good.) All three are interesting choices for a number of reasons.
Lastly, CBS has picked up the Tennessee, Florida and LSU games as 3:30 start times. This is probably to our benefit in Baton Rouge, although I honestly have split feelings on it- I’ve always wanted to witness a night game there. Also, Tech is going to be a noon game… at least it won’t be too hot on Thanksgiving weekend.
YouTube clip o’ the day:
In my yearnings for football’s return this summer I’ve become mildly obsessed with watching YouTube clips of Georgia football, so I’m going to do my best to add a clip to every post in case you care to indulge. And since I shorted you last time, here’s two:
James Brown in Sanford Stadium:
Compilation of 2007 sacks, Marcus Howard is a bad man: