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May 17, 2011

Athlon picks UGA to win the SEC East

Athlon Magazine has selected the Georgia Bulldogs to win the Southeastern Conference East Division in 2011. Editor Braden Gall answered a few questions Tuesday about how the magazine came to this preseason conclusion.

Q: Aside from noting the potential of incoming freshman running back Isaiah Crowell and assumed progression of quarterback Aaron Murray who had a very good freshman season, I didn't really get the feeling reading the offensive analysis that I was reading about a team that was the odds on favorite to outscore the likes of Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kentucky for that matter. I say this as if I am someone outside the Georgia market looking in. What is the part of UGA's offense that makes Athlon believe they have what it takes to get to the SEC Championship Game?

A: The two most important aspects of any offense are the quarterback and the offensive line. And Georgia has, in my opinion, the best signal caller in the SEC bar none. Murray's impact cannot be overlooked. Additionally, this is down year at the QB position in the SEC as a whole. This is a three team race in the East (with apologies to my alma mater, the smart kids from here in Nashville and anyone in Lexington) and there are question marks with both John Brantley, Stephen Garcia and both of their O-lines.

I give UGA the slight edge along the line of scrimmage on offense, and once you toss in a game-changer like Crowell, the Dawgs likely have the most stable offense of the big three in the East. If I knew Garcia would start all 12 games, I might sing a different tune, but he has yet to prove to me he is a champion of any kind.

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Be sure to stop by The Dawgvent to ask Braden Gall any questions you may have about the SEC or College Football in general.


Q: In the defensive analysis, it reads: "The secondary returns almost intact, which may or may not be a blessing." Earlier it notes that Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham is entering his second year. Not noted is the fact that secondary coach Scott Lakatos was also in his first year with the team in 2010. Since then, the Bulldogs have replaced their linebacker coach which means Kirk Olivadotti will be in his first year in 2011. How much do you take into consideration the tenure of the current coaching staff on either side of the ball when weighing that unit against other teams?

A: When any team makes such a dramatic shift in scheme, the stability of the staff can play a huge roll in our decision. Just look at a team like Virginia Tech. They are the most stable coaching staff in the nation and Bud Foster has an easier time filling his gaping voids each year than most. A second year of continuity is invaluable for a Georgia front seven that is likely the key to a championship run.

This is the one area where UGA is probably looking up at Florida and South Carolina. The Cocks have the most stable D-line but little experience at linebacker, the Gators have the most talent but an entirely new staff and Georgia is sort of an unknown. This team may go only as far as it's front seven takes it.

Q: Is there a specific area of the UGA defense, i.e., secondary, linebackers, defensive line, that particularly impressed Athlon to the point of saying, "These guys have a defense to win the East with this defense," or is it more of, "This defense is adequate so long as the offense is high octane"?

A: Georgia fans have to excited about the prospects of a Murray-Crowell offense and its upside potential. But as I stated above, in a division that is utterly wide open between three very equal teams, the front seven could be the key. If the chaotic 3-4 scheme simply improves in year two like I believe it will, then this defense will be on par with that of Carolina or Florida. Now, will it have to be "dominant" to beat Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in Atlanta? Probably.

Q: Did Athlon pick UGA to win the East simply because Florida is in a transition year and coach Dooley is in just his second year at Tennessee and it is believed that South Carolina's luck won't hold for a second year? What was the deciding factor in picking UGA to win the East?

A: I will continue to stress just how even these three teams in the East are and that our decision was literally splitting hairs between the raw talent of Florida, the experience of South Carolina and the most stable and balanced squad in Athens. The two final factors for me are the crossover schedule and the quarterback.

Murray has the it-factor and his Drew Brees-like will to win is undoubtedly a huge factor, but missing Alabama, LSU and Arkansas in conference play is enormous. UGA gets the bottom three teams in the West this year (two at home) and South Carolina has to play between the hedges. Carolina also has three straight roads trips to Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee in late October while Florida plays Bama at home and LSU in Baton Rouge on the first two weekends of October.

The schedule is clearly in the Dawgs' corner.

Q: Given the fact that UGA is Athlon's preseason No. 14 team, is it safe to say that the SEC East is being considered a bit down this year?

A:In a word, yes. This also speaks to why I have concerns about South Carolina's staying power. They won the East with three losses last year - in what was the single worst SEC East in the history of the league. Will 5-3 win the East again? Maybe, but highly unlikely. (As a side note, I also agree that playing Tennessee early will be key. They should be the most improved team from Week 3 to Week 12.)

Q: Last question...Since we are both music aficionados, if you could go back in time and see any Rock & Roll band when they were in their prime, who would it be and when? Discuss.

A: How do I narrow it down? Can I live in the basement At Fillmore East from 1968-1971? Memphis' Sun Records in the 50s, FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in the 60s, Seattle in the early 90s? How about Hendrix and Dylan in Greenwich Village circa 1964?

All amazing places with amazing stories, however, if I could hang out at Headley Grange in the late 60s to listen to Page, Plant, Jones and Bonzo record the most soulful music four skinny white boys have ever created would be epic.

That all being said, I have been to Bonnaroo twice, and if you look for it in the right places, there is still unbelievable music being created everyday.

My iPod regulars: The Black Keys, The Derek Trucks Band, North Mississippi All-Stars, Robert Randolph, The Bridge, Galactic, Avett Brothers, Kills, Moon Taxi, The National, White Stripes, Gaslight Anthem, Racontuers, Dead Weather, Them Crooked Vultures, Soulive, Orgone and on and on and on...

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