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Partying Like It's 2001: Familiar Territory For Richt, Bulldogs

Mark Richt isn't exactly starting from scratch, but many of the circumstances surrounding this year's team mirror those of 2001.

This may only be the kind of thing your mind conjures up when you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling at three in the morning, but there are quite a few parallels between the 2010 Dawgs and the very first team Mark Richt put on the field in Athens nine years ago. Consider the factors:

1. Major coaching turnover. Obviously nothing can compare to the Dawgs bringing in a brand-new head coach, as they did when they traded Jim Donnan in for Richt immediately following the 2000 season, but the 2009-10 offseason featured easily the most significant coaching-staff shakeup of Richt's tenure. The entire defensive staff, save for defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner, was shown the door after a lackluster '09 season, and the new D-coordinator, Todd Grantham, is installing a brand-new defensive front. The Dawgs had some rebuilding work to do on defense when Richt came in, with Brian VanGorder tasked with guiding the defense back from a couple subpar seasons, but in terms of scheme, this year's changes might be even more drastic.

2. A new guy under center. David Greene would go on to break Peyton Manning's record for wins by a starting quarterback, but like Aaron Murray, he was but a redshirt freshman who'd never taken a single snap in an actual game when Richt named him the starter in the summer of '01. Greene was reasonably highly touted as a recruit -- he made the AJC's Super 11 and was an honorable mention on USA Today's All-USA list -- but still didn't attract anywhere near the kind of hype that Murray did.

3. Plenty of returning talent elsewhere on offense. Greene's progress as a quarterback was aided by plenty of personnel assets on offense. The offensive line returned all five starters from the previous season; there was also promising talent in the backfield (fullback Verron Haynes, who led the squad in rushing that season, and Musa Smith, who the following year would become the Dawgs' first 1,000-yard rusher in a decade). Both statements also apply to this year's team. The 2001 Dawgs also had one of the best collections of receiving talent that had been brought to Athens in some time: Terrence Edwards, who would finish his career in 2002 as Georgia's all-time leading receiver; Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson, who formed the nucleus of the receiving corps over the next few seasons; and Randy McMichael, the latest in what would become a lengthy string of stellar tight ends in the Classic City. In 2010, A.J. Green is well on his way to matching Edwards' impact on the program, with Israel Troupe and Tavarres King (and perhaps also Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten) coming on strong behind him; Orson Charles and Aron White, meanwhile, have shown flashes of brilliance at tight end.

4. Lingering questions about the program's relevance. In 2001, Richt inherited a Georgia program that had been touted for great things in both '99 and '00, only to earn a combined 16-8 record and bids to the Outback and Oahu bowls. Likewise, the program's more recent results have still been so-so; while competitive, the Dawgs haven't made a serious run at an SEC title since 2007, and more than a few people -- Georgia fans and foes alike -- have suggested it's time for Richt to implement a team-wide personality overhaul.

The difference between the 2001 and 2010 squads in that regard, of course, is that in the interim, Richt has led the squad to two SEC championships, shattering the barrier that the Dawgs of the 1990s were never quite able to crack -- so if the 2010 team is indeed attempting to reclaim past glories, they're at least a lot more recent than the ones the 1990s teams were trying to revive. Consider that Georgia's big successes under Richt in the early 2000s were largely set in motion by the incredible "Hobnail Boot" upset over Tennessee, in which the Dawgs finally proved they could hang with -- and beat -- the SEC's elite teams; what would qualify as a similar milestone moment this year? There really isn't one -- even a win over the Gators, while certainly an upset, wouldn't be anywhere near as astonishing as what happened in Knoxville that October. If you think about it, though, that's a good thing: Notwithstanding recent disappointments, those have become the kinds of games in which Georgia expects to be competitive.

What does all of this mean? Perhaps nothing; perhaps it means that, as in 2001, we're headed for what will more or less be a "running in place" season while the new QB and re-jiggered defense get their feet under them. If that's the case, though, it may set the program up for a big surge over the next few seasons -- which would be cause for partying indeed.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.