Come November 5, the Dawgs will either be celebrating a rare win over Florida in Jacksonville (and praying it portends a historical shift in the Georgia-Florida rivalry) or wailing and gnashing their teeth with fear that yet another rookie Gator head coach is going to continue their inexplicable losing streak in Jacksonville. What does all this have to do with New Mexico State? Not a thing, really. The Aggies, who haven't had a winning season since the last time Georgia played them in 2002, are little more than a light scrimmage between the Cocktail Party and the Dawgs' season-ending stretch run.
BETTER KNOW THE AGGIES
Coach: DeWayne Walker, 5-20 in two seasons at New Mexico State; 5-21 overall
Last season: 2-10, 1-7 WAC; finished 8th
Returning starters for 2011: 16 (seven offense, seven defense, two special teams)
Key returners: RB Kenny Turner, RB Robert Clay, KR Taveon Rogers
Key losses: RB Seth Smith, WR Marcus Allen, CB Davon House, TE Kyle Nelson
Best-case scenario: The Dawgs shrug off whatever happened in Jacksonville, win or loss, and pound NMSU into submission. Let's don't beat around the bush here -- New Mexico State is a baaaad team, having averaged fewer than three wins per season since head coach Tony Samuel was fired in 2004, and they haven't beaten a BCS-conference team in more than a decade. Last season they ranked in the nation's bottom 10 in nearly every defensive category, and in total yardage and scoring offense to boot. If the Dawgs play up to their potential, Todd Grantham's defense will look like the second coming of the Steel Curtain, and Hutson Mason will be subbing for Aaron Murray early in the third quarter.
Worst-case scenario: Whether hung over from a win in Jacksonville or bummed out from yet another loss, the Dawgs play distracted, hold a tenuous lead at halftime, and don't really start putting the Aggies away until midway through the third quarter. The precedent is there for such a thing -- four years ago, Georgia came home after knocking off Florida in the infamous End-Zone Celebration Game only to find themselves in a shootout with Troy (which they won 44-34). Granted, Troy is a dramatically more talented team than NMSU, but the Aggies have just enough talent at running back and on special teams to make it a longer day for the Dawgs than they'd like. A good kick return here, a long, grinding drive there and all of a sudden Dawg fans are wondering why it's the third quarter and they're only up by nine or 10 points. This game won't test the Bulldogs' physical talents much, but it will test their focus.