“Baba O’Riley” was released in November of 1971 by the English rock band The Who, and has since become one of Rock N’ Roll’s most iconic songs. It was chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of all time and named by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
So, just like when the rest of the world hears it, I naturally crank the radio up, roll down my Rav4’s windows and cruise down Milledge Avenue like I’m Jerry McGuire when it fills the speakers. Yet, living in Athens, GA and being a fan of the Dawgs, “Baba O’Riley” gives me a unique feeling seldom known outside the Bulldog Nation.
This sensation is viral and practically incurable; the screaming fans, sorority girls in red and black dresses, the hedges, red seersucker jackets and Uga (if you’re lucky enough to catch him in the small window of time known to him as life) bring chills and uncontrolled excitement that go along with this famous melody.
Right around July, my focus on summer classes starts to wear and the looming shadow of Sanford Stadium directs my mind to the upcoming football season and the opportunities that present themselves in the Southeastern Conference. Typically these aspirations become little more than dreams, the product inspired by talking head shows and blogs that catalyze fantasies of historic success and a football season you’ll tell your grand-kids about. Yet, there is something different in the Clarke County air this summer that has Georgia fans asking: “Why not the Dawgs?”
Typically by now, most semi-knowledgeable Georgia fans could emphatically provide a convincing point as to why ESPN shouldn’t be itching to watch their beloved team. “They’re too young,” “There have been too many conduct issues off the field” and “The SEC is hard to stay competitive in” typically are ubiquitous reasons for under-hyping the team. Two months into the summer of 2011, I’m struggling to find many of these excuses and realize a lofty wave of optimism that is spreading faster than a Katy Perry song.
The reason for this is a combination of three things:
1) The Dream Team – Georgia hasn’t seen a recruiting class sporting this much flash in awhile. With two five-stars and twelve four-stars, the Miller Learning Center staff better be ready for the massive mob when away tickets arrive. Running back Isaiah Crowell is already being compared to Herschel Walker and he hasn’t even taken a handoff yet. In addition to the hype of the Dream Team, Georgia’s vets look promising and are seeking redemption for last year’s dismal 6-7 season with a loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. Aaron Murray shined last year by equaling DJ Shockley’s total touchdown record that he set in 2005 with 28, 24 of which were passing. Orson Charles is considered by many experts to be one of the best tight ends in the country and is on the early season watch list for the John Mackey Award, given to the best tight end in college football. The stomachs of Boise State’s offensive linemen should be flipping if they aren’t already; junior college transfer Jonathan Jenkins measures 6-foot-4 and 340 lbs, a force that will be dangerous if overlooked by Kellen Moore. Jenkins would love nothing more for his national debut than to set the Heisman trophy candidate up on a sixty-minute date with the Georgia Dome’s Nike Turf. The rest of Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense should be more suited and prepared this year. Alec Ogletree will have a breakout season at linebacker and Brandon Boykin and Branden Smith will have many opportunities for big play potential against the SEC’s big play receivers; the most notable coming in week two against South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery.
2) Strength of Schedule – With the copious amounts of conflict in college football today, almost everyone agrees that the Dawgs might have a tougher start to a season than a lame racehorse in the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately for Head Coach Mark Richt, he owns this horse. Even if you think football is played with a wooden bat and three bases, you know that Richt’s job is less definite than Uga VIII’s heart; and he knows it. These first two games will either launch him into another great season in Athens, or the Clarke County unemployment office. Week one in the Georgia Dome against Boise is likely to be overlooked by many people, but the Broncos have a knack for wrecking traditional powerhouse’s seasons. It feels like it’s been a lifetime since the Blue Turf Boys gave ESPN Classic an instant daytime special in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. Subsequently, they have gone on to beat six ranked opponents (including last year’s National Championship runner-up, Oregon, twice. Okay, so they didn’t have LaMichael James or Darron Thomas at the time, but it’s still an impressive set of wins for a then WAC team). They will look to do the same against a Georgia team that has developed a bad habit of shooting themselves in the foot lately, especially in big games. Just like Trench Warefare revolutionized WWI, it also will make or break the Dawgs, and Richt’s paycheck, against Boise. Georgia’s defense has the golden opportunity to release hell on Boise’s offensive line on national television. As stated earlier, preseason indications say that the Dawgs are better adjusted to the 3-4 this year and if the latter proves true, Jonathan Jenkins will have Kellen Moore on his heels the whole game, hopefully allowing UGA’s offense to control the tempo while exhausting the Boise defense. The Gordian Knot comes from Columbia when the Gamecocks travel to Athens on September 10 to play in what is supposed to be one of the best SEC games of the year, independent of whether the Dawgs beat Boise (On a side note, if Georgia does win their first game, I predict College Gameday to make a trip Between the Hedges. Lee Corso would be a riot on Clayton Street). With Stephen Garcia most likely returning to the team, the Dawgs will have their hands full between him, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Marcus Lattimore, who put up 182 yards and chalked up two end zone appearances his freshman year against Georgia’s shambled defense. The key to success is to stop Lattimore; if Georgia’s defense makes Garcia throw there is a greater chance of stopping South Carolina’s insistent offensive attack. If Lattimore gets in a rhythm, fans will be nostalgically watching Herschel Walker highlight videos and Larry Munson tributes on Youtube for the next week. However, if Georgia can make it to week three untainted, they will indisputably be the team to beat in the SEC East. The only currently visible threats beyond USC are Mississippi State, Tennessee and Florida. MSU surprised the Dawgs last year in Starkville and have become a force to be concerned with in the SEC recently. Tennessee has a history of upsetting UGA and the chances only elevate when you play in Neyland Stadium. As for the Gators, eh, well, it’s the Gators. Anything can happen in Jacksonville. Should the status quo and expert predictions uphold themselves, this season might actually become a reality for the Dawgs.
3) No Georgia Players conflicting with the Law – Let’s be honest, everyone is surprised at how quiet it has been this offseason. No DUI’s, no unpaid speeding tickets, no hit and runs and best of all, no premium, authentic, game-worn jersey sales (knock on wood). The only dark spot this summer has been Jarvis Jones’ issue with unknown plane flights to Los Angeles when he was in high school. In reality, this is looking like UGA had little to do with it and may just be punished for Southern Cal’s mistakes; Jones played football for the Trojans in 2009. When Caleb King was arrested last October, he became the 11th to have a run in with the blue lights in 2010. Much of this was accredited to Richt’s supposed inability to control his team, which led to his questionable job security. The sudden halt of arrests this year gives indication that Richt tightened the rope this summer and in turn, leading to a brighter season for the Dawgs.
It is just as likely that I will read this in November and realize I was wrong. That the summer heat filled my head with false hope and an exaggerated perception of Georgia’s talent, leading me to write this out of impulse and later retract my statements. But what if I’m right? What if this is one of the greatest seasons in Georgia football history? With no players showing up in police reports, our strength of schedule, preseason evaluations of previous starters and possible new starters from the latest recruiting class mix eerily well and could lead to triumph missing in Athens for years. So, why not the Dawgs?