Thus begins the series of previews for each week's opponents sort of like the ones I did last year, though they're sort of a combination of the "A Bulldog Tempts the Wrath of a Vengeful God" series that I didn't do this year with the in-week game-by-game previews. My goal is for them to be just as informative as they were last year, though that's a low bar to jump over. By the way, I'm still looking for as many UGA-GSU tickets as anyone's willing to sell me, so shoot me an e-mail if you know where I can find and/or trade sexual favors for some.
And now: the Eagles.
Hometown: Statesboro, Georgia.
Last season: The Eagles missed the I-AA playoffs in Chris Hatcher's first year as head coach, but did finish with a 7-4 record, and were one of only two teams to beat eventual FCS champion Appalachian State (the other of which, quite conspicuously, was not Michigan).
Hate index, 1 being Zaxby's chicken fingers, 10 being chlamydia: Two. Maybe even one and a half. They don't even play in our division, so why bother pointing hate-daggers at them? Plus, not only are they the team that legendary Georgia DC Erk Russell turned into a I-AA juggernaut, one of the coolest chicks I've ever dated in my life got her degree from there. So no animosity for you, GSU. Like Jesus, you're just all right with me.
Associated hottie: Former GSU student Meredith Laine is listed in her IMDb filmography as having appeared in a straight-to-video version of "War of the Worlds" and a 2007 film called "Once in a Lifetime: Just Go For It." What this bio doesn't answer is whether she's the same Meredith Laine who's made several appearances in the "Bikini Classroom" series of saucy computer tutorials, but for right now let's just assume that she is, because that gives me an excuse to post this video of a chick in a bathing suit 'splaining Windows XP:
There's actually not a lot of T&A once you get into the meat of the tutorial, but still, I think this kicks the ass of whatever Video Professor's putting out there. John W. Scherer, consider yourself replaced.
Celebrity preview: Dennis Miller reports on the Eagles here.
What excites me: Southern put up a bundle of points last year in the "Hatch Attack" spread system, but those points were posted mostly against D-IAA defenses, and Hatcher only has three returning starters on his offense this year. Jayson Foster, who could literally play every single skill position on the offense and who was signed as a UFA by the Miami Dolphins in the spring after winning the 2007 Walter Payton Award and Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors, is not one of them. So even if GSU somehow finds success scoring on their SoCon rivals, I doubt they're going to find the same kind of success scoring on the Dawgs. Particularly not when Georgia, along with the rest of the country, has been put on Code-Fuchsia Upset Alert regarding FCS opponents after last year's Michigan-App State shocker. I'm not saying Georgia's going to be treating these guys like the Gators, but it's safe to say they're taking them a little more seriously than they would have, say, four or five years ago.
Defensively, Southern allowed 31.6 points per game last year, which again, aside from a season finale against 3-9 Colorado State, was put up by D-IAA offenses. Not only are they going up against the likes of Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, they'll be doing so without a number of starters. Yes, Georgia's going to be a little short-handed themselves thanks variously to injuries and scrapes with the law, but in the end, the team you'd rather be coming into this game is still the Dawgs.
What worries me: This, obvs. And while I know I just said Georgia would be taking the Eagles a little more seriously this year for that very reason, I'd be lying if I said I was 100-percent confident in Georgia's focus and determination. I was in Sanford Stadium for both this game and this one, and while the final scores both look respectable at a glance, they don't reflect the sloppy play I remember witnessing both times. And considering that all the talk in the preseason has been about how Georgia's schedule is loaded with Top-25 title contenders like Florida, LSU, and Arizona State, GSU definitely wins the Most Likely to Be Overlooked award.
And we all know how that has the potential to turn out.
The spread system that Southern will be bringing to Athens this weekend isn't exactly the same as the older-school triple-option attack that gashed a future-NFL-draftee-laden Dawg defense for 294 rushing yards in 2004, but it's similar enough that I'm preparing myself for at least one or two big Eagle plays in the early going. Of course, a lot of that comes down to tackling fundamentals, and while my memory may be faulty here I seem to recall a few of GSU's plays becoming bigger than they should have in '04 thanks to Georgia defenders not fully wrapping up their guys and taking them all the way down. Hopefully we'll be as solid in that area as our wealth of talent on defense says we should be, but again, in these early-season supposed-to-be-gimme matchups it's hard to tell.
