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Georgia ranked No. 1 by Sports Illustrated

POSTED: August 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

The cover of Sports Illustrated College Football Preview

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Already ranked No. 1 by the USA Today coaches poll, the Georgia Bulldogs were announced as Sports Illustrated's preseason No. 1 on Tuesday.

Georgia, which finished the 2007 season ranked No. 2 overall, will be featured on the cover of the magazine's college football preview that hits news stands today.

Georgia is followed in SI's preseason rankings by Ohio State, USC, Missouri and Florida. Oklahoma, Auburn, Texas Tech, LSU and Wisconsin round out the top 10.

Below is an excerpt from Sports Illustrated's College Football Preview, which hits news stands on Thursday.

1. Georgia - Head of the Line

The team to beat only needs one of its young, talented blockers to take charge

Go ahead. Try to find a weakness in a team that has 17 starters returning, finished 2007 on a seven-game winning streak and averaged 37.8 points in its final six games. Look closely for the chink in the armor of the team that features a third-year starter at quarterback (Matthew Stafford), possibly the second coming of Herschel Walker (sophomore Knowshon Moreno), one of the nation's best linebacker tandems (Dannell Ellerbe and Rennie Curran), a stout defensive line and a shutdown secondary.

Offensive lineman Chris Davis can find the hole. He's one of the Bulldogs trying to fill it. Of the five starters Georgia must replace, Davis says, none will be missed more than center Fernando Velasco. During a 2007 season in which the Bulldogs started three freshmen up front-Davis and Clint Boling at the guards and Trinton Sturdivant at left tackle-Velasco was 328 pounds of glue. "Fernando was a lot older than we were, a lot wiser," says Davis, who has been working at center since Velasco's departure. "We were all young pups."

A rudderless line can sink a season; the stakes are even higher for a team with national title aspirations. It's not clear who will emerge as the line's new leader because Davis, Sturdivant and Boling (who faces a one-game suspension after pleading guilty last month to a reckless driving charge) all have the same amount of experience-and not one feels comfortable giving orders to the others.

What could make the line even younger is the emergence of Ben Jones, a freshman center who enrolled in January. He was impressive in spring practice, and coach Mark Richt hasn't ruled out starting him and sliding Davis back to left guard. "You can see he's coming," Richt says of Jones. "It might not be fast enough to start in the fall, but I wouldn't put it past him."

Georgia's linemen do have the ultimate confidence builder behind them. Despite sharing the load in the first half of the season, Moreno finished with 1,334 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. With his quick cuts and darting running style, he is a blocker's dream.

No matter how the lineup shakes out, someone must fill Velasco's leadership role. "We need to find that guy and follow him," Davis says. But Richt isn't worried that this team will lose its way. "We're thinking in terms of each man having to pull his own weight," Richt says, "and that might be good enough."

Perhaps even good enough to win a national title.

 

2007 RECORD: 11-2 (6-2 in SEC)

FINAL AP RANK: 2

RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 8, Defense 9

KEY GAME - Nov. 1 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)

This shapes up as one of the most meaningful matchups in the history of the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. After Florida had won eight of the previous nine meetings, the Dawgs stunned the Gators 42-30 last year.

WORTH NOTING

With games at South Carolina, LSU and Auburn (plus the date with Florida), the road schedule is brutal. But since 2004 Georgia is 13-4 in SEC games played outside Athens.

PRESEASON ACCOLADES

Top SEC Defensive Player: Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Sr.

The Bulldogs' top tackler last year seems to play his best in big games, as witnessed by his eight tackles and one interception in the Sugar Bowl.

Heisman Watch: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Soph.

Along with QB Matthew Stafford (a possible '09 first-round NFL draft pick), this electric cutback runner gives the Dawgs two candidates.

 

SI's TOP 20


1. Georgia

2. Ohio State

3. USC

4. Missouri

5. Florida

6. Oklahoma

7. Auburn

8. Texas Tech

9. LSU

10. Wisconsin

11. Clemson

12. Tennessee

13. Texas

14. West Virginia

15. Kansas

16. Arizona State

17. BYU

18. Oregon State

19. Pittsburgh

20. Oregon

 




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