Georgia (0-0) vs. Oklahoma State (0-0)
Where: Stillwater, Okla.
When: 3:30 p.m., ABC
Last meeting: Georgia 35, Oklahoma State 14, Sept. 1, 2007.
Georgia: Things look a lot different for the Bulldogs after the departures of Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Mohamed Massaquoi. Joe Cox gets his first start since 2006, while tailback Richard Samuel takes over as the primary ball carrier. A foursome of freshmen are likely to see significant playing time, too, as receivers Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten and tight ends Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch are being counted on to contribute immediately.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are loaded with offensive stars, including mobile quarterback Zac Robinson, 1,500-yard runner Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant, one of the best wide receivers in the country. Left tackle Russell Okung is a future NFL star on the line, but the one drawback for Oklahoma State might be two new starters at guard who will be tasked with stopping Georgia’s talented defensive tackles.
EDGE: Oklahoma State
Georgia: The Bulldogs ended the 2008 regular season at a low point, having allowed 38 or more points in four of their final five contests. A big performance in a bowl win over Michigan State coupled with a productive offseason has Georgia predicting a major turnaround in 2009, led by a deep group of veterans, including linebacker Rennie Curran, corner Prince Miller, safety Bryan Evans and defensive tackles Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins. The key, however, will be the defensive ends, who need to contain and pressure Robinson more consistently than they were able to against SEC foes a year ago.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys allowed more than 400 yards of offense per game last season, ranking 93rd in the country. That led Oklahoma State to make a change at defensive coordinator, bringing in Bill Young from Miami. Young has an impressive track record of success and his simple presence makes it tough for the Bulldogs to accurately predict what the Cowboys’ defense might look like in Week 1.
Georgia: The special teams remain a bit of a mystery for the Bulldogs. Kicker Brandon Bogotay was brought in to help solve the team’s kickoff problems, but coaches won’t announce who’ll handle the job – Bogotay or incumbent Blair Walsh – until game time. The returners aren’t set in stone yet either, but coaches have promised to employ more scholarship skill-position players on coverage teams this season than they had in the past.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have one of the finest special teams units in the country. Bryant serves as punt returner and racked up two touchdowns a year ago. Cornerback Perrish Cox handles kick-return duties and is on the verge of setting a record for career return yardage after tallying 2,155 yards in his first three seasons on the job.
EDGE: Oklahoma State
Georgia: Mark Richt returns for his ninth season in Athens, coming off a year that was perhaps his most disappointing. Still, the Bulldogs won 10 games last season, and Richt has revamped his style during the preseason to ensure Georgia is ready for the physical challenge that lies ahead. The Bulldogs are 8-0 under Richt in season openers and 30-4 in opponent’s stadiums.
Oklahoma State: Mike Gundy is best known for a press conference outburst two years ago, but he has overseen an impressive turnaround of the moribund Oklahoma State program. The Cowboys won nine games last season for just the second time in the past 20 years, but Gundy’s team struggled down the stretch against top opponents, and he brings a career mark of just 4-12 vs. teams from other BCS conferences.
Offense: Richard Samuel vs. Oklahoma State defensive line. The Cowboys’ front four are undersized compared to the strength Georgia’s offensive line brings to the table, which could mean some serious running room for the bruising Samuel, who gets his first career start. After marginal results in reserve duty a year ago, Samuel has made great strides this preseason and could be poised for a breakout game.
Defense: Rod Battle vs. Russell Okung. After suffering through numerous health concerns last season, Battle returns just in time to take on one of the nation’s top left tackles. Okung is a potential first-round NFL draft choice next spring, and he’ll be a particularly tough matchup for Georgia’s thin corps of defensive ends. Battle figures to get the most work against Okung, and he’ll need to find a way to get pressure on Zac Robinson without losing containment of the mobile quarterback if Georgia hopes to slow the Cowboys’ offensive attack.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Oklahoma State 28