What's an acceptable wins goal for the 2010 Bulldogs?
Two highly esteemed Georgia bloggers, T. Kyle King and Senator Blutarsky, have gone ahead and solicited predictions from their readers as to where UGA will end up in the win/loss column in a critically important 2010 season; Blutarsky threw out an over/under number for each team in the SEC, while Kyle sought an exact W/L record for the Dawgs. To respond to Blutarsky's polls, I went through the SEC's composite schedule game by game to arrive at guesses for each team's record, and when the smoke cleared, I was voting for a 9-3 regular-season record for Georgia.
Of course, it's hard enough to predict the outcome of a single game when it's just days away. Predicting 12 games, particularly when the first of them is still more than a month off, is basically just looking for something to do in the offseason. So perhaps it'd be easier to do a quick cocktail-napkin sketch of Georgia's chances in each game, then pull a win-loss estimate from there.
You know those restaurant comment cards that ask you to rate the place on a scale of 1 to 5 in various categories? We're going to do that by slotting each of Georgia's games into a category from 1 (win virtually assured) to 5 (loss all but inevitable).
1 (AUTOMATIC WIN): Louisiana-Lafayette, Vanderbilt, Idaho State
Georgia has never lost to a Sun Belt team, and they're certainly not going to do it in their 2010 home opener; nor is it likely that they'll lose to a team whose head coach will have been on the job for just three months (and coming off a 2-10 season at that). Of course, anyone who's watched Georgia play an out-of-conference gimme game knows that the Dawgs won't be above giving a lackadaisical performance in either, given that they'll still be working out a lot of offseason kinks against U-La-La and that Vandy is sandwiched between major revenge games against Tennessee and Kentucky. But no such caveats apply to Idaho State, which isn't even a competitive team in I-AA. Remember Tennessee Tech, the AA team Georgia held to 55 yards of total offense in a shutout win last year? TTU actually managed to eke out a winning record in 2009; Idaho State went 1-10.
2 (LIKELY WIN): Mississippi State, Colorado, Tennessee, Kentucky
All four of these are tricky -- the first two are on the road in places where the Dawgs don't often travel, while the other two are revenge games against teams that handed Georgia embarrassing losses in '09. But Mississippi State is still struggling to assemble the kind of talent Dan Mullen would like to have on hand to run his spread-option system, while Colorado is 16-33 under Dan Hawkins and may have to move mountains just to save Hawk's job. Both teams had sub-.500 records in 2009 but figure to be better this year; Tennessee and Kentucky, on the other hand, went to bowls in '09 but are poised to drop off this season. Fun fact if you're a Georgia fan: The Vols and Wildcats return just 19 starters combined from 2009, including just one offensive lineman (the 'Cats' Stuart Hines). Expect the Dawgs to be highly revenge-minded in both contests.
3 (TOTAL TOSS-UP): South Carolina, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia Tech
The positive, of course, is that Georgia managed to sweep this group in 2009. But anyone who saw the way the Dawgs beat the first two teams knows that neither will be an easy mark, particularly with both teams expected to be improved compared to '09. The Gamecocks and Razorbacks are #1 and #2 in the conference in terms of returning talent, and will give the retooled Dawg defense a potent one-two punch in weeks two and three of the season. Auburn, too, could field an even more powerful offensive attack than they did last year, and while the "home-field curse" in this series would ordinarily mitigate toward another Bulldog victory, that curse seems to have petered out in recent years (the home team is an even 5-5 over the last decade). Finally, there's the Techies. Georgia pulled out a thrilling 30-24 win over the eventual ACC champions in Atlanta last year behind 339 combined yards from Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, both of whom are poised to do similar damage this year. With Paul Johnson having turned the Jackets into a far more competitive team than they ever were under Chan Gailey, though, Georgia fans should know better than to count the Jackets as an automatic W by now -- as much as they might like to.
4 (LIKELY LOSS): Florida
Yeah, I know: The Gators are sustaining a big hit on offense by losing Tim Tebow and his top receivers, the defense handed over a truckload of talent to the NFL, both Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong have left for head-coaching jobs. If ever there were a year to catch Florida in a vulnerable position, this is the one. But from Georgia's perspective, the looming, monolithic numbers "3" and "17" put any such win squarely in the "I'll believe it when I see it" category. Georgia certainly has right to hope that this game will be more competitive than it's been the last couple years, but an outright victory would still come as a surprise.
5 (AUTOMATIC LOSS): nobody
That might actually be the most promising sign for the Dawgs' 2010 campaign: As many question marks as Georgia brings with them into the season, there isn't a single game on the schedule that qualifies as insurmountable. Even the Gators, while still formidable, are far from invincible; the last time they had to replace this much talent on both sides of the ball was 2007, and we all remember what Georgia -- who, let's recall, had just had to kick a last-minute game-winning field goal against Vanderbilt -- did to them that year.
So if the Dawgs win the games they're supposed to win, lose the games they're supposed to lose, and split the toss-ups, that's nine wins with a chance for a tenth in a (pretty good) bowl game. After last season, it's hard for all but the pickiest Georgia fans to be too upset with that kind of outcome; it'd certainly bode well for the program's prospects over the next few seasons. Of course, it's important to remember the old saying "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans"; in college football, the definition of "a game you're supposed to win" can change at any given moment, and the Dawgs are certainly vulnerable to coughing up one of those "likely win" games. But they're just as capable of pulling an upset in one of the games where the chips are stacked against them. For right now, then, nine wins seems like an acceptable -- and reasonable -- place to set the bar.