Magazines lower expectations for UGA football

If the college football preseason magazines are correct, this will be another tough year for Georgia fans.

The four major publications -- Athlon Sports, Lindy's, Phil Steele's and Sporting News -- picked the Bulldogs' nemesis, Florida, to win its second consecutive national championship and third in four seasons.

The Gators are led by senior quarterback Tim Tebow and junior nose tackle Lawrence Marsh of Augusta.

Georgia, 82-22 under ninth-year coach Mark Richt, has lower expectations this season after being tabbed preseason No. 1 by Lindy's and Sporting News in 2008. The Bulldogs are the top local team, according to the magazines -- as high as No. 13 by Phil Steele's and as low as No. 17 by Lindy's .

Georgia Tech, which went 9-4 in Paul Johnson's first year, including a win over Georgia, is receiving mixed reviews. Sporting News ranks the Yellow Jackets at No. 11, while Phil Steele's has the Ramblin' Wreck at No. 28.

Clemson, which went 7-6 with coach Dabo Swinney taking over midway through last season, is ranked No. 25 by Phil Steele's . In the same publication, the Tigers are expected to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division.

Here's a sampling of what else the magazines expect in 2009:

UNDER THE RADAR?: With the departures of quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia has plummeted in the preseason rankings. But Phil Steele's has the Bulldogs as a surprise national title contender -- like they were in 2005, when D.J. Shockley took over at quarterback his senior season.

Georgia returns its entire offensive line, including left tackle Trinton Sturdivant, who missed 2008 with a knee injury. Senior Joe Cox replaced Stafford, and sophomores Caleb King and Richard Samuel are likely to duke it out for Moreno's spot.

The Bulldogs return three of four starters on the defensive line, including tackle Jeff Owens, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game last year.

Sophomore wide receiver A.J. Green, an All-Southeastern Conference first team selection last season, is the featured Georgia player on three of the magazines.

HEAVYWEIGHT CONTENDER: Lindy's gives Georgia Tech an "A-" grade. The Yellow Jackets return 18 starters, including ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer, a junior running back. Under Johnson's high-powered, triple-option attack, Dwyer gained 1,395 yards.

Georgia Tech will be tested by an early three-game stretch against Clemson (Sept. 10, home), Miami (Sept. 17, away) and North Carolina (Sept. 26, home). If the Yellow Jackets can survive that, an Oct. 17 home game against Virginia Tech could determine the ACC Coastal Division.

THE DABO EFFECT: With the losses of quarterback Cullen Harper, running back James Davis and wide receiver Aaron Kelly, Swinney will have his hands full. But Clemson has plenty of experience in the trenches, as all five offensive linemen and three defensive linemen return. Phil Steele's believes the Tigers will make their first trip to the ACC title game.

YEAR OF THE GAMECOCK?: Not exactly. South Carolina is predicted to finish fourth (Lindy's, Phil Steele's ) or fifth (Athlon Sports ) in the SEC East. The Gamecocks' fortunes are expected to rest on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia. But he'll need help from an inexperienced group -- South Carolina returns 11 starters (five offense, six defense).

AND THE HEISMAN GOES TO... A quarterback. The top three front-runners are Florida's Tebow, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas' Colt McCoy. Tebow -- the top pick by Phil Steele's -- won the Heisman in 2007; Bradford won it in 2008, when McCoy finished runner-up. A quarterback has won the award eight of the past nine seasons.

Tebow and Bradford are bidding to become the second person to win two Heismans, joining Ohio State running back Archie Griffin (1974-75).

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

TOP 25 POLLS

Athlon Sports

1. Florida

2. Oklahoma

3. Texas

4. Southern Cal

5. Ohio State

6. Alabama

7. Penn State

8. Virginia Tech

9. Oklahoma State

10. Ole Miss

11. California

12. Boise State

13. Oregon

14. Georgia

15. Florida State

16. Nebraska

17. LSU

18. Cincinnati

19. North Carolina

20. Michigan State

21. Utah

22. Georgia Tech

23. Iowa

24. Notre Dame

25. Oregon State

Lindy's

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. Oklahoma

4. Southern Cal

5. Virginia Tech

6. LSU

7. Alabama

8. Ohio State

9. Ole Miss

10. Oklahoma State

11. Penn State

12. California

13. Boise State

14. TCU

15. Oregon

16. Georgia Tech

17. Georgia

18. Florida State

19. North Carolina

20. West Virginia

21. Kansas

22. Nebraska

23. Utah

24. Michigan State

25. BYU

Phil Steele's

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. Southern Cal

4. Oklahoma

5. Penn State

6. Mississippi

7. Notre Dame

8. Alabama

9. California

10. Ohio State

11. Virginia Tech

12. Boise State

13. Georgia

14. Oklahoma State

15. BYU

16. Rutgers

17. LSU

18. TCU

19. Illinois

20. Iowa

21. Miami

22. Nebraska

23. Pittsburgh

24. UCLA

25. Clemson

Sporting News

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. Oklahoma

4. Southern Cal

5. Ole Miss

6. Virginia Tech

7. Oregon

8. LSU

9. Ohio State

10. Oklahoma State

11. Georgia Tech

12. Penn State

13. Alabama

14. Boise State

15. Georgia

16. Oregon State

17. Florida State

18. Notre Dame

19. Utah

20. Texas Tech

21. California

22. BYU

23. North Carolina

24. TCU

25. Kansas

More

UGA defensive improvement overshadowed by offensive struggles

ATHENS, Ga. — In the latter stages of Saturday's 24-10 loss to Florida in Jacksonville, Kirby Smart didn't see any quit in a Georgia defense that... Read more

Georgia quarterback Eason feels the heat from Florida defense

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Beating Florida isn't an easy chore for a true freshman quarterback.

Just ask Matthew Stafford, Quincy Carter, Eric... Read more