Player who needs to step up: LT Kiante Tripp. With the Dawgs fully expected to be hitting on all cylinders at every other position against GSU, all eyes are going to be on the OL's blindside guy to see whether he can fill the injured Trinton Sturdivant's substantial shoes. And given that Sturdivant's absence has already prompted some pundits to start bumping the Dawgs down from the #1 spot, Tripp needs to be near-perfect -- I'm willing to bet that if Stafford gets sacked even once, substantial portions of the pundit class will begin sounding the funeral bells for Georgia's national-title hopes. Got all that, Kiante? OK, now get out there and have fun!
What I think will happen: I think it'll be a fun weekend, for starters -- with little on the line and the outcome not really in doubt, these quadrennial UGA-GSU matchups are like laid-back family reunions, with fans on both sides running into people they went to high school with and compliments flowing freely about each side's team. Maybe the GSU partisans will be emboldened enough by last year's App State shocker that they'll carry a little more piss and vinegar with them into Athens than usual, but even then I expect a good time will be had by all.
Whether that good time has anything to do with the actual play on the field, of course, is anyone's guess. Outside of GSU, I've been vocal in my displeasure with seeing FCS opponents tacked onto our schedule, partly because I think it's beneath us, partly because those games usually suck: Last year against Western Carolina, a shitty team even by FCS standards, we dicked around and were leading only 10-6 halfway through the second quarter. The previous year, we thumped Western Kentucky pretty good, but not enough that the dumbass mistakes (Mikey Henderson's punt-return shenanigans, an inexplicable safety in the fourth quarter) weren't still the most memorable part of the afternoon. And GSU 2004, while a 20-point victory, was still a game we were pretty happy just to see end.
A tackle would be nice here. Just sayin'.
Given that this year's Georgia Southern team probably won't be as good as either WKU 2006 or GSU 2004 -- this site, for example, has them finishing fifth out of nine in the Southern Conference -- we should perform a little better than in either of those games, but between suspensions, the distractions of being the #1 team in the country, and simple early-season rustiness, there will still be ample opportunity for silly-ass mental errors. Even when not really trying, though, we've still consistently scored in the forties against D-IAA opposition, so I'm going to guess we go into halftime ahead by a ho-hum margin of something like 23-10 before our superior depth takes over in the second half and we win by, like, 47-17. Statistically, the game won't be anything to get excited about, as all our top RBs will probably get pulled before any of them can break 100 yards and several of our scores will be set up by special-teams plays or turnovers.
Of course, if God has decided that Georgia has used up their reserve of grace and good will and GSU ends up pulling an App State, I was drunk when I wrote all this. Not that it'll matter, since I will have dropped a toaster oven into the bathtub long before anyone has a chance to come on here and gloat.
If you're trash-talking: This doesn't meet the classical definition of "trash talk" exactly, but in the unlikely event that you run into a particularly mouthy GSU fan who insists that last year's App State upset means doom for the Dawgs, you could remind him or her that Southern wouldn't have a football program at all were it not for UGA. Erk Russell, the legendary Georgia D-coordinator under Vince Dooley, left Athens in 1982 to resurrect a GSU football program that had been suspended at the start of World War II and hadn't played a game since. Russell then led them to a I-AA national title in just four seasons.
No word on how many headbutts he gave, though, since that statistic wasn't officially kept at the I-AA level until the mid-nineties.
Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: Because Uga VII, the latest in Georgia's proud lineage of mascots, will be "unveiled" in a ceremony right before the game, and why would you want something as wonderful as that to be overshadowed by what would certainly be Georgia's most humiliating defeat ever?
I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia breaks the half-century mark on the scoreboard. Not that I'm particularly interested in humiliating the Eagles, mind you, it just seems like dropping a 50-bomb on somebody is something that the truly elite teams do at least once every couple years or so -- most of them even turn it into a 60- or 70-bomb -- but Georgia, surprisingly, hasn't done it since 2004. Your phun phact of the day is that nobody has won a national title in the BCS era without laying 50 points on somebody at least once, so Mark, we might as well get it out of the way now. I know you've scrupulously avoided being a run-up-the-score kind of guy and everything, and that's admirable, but my parents are going to be there, so just this once, couldn't you light somebody up?