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Keeping Athens in the Spotlight

After Olympics, Eyes Will Be on Georgia

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2004; Page H11

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia will have both of its quarterbacks this season, but three other Southeastern Conference powers will be looking to replace their quarterbacks, including defending co-national champion Louisiana State.

The Bulldogs will have record-setting starter David Greene and oft-used backup D.J. Shockley, who missed most of last season because of a knee injury. Those quarterbacks, along with the team's stingy defense, are a big reason Georgia is ranked No. 3 in the preseason Associated Press poll and is favored to win its second Southeastern Conference championship in three years.


"It's nice to have people respect you, but we haven't done anything yet to deserve it," Bulldogs quarterback David Greene said. (John Bazemore -- AP)


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"We don't even think about it," Greene said of the Bulldogs' lofty expectations. "It's nice to have people respect you, but we haven't done anything yet to deserve it. It doesn't mean anything yet."

Greene, a left-handed senior, completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 3,307 yards last season, but he threw nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (13). With receivers Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson healthy again, Greene should improve on those numbers this year. Greene is 32-8 as a starter, including a remarkable 12-1 mark on opponents' fields.

Greene is the most experienced SEC quarterback returning this season, but perhaps not the most exciting. Florida's Chris Leak threw for 2,435 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman and led the Gators to a 16-13 upset of the Bulldogs, Florida's 13th victory in its past 14 meetings against Georgia.

Tennessee, which lost three-year starter Casey Clausen to graduation, could play two very green quarterbacks. Volunteers Coach Phillip Fulmer, who is feeling some heat after embarrassing losses to Maryland and Clemson in the last two Peach Bowls, said he'll start either Erik Ainge or Brent Schaeffer, both freshmen, at quarterback over returning players C.J. Leak (Chris Leak's older brother) and Rick Clausen (Casey Clausen's younger brother).

Schaeffer and Ainge, the nephew of Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge, figure to play in the Sept. 5 opener against Nevada-Las Vegas. A freshman never has started at quarterback for Tennessee in a season opener, not even Peyton Manning.

"Both of them are unusually mature, and both have been in passing offenses and understand protections," Fulmer said. "They're not probably where either C.J. or Rick are right now mentally, but they've gone so fast we have to believe they will get there. This is what we think we need to do at this point to win the championship this year."

Junior Micheal Spurlock replaces Manning's younger brother, Eli, as quarterback at Mississippi this season. Spurlock, who threw only eight passes during his two seasons as a backup, is an option quarterback and is much quicker than Manning, the No. 1 pick in April's NFL draft.

LSU, which beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to claim the Bowl Championship Series title last season, will have a new but familiar face at quarterback. Senior Marcus Randall, who was 2-4 as a starter in 2002, is expected to hold off freshmen JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn for the starting job. Randall played in nine games behind starter Matt Mauck last year.

"Marcus has the job, but it's his to lose," LSU Coach Nick Saban said. "He's made a significant amount of improvement the last couple of years, and I think that's going to serve him well."

Auburn could challenge LSU in the SEC West, but only if senior quarterback Jason Campbell plays better than last season, when the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the preseason by the Sporting News, but finished 8-5 and played in the Music City Bowl.


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