Could Matt Stafford, the man playing big spoon in the picture above, be cruising for an upset in Tempe? According to Matt Hayes at The Sporting News, it could happen.
In the June 9 issue of TSN, Hayes publishes a list of the top five non-conference matchups of the 2008 season, and the #1 game on that list is the September 20 game between Georgia and Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium.
"What in the world makes anyone think this Arizona State team, with a revamped offensive line, can bang heads with Georgia, which has one of the best defensive lines in the nation? Here's a reason: ubertalented Dawgs quarterback Matthew Stafford strugges in true road games and still must embrace the concept of incompletions instead of interceptions."
Some interesting notes about that "road game" comment thanks to Hayes: Georgia will travel over 1,800 miles to Tempe. They have traveled a combined 358 miles to NC road games since 1998, making this trip five times longer than their combined road trips in the last decade. The Dawgs also have not played west of the Central time zone in the regular season since 1960.
To the comment about Stafford's interceptions, he did reduce his INT total from '06 to '07 from 13 to 10 and his completion percentage improved three points over that span, but still to only a smidge over 55%.
Not counting the rivalry game at Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs played "true" road games at Alabama, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida. In those games, Georgia went 3-1 with the loss coming in Knoxville and Stafford threw for 816 yards, 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, completing his passes at a rate of 53%. Looks OK? Maybe?
However, upon closer examination, the Bulldogs blew a halftime lead and needed OT to get by Alabama. Against Vandy, the Dawgs needed a last-second field goal from Brandon Coutu and 157 rushing yards from Knowshon Moreno to put down the lowly Commodores. And in a wild 42-30 win over Florida, Stafford only threw 18 passes while Moreno ran wild...33 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns.
All of this could be for naught, obviously, as Stafford DID lead the Dawgs to a Sugar Bowl victory and has had the Spring and all of the off-season to improve, and most reports say that he has. One only needs to cite the fact that The Sporting News will name Georgia their preseason #1 in their Season Preview and many other polls are expected to follow suit to show this team's improvement over last year's tremendous season in Athens.
For the record, here are the other four top non-conference games: 2) Ohio State at USC (9/13), 3) Auburn at West Virginia (10/23), 4) Illinois at Missouri (8/30) and 5) Alabama at Clemson (8/30).