So we start with #1, and it's the biggest.
#1. What if Stafford and/or Moreno had stayed?
I told you it was the biggest. Of course this would bring us all the way back to January of 2009, while the 2009 Georgia season was only just conceived in the womb of college football. At the time, their decision to leave for the NFL was devastating, but after a while, most of us convinced ourselves that we'd be fine without them.
We were wrong.
In my opinion, either one of these players would have greatly improved our year, for different reasons.
At first glance, Stafford seems like the most important. Throughout the year, a big complaint of many Dawgs was the up-and-down performance of Joe Cox. Just imagine that first game at Oklahoma State, where a flu-plagued Cox struggled and the Dawgs fell apart after their first successful drive. Surely Stafford, in his senior year, could have brought us a victory in that contest (but then again, so could Cox perhaps if he hadn't been sick). An early problem was that we couldn't get the ball to AJ Green when we needed to most. That was Stafford's favorite thing to do. With Stafford, I think it's likely that we could have at least beaten Oklahoma State, LSU, and Kentucky (a game highlighted by QB failures). Tennessee was too confusing for me to predict, and Florida, well, was similar to 2008. With Stafford, I feel like we could have been (maybe at worst) 10-2 in the regular season.
But then again, Moreno was perhaps even more important. Although many complained about problems at head signal-caller, the Dawgs also lacked a consistent running game through at least half of the season. Imagine our season opener with Knowshon at RB, instead of Richard Samuel and Carlton Thomas (with a lack of an injured Caleb King). Remember the LSU game, where Georgia had 45 yards rushing TOTAL, and practically none in the 1st half? A pinch of Moreno would have fixed that right up. Once again, it's hard to imagine us losing against LSU, Oklahoma State, or even Tennessee with a star runner like Moreno. In all 3 games Georgia had less than 100 total rushing yards. Kentucky is a bit more in question, because by that point we had the running game going pretty smoothly. But once again, a 10-2 season looked very possible with just Moreno returning.
And if they had both come back? We can only dream of crystal footballs in 2009. I would have predicted at least a BCS bowl for that fictional Bulldogs squad.
(Credit: Jim Hipple)
#2: What if Caleb King wasn't hurt to start the season?
The Georgia running game was a mess for much of 2009. Before the season began, there was much debate over who would be our lead running back, Caleb King, Richard Samuel, or maybe even Carlton Thomas. Just before the season opener, King injured his hamstring and was sidelined. We were left with 2 running backs that looked poised to play: Samuel and Thomas. They did a decent job at first, but we just weren't where we needed to be on the ground. King appeared briefly in the third game (at Arkansas), but was playing second fiddle to Samuel. Just as he started to build up his reputation, his jaw was broken vs. LSU, and he was limited again (helping to stifle our rushing in that game).
It seems likely that having King healthy and ready to start the season would have improved our running game from the start. As we all know, Samuel didn't last at RB, and Thomas was very limited throughout the year. A more polished rushing attack could have led to a couple of wins in games that we just couldn't move on the ground. But King wasn't the only one who brought our ground-game back to consistency...
#3: What if Washaun Ealey had played from the start?
Clearly the true freshman was a spark that the Dawg's rushing offense needed. He was quick, powerful, and even hopped up quickly after a big hit, reminding us immediately of our past star #24. But we didn't see him until the fifth game of the season, against LSU. He averaged over 4 yards per carry in 7 of 8 regular season games, and with a healthy King along, we had a great one-two punch that brought us the consistency and power we needed. What if Ealey had started the season at 1 or 2 on the RB depth chart? It could have saved us in our season-opener in Stillwater, or things could have been about the same. But it's fun to dream.
#4: What if AJ Green hadn't been injured vs. Auburn?
Ok, so this one isn't quite as important for the season as a whole. Toward the end of the season, star receiver AJ Green injured his shoulder at home versus Auburn. He left the game early, but the Dawgs still managed an impressive win over our West rival. But this left Green sidelined for the last two games of the year, including a disastrous Kentucky game. Remember that Kentucky game? Yes, I do too. Although we'll never know how that game would have gone with AJ leaping 50 feet into the air to bring down wavering passes from Cox, I feel like we probably could have (should have) won it. It's hard to imagine us not pulling through against the Wildcats with AJ on the field. That would have put us at 4 losses on the season, and probably at least a Chick-Fil-A bowl rather than Shreveport. Not a huge deal, but it matters.
On the other hand, what if Green had played against Georgia Tech? Would we have scrapped the power running game and instead get pass happy with Green downfield? Would that have led to us blowing out Tech, or could that have hampered us, and perhaps even lead to a loss? We'll never know. Obviously I like to think we would have blown them out. But that's just me.
#5: What if Aaron Murray didn't get injured at some point?
I say "at some point" because it's not really clear when exactly he was hurt. All I know is that sometime before the Tennessee game, Murray injured his elbow in practice. This likely caused concern in the coaches, who, if forced to make changes at QB, were suddenly very, very limited. While many of us were complaining by that point that Logan Gray should get a shot, the Tennessee game (and then Florida) gave us a glimpse that maybe this wasn't the best idea. But Murray?
I'll admit that this number is completely hypothetical, considering we still have no idea how good Aaron Murray is. We don't even know if he'll start, or if that duty will be given to Zach Mettenberger. But the general "feeling" of the Bulldog Nation at that point was that Murray could be the next big thing for Georgia, while Cox was struggling and the Dawgs were losing. Especially after the Tennessee game, when we still had half a season to salvage, many were shouting that we should put in Gray full time (probably a bad idea) or even to go ahead and play Murray. But Murray was hurt to some extent.
If Murray hadn't been injured, would the coaches have considered playing him after Tennessee, or even later after Florida? Would this have helped the Dawgs to prevail in games that we instead flopped? Would it have made us even worse? Or would things have been about the same (except Murray would get some valuable in-game experience)? We'll never know.
(Credit: Jim Hipple)
#6: What if certain coaching changes had been made... earlier?
So what if Georgia had made a change at defensive coordinator after 2008? What if we didn't see so much soft zone coverage throughout 2009? This is one that many Dawgs would be most heated about, but I really don't know. We have yet to see how/if our defense will improve with changes in our coaching staff, and honestly, we don't know for sure how 2008 would have played out with a different defensive scheme/coach. Most would probably say we would have been much, much better. Granted, a more stiff defense probably could have brought us wins in every game, especially a disastrous Kentucky. We probably would have put up a much better fight against Oklahoma State, Tennessee, and Florida. Despite all of our discussion of what could have been at QB or RB, defense wins championships, and a stout Georgia D could have completely changed 2009.
That's all I've got for now. What do you think?