I've been bullish about the Dawgs for 2009, but in an effort to curb my enthusiasm, I've been looking at the dark side, with some help from Phil Steele (though he is also relatively bullish about Georgia this year).
The thing that really jumps out at you when you survey the schedule is how many opponents are expected to be better than they were last year.
By Steele's assessment, no fewer than eight of our twelve opponents (Okie State, Arkansas, Arizona State, LSU, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and the Dirt Daubers) are likely to improve this year. Three (Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn) make Phil's Most Improved Teams list. And LSU ranks eighth in Steele's Power Poll of the best teams (above Georgia, which ranks eleventh). This is probably why Steele rates our schedule--which is generally regarded as significantly easier than last year's, certainly once we leave Stillwater--as the seventh toughest in the country. Given the teams on last year's schedule who wound up more or less imploding--notably Arizona State, Tennessee and Auburn--this may actually be the toughest schedule the Dawgs have faced in a long while.
Moreover, one of the teams that isn't expected to improve--SC--has been a difficult team for GA since Spurrier arrived; just ask the 2007 Dawgs whose loss at home to SC ultimately cost us a national title shot, or the 2008 Dawgs who nearly lost in Columbia.
Yes, even an improved Arkansas on the road will be easier to beat than last year's Alabama team, and yes, the pace and home/road profile of the schedule are better than in 2008.
But the Dawgs really do need to step it up to beat an improved competition in and out of the SEC. In looking back at last year, there's a tendency to focus on the two blowout losses and the frustrating loss to the Daubers. But we also won three games (SC, KY, and Auburn) that could have easily gone the other way.
The 2009 schedule doesn't provide a lot of room for "letdowns;" the closest thing to an early gimme is Vandy in mid-October, and that's on the road where we damn near lost to the 'Dores in 2007.
So there's my one--and I hope, the last--expression of pessimism for 2009.