As I noted this morning, Peter had a question to put before Bulldog Nation:
Just a curious outsider wondering what the mood is among the Bulldog faithful.
I believe the mood of the Georgia fan base is one of guarded optimism, much more so today than it was a year ago. (Much more guarded, that is, not much more optimistic.)
Since Herschel Walker left school early for the U.S.F.L., Bulldog fans have been disappointed more often than not and a conference title drought of two decades' duration taught us a healthy skepticism regarding expectations. One team after another fell short---sometimes just short, as in 1983, 1988, and 1992; sometimes spectacularly short, as in 2000---so, drawing our inspiration from perennial worrier Larry Munson, we in Bulldog Nation have learned to hang our hats on any doubts that present themselves, no matter how ephemeral.
Of course, I was worried this time last year, too . . . and look how that worked out for us.
Little by little, though, Georgia fans are starting to creep out from under our shells. Expectations were sky-high in 2002 . . . and the result was a 13-1 season, a Southeastern Conference championship, and a Sugar Bowl victory. A let-down was expected in 2003 . . . but the Bulldogs made it back to the conference championship game and lost only to the eventual national champion and to the team that beat the national champion. 2005 was supposed to be a rebuilding year . . . yet it produced another S.E.C. title and a fourth straight 10-win season.
In the Mark Richt era, only one season has fallen short of expectations and that lone campaign (2004) resulted in a double-digit win tally and a New Year's Day bowl win.
My inner Munson notes with trepidation that 2006 is different from 2005, insofar as the Red and Black lost players not just of quality but also in quantity. There are more holes to be filled and more questions to be answered (particularly under center . . . and to the left of center . . . and to the right of center) than there were 12 months ago and no signal-caller appears anywhere close to filling David Greene's or D.J. Shockley's shoes.
The more I see of this, the better.
I might feel slightly better if the schedule set up a little differently. If, for instance, I could flip-flop the South Carolina and Georgia Tech games so that we could get the Yellow Jackets early and the Gamecocks late, I would strongly consider doing so.
Still, we must play the hand we have been dealt and there is no doubting Mark Richt's abilities as a coach. I expect the Bulldogs to go 8-4 or 9-3 through the regular season and fall short of winning the division. If the 'Dawgs do not win at least eight games, I will be sorely disappointed, but, if the Red and Black post a fifth straight 10-win season, I will be quite pleased . . . and very probably ready to start talking some serious trash for 2007 and beyond.
For now, though, I will be happy if I see progress at the Q.B. spot over the course of the campaign and if Georgia strings together enough victories to make it to a respectable bowl game. Anything better than 3-3 against the six toughest teams on the Bulldogs' slate (South Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech) would be gravy.
Of course, this is the time of year at which I am most nervous, so don't go by what I say. What do my fellow denizens of Bulldog Nation think? What do you expect from the Red and Black in 2006?