Bama (Natl Champ)
Alabama Crimson Tide (National Championship)
L, 23-26


Much is being made this preseason about the offense - the exciting true freshman Isaiah Crowell, the depth concerns at offensive line and how on Earth we will replace AJ Green. While all those topics are certainly valid and pertinent to this team's success or failure, I believe they all take a back seat to the question that will ultimately determine the fate of the 2011 Dawgs and Mark Richt's job.

Go Dawgs!Has the defense improved?

Think about the games we could have won last year if we could have just held the opponent under 24 points:

     Arkansas; lost 24-31
     Colorado; lost 27-29
     Florida; lost 31-34
     Auburn; lost 31-49

I went back and looked at schedules from the early 2000s. From 2002-2005 (4 seasons), we gave up 24+ points 10 times (3 of the 10 were 24 exactly; and only 3 were 30+). Our record in those 10 games was 6-4 (6-1 in the games where we held the opponent under 30). Our overall scoring average in that time frame was 15.6 points per game. Compare that to last season alone. We gave up 24+ points 7 times for a record of 2-5. FIVE of those were 30+ and 1 was 40+ (and it was 49). Our overall scoring average last season was 22.1 points, almost a touchdown more than Richt's early years.

So, with my opinion that this season will hinge on improvement in the defense, here's how I feel about this current squad:

First, let's breakdown the position groups. The D-line is absolutely loaded with talent and depth (Geathers, Jenkins, A. Jones, Tyson, Lott, G. Smith, Thornton). I think this could be the best position group we have on the entire team, short of special teams. The starting linebackers will be dominant in my opinion. I don't think it gets better than Tree, Robinson and J. Jones. So if we get just decent play out of Cornelius Washington or Ray Drew at the weakside backer, we'll be set. Depth is a little concerning, but reports out of camp are that Gilliard and Herrera are playing great inside, and I think we could see solid play out of TJ Stripling and Chase Vassar on the outside (not to mention maybe Ramik Wilson as the season progresses). The defensive backfield does concern me, especially with Jakar going down. Not that I think Jakar was going to play at an all conference level, but he definitely would have provided quality depth and losing him means Sanders Commings will likely be a safety full time. So, what I thought was another talented and deep position group in CB isn't quite so deep anymore. The reports on Branden Smith are extremely encouraging, but we're definitely going to need Jordan Love, Derek Owens, Chris Sanders and/or Damian Swann to step up at corner. Corner is definitely a position where depth matters a little more than others. Sounds like Rambo may not be the starting safety right now, which is very interesting. If that is because Shawn Williams and Sanders Commings are just playing that well, then I love it. If it's because Rambo is having some of those attitude/entitlement issues that plagued some now-former Bulldogs then I'm happy the coaches are showing the discipline to bench him, but it's obviously concerning from a competitive standpoint. It sounds like Corey Moore is ready to contribute, but you just hate having a true freshman as that last line of defense, and it seems like Marc Deas is a forgotten man. If Rambo doesn't get his act together, safety depth could be a real issue.

Now for the macro view. I think our defense is going to be GREAT this year - best D we've seen in Athens since 2005. The scoring average will come back down inside 20, and I don't think you see more than a couple opposing offenses go over 25. The talent and depth of our front 7 will mask whatever issues we have at safety. Last year's defense was epic bad, but a lot has changed in one off-season. Strength & conditioning has been improved significantly, "bad apples" have been run out of town, not 1, but 2 true nose guards have been found and last but most importantly, this is the 2nd year in the scheme. Everyone always talks about the leap that 2nd year head coaches make, and I think that it largely due to players having a better understanding of systems, terminology and the way the coach leads the team. I think the same can be said for installing a new coordinator. The players will be able to play faster this season and I am 100% convinced that we will see results of that on the field.

Now, if you've actually managed to hang with me through this entire post, I'll give you my Boise State prediction. There's no question that Kellen Moore is the best quarterback we will face this season, and Boise has certainly proved they can play with anyone. Having said that, I don't believe they will be able to run the ball on our front 7, and will need the replacements for their record-setting WRs to step up immediately. With the running game unable to dictate the game, their passing game will not be what it was last season. On the flip side, I do believe we will be able to run the ball on Boise's defensive front, using our size advantage to pound Crowell and Samuel between the tackles. Boise won't make it to that magic number of 24 and therefore the Dawgs win the game 27-23.