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15<a href=Georgia Bulldogs" title="Georgia Bulldogs"/>
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Though Joe Cox has thrown only 58 passes at Georgia, teammates believe he'll point them in the right direction.
Though Joe Cox has thrown only 58 passes at Georgia, teammates believe he'll point them in the right direction.
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Fast Facts
COACH: Mark Richt (9th year)
2008 RECORD: 10-3 (6-2 in SEC)
FINAL AP RANK: 13
RET. STARTERS: Offense 7, Defense 6
Worth Noting
While the Bulldogs may be young this season, they won't lack for experience. No fewer than 21 freshmen logged playing time in 2008 for a team that started the year ranked No. 1 in the country.

This article appears in the August 17, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated

Replace the QB who was the first pick in the draft? No problem. Joe Cox is ready.

At the end of spring practice Georgia coach Mark Richt summoned each of his players to his office for a one-on-one. Among other things, the coach discussed the player's strengths and weaknesses, and at the end of every chat he asked the question, Who do you think is the leader of our team? All told, 106 players named quarterback Joe Cox, a fifth-year senior who has started only one game for the Bulldogs.

"There's not a player or coach on this team who doesn't have confidence in him and what he can do on the field," Richt says. "He gives us peace of mind."

Indeed, the biggest story in Athens this spring was how Cox took command of the team. Unlike last season, when Georgia had a high-powered offense led by Matthew Stafford, the first pick in the NFL draft, this year's unit will operate a ball-control attack. Richt believes Cox will excel at game management. In other words, don't expect the new QB to throw many interceptions or make mental mistakes such as missing a protection call. Cox doesn't possess Stafford's arm strength, but he is a deadly accurate short- to intermediate-range passer and can make plays with his feet (something Stafford rarely did).

"I've been in the program a long time, and I've learned a lot from the sideline," Cox says. "I'm ready to take charge."

Cox already is a proven winner who knows a thing or two about replacing a star. After taking over for highly touted Chris Leak at Independence High in Charlotte, Cox led the Patriots to a 31?0 record and back-to-back state titles, throwing a state-record 66 touchdown passes as a senior. Cox's most memorable moment at Georgia occurred in 2006, when he replaced a struggling Stafford with the Bulldogs trailing Colorado 13?0 late in the third quarter; Cox completed 10 of 13 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns to rally his team to a 14?13 victory.

"Everyone knows what Joe is capable of," says junior linebacker Rennie Curran. "We honestly don't think there's going to be a drop-off at quarterback."

If there isn't, Georgia will be right back in the middle of the SEC title race.

-- Lars Anderson

Issue date: August 17, 2009

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