So we're into that terrible time of year beween the Spring Game and the publication of Phil Steele's annual tome, with 2011 recruiting, the harrowing of Georgia's QB corps, and off-field infractions being the only hard news. Recognizing Mr. King's encyclical prohibiting optimism, I guess there's a still a little space for non-predictive speculation. (FWIW, I was a pessimist in 2008 and an optimist in 2009, so I'm batting .500).
And in fact, even if we weren't superstitious about optimism, this could be the ultimate Unpredictable Season. The two things that really stand out about the 2010 edition of the Dawgs at this point are (1) remarkable strengths yoked to potentially fatal weaknesses, and (2) a large number of intangibles affecting both the team and its opponents.
On the first point, you've got an OL, a wide receiver, a collection of tight ends, and arguably even a running back corps, who should rank among the best in the conference if not the country. You've also got a special teams unit that could be the very best in the country if you believe the kick coverage issues have been resolved. But these strengths are yoked to a situation at QB that could, particularly if Mr. Gray takes his wares elsewhere, immediately become catastrophic at the snap of a bone. Making predictions about this team without omniscience about the health, much less the ability, of Aaron Murray is really impossible.
Moreover, there is the whole issue of the new defensive coaching staff and scheme. At this point, it is entirely unclear whether the Dawgs or their opponents will find the scheme more baffling. While it's reasonable to assume that the balance of confusion is likely to swing in the Dawgs' favor as the season goes along, predictions about the record without the kind of insight about the cognitive skills of a very diverse set of defensive players that few of us possess are completely unfounded.
Then there are the intangibles. To name just a few, they include:
1) As always, the number of injuries, the timing of injuries, and recovery times from injuries. We've haven't been very lucky in that regard in recent years.
2) The turnover situation. If, like Phil Steele, you believe turnover margins tend to even out over relatively brief periods of time, then after two very bad years in that respect, the Dawgs should be blessed. If you think past performance is actually a good predictor of future performance, then it could again be a win-killing curse.
3) Opponent motivation. It's entirely possible that Georgia's game with USC will not only be circled in red on calendars in Columbia, but tattooed on key players' skins. It is an epochal early game in what is universally being considered the Final Judgment season of the Spurrier era. Will the 'Cocks be psyched beyond all reality? Similar, if less urgent, issues surround the Auburn game, since the Barners are undoubtedly getting tired of losses to one of their most important recruiting rivals. The MSU game could be a "statement game" for those other Dawgs much as Arkansas (unsuccessfully) tried to make last year's game with Georgia. And it would obviously make the entire century for the Dirt Daubers if they can steal two consecutive wins in Athens.
4) Fan malaise. Most of you will remember the aftermath of last year's Kentucky game, when, for the first time in the Richt Era, the carping of the occasional Richt-hating fan went semi-viral, and many wrote off the Tech game as a virtually certain loss. This bad attitude did not seem to tangibly affect the players, but a bad start this year, particularly if poor coaching appears to be a factor, could indeed put the program on the road to the desolate pyschological landscape of Fulmer-Tuberville 2008.
In other words, I don't think there are clear grounds for either optimism or pessimism going into this year, though I might defy the Mayor and feel a sneaking optimism if Gray sticks around and we go into the season semi-healthy.