As I type this, the time remaining until the first kickoffs of the 2010 college football season is measured not in days but in hours. And that means we're thiiiis close to my favorite thing about fall: going up to Athens, drinking heavily, and clinging desperately to any remaining shreds of self-esteem by imagining that college chicks still think I'm hot. Wait, no! I meant my favorite thing to write about, which is Georgia football.
Looking back over the past few seasons, it occurred to me that two very distinct sides of me come out around this time of year. On the one hand, there's the aggressive, trash-talking, asshole me that comes out immediately after a Georgia victory, gleefully insulting the loyalties, intelligence, wardrobe, and/or manhood of whomever we've just ground into sawdust on the field; while loud and profane, this side is also eternally sunny, convinced that Mark Richt is a demigod and the program is solidly on the right track. That persona is on display for about 36 hours -- maybe 48 if it's been a particularly big win -- before the other guy takes over: depressed, cynical, anxious to the point of gastrointestinal issues, and convinced that something embarrassing is about to happen the following Saturday. Doesn't matter if the opponent for the Saturday in question is Florida or University of the Incarnate Word-Pascagoula, the second me has thought up the worst-case scenario well in advance and is all too happy to share it with everyone. And God forbid Georgia actually loses the next game, because that means the second me sticks around plumbing ever-deeper emotional depths until the Dawgs taste victory once again.
This season, for the weekly Georgia game previews, I decided I was done trying to reconcile these two individuals. Instead, I'm letting each of them fly their freak flags individually, giving their personal opinions as to what's going to go down and letting you, the reader, decide who's made the better case. So each preview is really going to be more like a "conversation" than just reams of data being firehosed at you, a new tack we're going to try with a general preview of the 2010 season as a whole -- but first, let's meet our contestants:
Meet Manic Doug. Manic Doug isn't actually as big a douche as he might appear, he's just perfectly at ease with himself: He's gone on awesome vacations, he's dated Hooters waitresses and models, and has his eye on one of those sooo-weet little Beemer 3-series for his next car, just as soon as he gets some debts squared away (and, ah, doesn't do anything to make his insurance rates go through the roof between now and then, you feelin' me, brah? More than anything else, Manic Doug is the life of the party -- it's M.D. who brings the top-shelf booze to all the tailgates (and then consumes most of it), M.D. who ran butt-naked around the cul-de-sac when the Dawgs knocked off Georgia Tech last season. If you're a Dawg fan, he's your new best friend; if you're not, he knows 101 reasons why your team sucks and will be happy to recite all of them. But at least they'll be kind of funny. (At least up until 50 or so.)
And on the flip side of the coin, meet Depressive Doug. Depressive Doug worries about all kinds of things -- whether women find him attractive, whether he's going to be able to pay any of his bills, whether the fact that he was above two bills the last time he stepped on a scale portends him ballooning up to the size of Louie Anderson by the time he's 40. But above all, he worries about Georgia football. Every loss is a sign that the program is poised to take a header right over a cliff; even the wins are just prime opportunities for the team to experience a major hangover the following week. Lou Holtz would be awed by this man's ability to pre-emptively poor-mouth a team. Depressive Doug isn't necessarily a real uplifting guy to hang out with, but . . . well, he's a realist, so he's got that goin' for him. Which is nice.
So now that you've met our contestants, let's listen in on the conversation. The topic: this weekend's game against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Manic Doug: OK, dude, season opener's coming up this weekend, and unlike last year we get to kick things off with a gimme. Nice, right? Give Aaron Murray some easy reps and break in that 3-4 against a Sun Belt offense. I'm just gonna come out and say it: We win this one sixty-two to nothing.
Depressive Doug: And so it begins. Have you never even watched us play an early-season game against a supposedly lousy opponent? We'll spend the first quarter trying to get our heads screwed on straight and the fourth quarter letting them score TDs against our third string. With that kind of M.O., even covering the spread isn't a sure thing.
MD: And so it begins. Seriously? You're sweating Louisiana-Lafayette?
DD: I'm being realistic. Anyway, like you've bothered to do any research beyond "They're from the Sun Belt, so they must suck."
MD: Well, they are from the Sun Belt, which means they do suck, but fuck you, anyway, I have too done some research.
DD: Enlighten me.
MD: OK, first off, Ali Landry, that chick from the Doritos commercials, went there.
DD: Clearly we're bringing the "Associated Hottie" back, then.
MD: Hells yes we are. I give the people what they want.
DD: OK, so did you deign to do any research that didn't involve T&A?
MD: In fact, I did, so peep this, you picky bitch: U-La-La's offense stunk last year. Their starting QB, Chris Masson, was OK, but their leading rusher only had 432 yards, and he graduated. Their top choices at running back right now are a sophomore and a true freshman, running behind a line that has to replace three starters, and two of those replacements might be sophomores.
DD: OK, that's actually pretty impressive. I may have underestimated you.
MD: Right? So seriously, I wouldn't worry too much about their offense, or our defense's ability to handle it. Whether we run a 3-4, a 4-3, a 2-6-3 or whatever the fuck, they're gonna be pretty one-dimensional. We'll be rotating guys off the bench by halftime.
