In my previous column, I provided some thoughts on the upcoming high-school football season in Columbia County. Prep football is huge, but in the South, college football is king, so here's a brief preview and some predictions for the 2003 college gridiron campaign.
The Bulldogs are coming off one of the best seasons in school history, including an SEC title, a Sugar Bowl victory and a team-record 13 wins.
Those achievements will be tough to duplicate in 2003.
Georgia loses tailback Musa Smith, defensive stopper Jonathan Sullivan, and linebacker Tony Gilbert - not to mention all five starting offensive linemen.
All that aside, the Dogs still have plenty of athletes, most notably quarterback David Greene and defensive end David Pollack, the 2002 SEC Player of the Year.
Just like last year, Georgia's fortunes hinge on the early matchups against Clemson and South Carolina. Both contests could go either way, but the Dogs need to pull out a pair of wins if they want to come close to last season's success.
Prediction: 10-3 record and a bowl victory
The Yellow Jackets had a lot of question marks at the end of the 2002 season, and there are even more questions as the upcoming season approaches - that's understandable, because Tech has suffered 10 academic casualties, plus there's a possibility that a true freshman will be the starter at quarterback.
Also, Tech fans are starting to second-guess coach Chan Gailey's every move.
And with Tony Hollings bolting to the NFL, the Jackets are searching for someone to step up and run the ball this year.
Georgia Tech faces a brutal early-season schedule, so wins will be tough to come by.
Prediction: just four wins, and trouble for Gailey.
Coach Tommy Bowden is on the hot seat this fall. Clemson fans are craving a big season, and they want it now.
Redshirt freshman Reggie Merriweather, a North Augusta High School product, may see a lot of playing time at tailback in 2003.
The Tigers are loaded at the receiver position, and have one of the best athletes in the nation in cornerback Justin Miller.
Still, Clemson needs a solid year from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and the defensive front also will be a key.
Prediction: 8-5 record, with a bowl loss.
The Gamecocks are a hard team to figure out. The squad must replace all but one starter on the offensive line, but due to injuries, the reserve linemen did get a lot of playing time last year.
I like Carolina's running-back situation, with Kenny Irons and highly-touted freshman Demetrius Summers.
The SEC is never easy, but former bullies Florida and Tennessee have lost some punch, so the Gamecocks might have a chance to do some damage.
The jury is still out, though, on quarterback Dondriel Pinkins. Former Silver Bluff High School star Troy Williamson, however, is a great weapon deep, if Pinkins can get the ball to him.
Prediction: 6-6 record, and an early win over Georgia isn't out of the question.
The bottom line on our area college teams is pretty apparent - Georgia will be good, but the Dogs can forget about another 13-win season; Clemson and South Carolina are fringe teams that could go either way in 2003; and, Georgia Tech will most likely be in for a struggle.
But one thing's for sure: The season can't get here soon enough for me.
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