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August 24, 2009

Column: Nice to see you...again

Previously, on UGA vs. OSU: Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins, Marcus Washington, Darius Dewberry, Bryan Evans, Prince Miller, Mike Moore, Vince Vance, Kade Weston, Clint Boling, Shaun Chapas, Vance Cuff, Rennie Curran, Chris Davis, Akeem Dent, Demarcus Dobbs, Darryl Gamble, Reshad Jones, and Trinton Sturdivant.

Why are these names important? At least 14 are currently starting for Georgia, several of them started the 2007 game as well, and nearly every one of them is being looked at as a major contributor to this year's team.

In addition, it's nice to see the No. 13 pre-season AP ranking that UGA sported heading into the 2007 game as well.

That year, Oklahoma State was widely regarded as an offensive juggernaut after averaging 35.2 points per game in 2006. They scored 14 in their loss at Georgia. Once again, OSU enters this matchup with everyone talking about how wonderful their offense is after averaging just over 38 points in 2008.

I have always been a proponent for high profile out of conference matchups, and at least three teams should be commended for playing three such games this season. While Georgia has dates against Big 12, Pac 10, and ACC programs this season, Georgia Tech will line up against three SEC schools, while Syracuse could theoretically be leading the Big 10 following week three of the season despite being in the Big East.

As exciting as those games might be to watch, I have come around to the belief that scheduling so many in one year might not be the wisest decision. While it might not be the case as much with Georgia as it is for the two smaller programs, there is no doubt these games have marketing departments salivating at potential sell outs or perhaps national television exposure.

However, I would also tend to believe the pucker level of the collective coaching staffs to be on the rise as the season nears and the very real possibility of losing one of these games begins to set in. The Yellow Jackets can put their worries on the back burner until October when they play at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, but the Orange plays Minnesota, Penn State, and Northwestern out of the gate, while Georgia heads to Oklahoma State and hosts Arizona State in September in addition to playing two SEC opponents.

Ouch.

As if that is not enough, head coach Mark Richt's strict discipline policies will leave the team without two starters for the season opener against the Cowboys and game two against South Carolina. While neither tight end Bruce Figgins nor defensive end Justin Houston will sit out not as a result of an arrest or any legal problems, an arrest for misdemeanor possession of marijuana did not end up costing Oklahoma State's starting tight end any playing time. Same position, similar offenses, very different punishment.

Meanwhile in Columbia, head coach Steve Spurrier has decided to suspend defensive back C.C. Whitlock, but they have not yet decided for which game.

"It will probably be one of the games they shouldn't need me in," Whitlock told GamecockCentral. Expect to see him between the hedges.

There are many other examples this offseason, but those two work well since they just happen to involve Georgia's first two opponents on college football's toughest schedule for 2009.

If the Dawgs can navigate the many land mines they face, and in doing so maintain the level discipline that puts starters on the bench if they violate team rules, Mark Richt should win coach of the year.

This is all sounding very familiar.

In 2006, the year before game one of this series, Oklahoma State was held under 30 points just once, and that was in their loss to Texas. In 2008, the Cowboys were held under 30 twice, once again in a loss to Texas, and the second time in their highly lopsided loss to Texas Tech.

Georgia's 35-14 win over Oklahoma State in 2007 looks closer on paper than the way it played out on the field.

"We were looking forward to coming down here to find out about ourselves, and we found out, we are not ready for the big-time," then 40 year old head coach Mike Gundy said afterwards. "I thought Georgia played more physical than us and their coaches did a better job than we did."

It might have been only a 21-point win, but the post game Cowboy comments tell the story much better than the box score.

"We got outplayed across the board," said defensive end Nathan Peterson. "The difference was that they were making key plays, and we weren't. We got whipped because they always seemed to be in the backfield. On offense, they ran those quick screens a lot more than we thought they would, and we didn't adjust quick enough."

"I give Georgia credit," said all-star receiver Andarius Bowman. "I thought we got out-coached and out-played and that's that. It hurts. All around they beat us up and down. They totally outplayed us."

"Georgia played a great game and was better than us," said heralded quarterback Bobby Reid. "They were tougher than us, and beat us into submission. The game got away from our entire team. Their defense was making plays, and they were after us all night long. They did a good job of scheming against us and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time."

As noted, many of those Georgia players, particularly on defense, are going to be in the same positions this time around and the question is: is Oklahoma State now ready for the big-time?

Nobody questions Georgia's big-time status. Since head coach Mark Richt took over the program in 2001, the Bulldogs are 82-22, 30-4 in opponent stadiums, 34-3 against non-conference opponents, and have finished six of seven seasons with 10 wins and ranked in the top 10 of the AP's season ending poll.

A major reason for that is the Bulldogs' ability to keep their roster loaded with top ranked prospects. Before anyone blurts out the predictable, "rankings are overrated," the winning record speaks for itself, as does the fact that Georgia has led the SEC in players drafted by the National Football League with 46 since 2001.

A year ago, the Bulldogs were the media darling and featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Oklahoma State was still trying to rebound from their loss in Athens to open the 2007 season that so decimated their confidence that they lost 41-23 to Troy two weeks after playing between the hedges.

The Sports Illustrated curse, as many fans call it cannot be blamed for the Bulldogs coming up short on their preseason No. 1 billing-but they still won 10 games and finished in the Top 10 because they are a big-time program.

Oklahoma State is on the cover of this season's Sports Illustrated, and the notoriety appears to be already getting the best of them as they have closed practices and will not speak to the media again until August 31st.

Nobody doubts the Cowboys have a great looking team heading into the season, and they might be ready to step onto the big-time college football stage alongside the Bulldogs who have had stood there for years.

However, the pressure is clearly on OSU.

Again, is Oklahoma State ready for the big-time? They have a big-time bunch of boys from Athens stopping by their place very soon so they will be able to find out.



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