You can tell Vince Dooley has a real shot at dumping Alabama off its perch at the top of the Southeastern Conference this fall because he is beginning to sound just like Bear Bryant. Bryant is as famous for poor-mouthing his squad's chances in the spring and summer as Alabama is famous for winning in the fall. But Dooley is catching on. Listen: "Our No. 1 problem is finding individuals to fill key positions," he says. "And though it's a problem on offense, it's more acute on defense."
Dooley warmed up his act last year, predicting all manner of dire doings in Athens during the 1978 season. But the Bulldogs surprised everybody by going 9-2-1. This year, mainly because the two fine quarterbacks who led that team are still around and have plenty to work with, Georgia might be even better, never mind what Dooley says. Moreover, because Alabama isn't on the schedule, Georgia has a chance of going undefeated in the SEC. Even Alabama can't top that.
On defense, Dooley's philosophy has always been: if you dress, you play. So, although five 1978 starters are gone, 19 lettermen are back, including the entire secondary. Georgia has some good ones up front, too, especially two-year starters Robert Goodwin, Jimmy Payne and Eddie (Meat Cleaver) Weaver. Last season Payne came out of nowhere—which is to say, high school—to lead the Bulldogs in sacks, with eight. Though he's also only a sophomore, Weaver, a six-foot, 273-pound guard, is already acclaimed the Bulldogs' strongest defender ever.
Jeff Pyburn, the No. 1 quarterback and a 54% passer, is: a) the son of the defensive secondary coach, Jim Pyburn; b) teacher of Bible classes; and c) married to a recently crowned Georgia beauty queen. Behind him is Buck Belue, who is single, stronger of arm and pushing hard to take Pyburn's job away. It was Belue who rallied the Bulldogs from a 0-20 deficit to a 29-28 victory over Georgia Tech to close out their regular season with a win over their traditional rival. Both quarterbacks will throw often to Lindsay Scott. Last season he caught 36 passes, was among the national leaders in kickoff returns and was named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
The SEC Player of the Year was Bulldog Tailback Willie McClendon, who now wears the uniform of the Chicago Bears, but his replacement, sophomore Matt Simon, averaged more yards a carry (5.2) than McClendon. Simon will be working behind pretty much the same line that sprung McClendon for 1,312 yards. The best of the blockers, Center Ray Donaldson, is so good that Dooley, stepping out of character, has called him "the best I've had anywhere, ever."
Other pluses: Rex Robinson is an All-SEC placekicker, and Georgia has plenty of depth because, for the second year in a row, Dooley's recruiting was tops in the conference. Among the signees are four running backs who, Dooley says, are ready to play right now, and Dwayne Puckett, a 6'8", 329-pound tackle, who is the largest Bulldog player ever. Heck, he may be the largest person in Georgia ever. So what has Dooley to whine about?
"Last year we were lucky," he moans. "In five games the difference was a total of six points. Turn those points around, and we'd have had a losing season." Well, hang in there, Vince. You figure to be even luckier this year.
8. Notre Dame
Coach Dan Devine surely would prefer something a bit softer, now that he is in the final season of a five-year contract. But there it is—a genuine backbreaker of a schedule. "We face Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State for starters, and we finish up in Tokyo," he says. "Which may not be a bad place for me to set up residence."