ATHENS - Last week in Macon, a fan asked Mark Richt what his biggest concern for the Georgia football team was in 2012. The head coach didn't dodge:
It's the offensive line, stupid.
Okay, Richt didn't say "stupid." That's my line, or rather James Carville's from the 1992 presidential campaign. But just as the economy was the central theme that year, Georgia will enter the 2012 with a laser-like focus on the offensive front five.
Yes, there are other concerns: Almost every facet of special teams, the defense through the first few games, whether the tailbacks stay healthy (and behave).
But any hopes the Bulldogs have for an SEC or BCS championship run will depend heavily on whether the offensive line can at least be average, and avoid derailing the other talent on offense.
Richt, in his answer to that Macon fan, sounded a somewhat optimistic tone. (He can't be expected to say aloud that he's worried to death about it.)
"I'm more curious than concerned maybe, because I do think we have the right ingredients coming in to do a good job," Richt said. "But there's no question that this line will be a question mark until they do it. But I think they'll do well. And I think the year after this and the year after that they'll get better and better. Because it is a young bunch. And they'll have a chance to be good for awhile."
That last part is interesting, because Richt seems to be saying: The line will be good eventually, just get us through this year.
There are no seniors among the returning linemen. Here are the guys with the best chance to play, and their level of experience:
ALMOST CERTAIN STARTERS
Jr. Kenarious Gates (tackle) ... 19 games, 12 starts in career.
R-Jr. Chris Burnette (guard) ... 12 games and starts, all last year.
Soph. David Andrews (center) ... 10 games last year, no starts.
Fr. John Theus (tackle) ... Rookie.
R-Jr. Dallas Lee (guard) ... 11 games, seven starts.
R-Soph. Kolton Houston (tackle or guard) ... No appearances.
Soph. Mark Beard (tackle or guard) ... Junior college transfer.
Soph. Watts Dantzler (tackle) ... 3 games last year, no starts.
Fr. Greg Pyke (tackle or guard) ... Rookie.
Jr. Austin Long (tackle) ... 2 games, no starts.
Soph. Hunter Long (guard or tackle) ... 3 games, no starts.
R-Fr. Xzavier Ward (tackle) ... No appearances.
That's a total of 61 games played, and 31 career starts. The three graduated seniors (Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson) combined for 144 games played and 132 starts.
That's an astounding number of experience gone, and not much coming back. Obviously, there's only one way to get experience, and that will happen this year. Richt is just hoping the early going isn't too rough.