DD: That might be a little extreme, but OK, I feel a little better. What about their defense, though? Do you really think that --
MD: Their defense sucks, too. Gave up more than 180 rushing yards a game last year, and that was against a Sun Belt schedule. I'll bet 20 dollars right now that Caleb King goes over two bills.
DD: If you'd let me finish, I was going to ask whether you really thought that Aaron Murray was going to bust out and have a Ryan Mallett performance in his very first game in a Georgia uniform.
MD: OK, first of all, fuck you for invoking an Arkansas player as your ideal QB. Whose side are you on, man?
DD: Now, I didn't say he was my ideal --
MD: And second of all, why wouldn't Murray have an awesome game? He's got the best offensive line and the best receiver in college football. You're telling me he's just gonna be handing off all afternoon?
DD: No, but I wouldn't be expecting him to go for any 80-yard TD passes on his first series, either. First of all, he's still pretty green, obviously. And second of all, you know how Richt rolls in situations like this. He's already said he and Bobo plan on bringing Murray along very slowly, let him get a feel for the game. Which I think is smart.
MD: All I'm saying is they're gonna have to take the training wheels off him sometime. I bet he hits at least one ICBM to A.J. for a long touchdown.
DD: So OK, let's say they do take the "training wheels" off. You're not the least bit worried about him trying to do too much and making a big mistake?
MD: Is this the face of a worried man?
DD: Look, I'm thrilled you have such confidence in our boy, but in all seriousness, the Lafayette secondary isn't some joke. They picked off 16 passes last year, and they're bringing back six guys in the secondary who started at least one game, including Dwight Bentley, who was an All-Sun Belt first-teamer.
MD: Are you even listening to yourself right now? You're getting your Spanx in a wad over a fricking Sun Belt defense. Look, big golf clap for Dwight Bentley, I'm sure his mom's super-proud of him, but -- "All-Sun Belt"? Isn't that kind of like having the best slugging percentage in Little League? Dude's only 5'11" -- I can't wait to see him try and cover A.J. in the open field.
DD: Well, I hope you're right. All I'm saying is that I bet each of the quarterbacks we put out there throws at least one pick.
MD: Aww, see, you said "each of the quarterbacks we put out there." You know just as well as I do that Murray's gonna kick some ass and then they're gonna put Hutson Mason in to get some reps.
DD: Only because it would be stupid to have only one QB on the roster with any experience whatsoever. Look, I don't seriously think we're in any danger of losing this game. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's gonna be pretty. I mean, we crank out sloppy performances against teams like this even when we're a favorite to win the SEC. This year, with a brand-new QB, brand-new defensive formation . . . I'm just saying, don't expect any wild scoring orgies out there, 'cause I don't think this is gonna be that kind of party.
MD: OK, professor, what do you think is gonna happen?
DD: Well, lots of running, obviously, early and often. Which isn't anything to get worried about, our running game is gonna pave them right over, even without Washaun. But what that means is we're probably gonna go on some long drives, really grind out some clock -- even when they do let Murray throw it around, it's gonna be mid-range stuff at most. So no sudden scoring bursts, just a lot of pounding away to make sure the defense has plenty of time to figure out what they're doing and stay fresh. If we have more than, oh, 24 points on the board at halftime, I'll be surprised; meanwhile, I think the defense lets at least a couple big plays past them, so the final will be something like, errr, 41-20.
MD: You little bitch. You're not even gonna give us enough credit to cover the spread?
DD: So why don't you favor us with a prediction?
MD: Caleb King busts off a 60-yard TD run on the first drive, defense pitches a shutout in the first half, we let 'em get maybe one or two bullshit scores on the board in the second half, but it doesn't matter, because Murray is on the bench sipping Gatorade before the third quarter ends and it's up to Hutson and Carlton Thomas to tax that ass down the stretch. Final score, 59-10.
DD: But earlier you said sixty-two to nothing.
MD: Well, I like to have realistic expectations. And what are you, anyway, my fuckin' biographer?!?
DD: I'll ignore that last remark, and just do some simple arithmetic: Looks like if you average out our two predictions, you get a final score of Georgia 50, ULL 15. Kind of a weird number -- but would you be happy with it?
MD: Ehh, we get to the half-century mark, win by five TDs, beat the spread? Yeah, I'd take that. I mean, I think we can do better, but whatever.
DD: Well. I'm ever so glad you approve.
MD: Long as we beat that line, daddy's happy. Put a little money on Georgia, takin' the juice.
DD: And just where did you get the money to do that?
MD: Who cares? We got a check coming in for that stuff we wrote for the Alabama and Tennessee preseason mags, right?
DD: If we get our power turned off this month, I'm going to smother you with a pillow while you're sleeping.
MD: Ooohh, look who watched "Fight Club" last night. Dude, just chill the fuck out and get another eyeful of Ali Landry, maybe that'll chill you out a bit.
DD: (sighs) Fine. I'll let it go. For now.
MD: Is that right? I'm incredibly fucking scared.
DD: That's enough.