HOOVER, Ala. – When the topic of conversation is quarterbacks, Georgia football coach Mark Richt tends to repeat himself.
He hopes history will, too.
Throughout spring practice - and seemingly ever week since - Richt repeated that he didn't know if senior Joe Tereshinski, redshirt freshman Joe Cox or true freshman Matthew Stafford would emerge as the starting quarterback when the Bulldogs open the season against Western Kentucky on Sept. 2. He repeated that again during the Southeastern Conference media conferences on Wednesday.
''That's something that I'm not nervous about, but I'm a little bit curious,'' Richt said. ''A lot of people think I know who that guy is already. I don't.''
However, Richt acknowledged that he needs to find out quickly when the Bulldogs start practicing in pads on Aug. 10, because a new quarterback needs as many repetitions as possible to get ready to play.
''It's tough to have that many guys and give them all enough repetitions,'' he said. ''We're going to narrow it down relatively soon in practice. We keep very close statistical data in practice, but – you know – it is a little bit of that gut feeling, too. You've got to sit there and say, 'Can this guy handle it?' ''
Richt hasn't had to ask that question since his first season in Athens, five years ago.
In 2001, Richt decided freshman David Greene could handle that responsibility. Greene helped the Bulldogs to an 8-4 finish and won All-SEC honors the next three seasons. When Greene left, senior D.J. Shockley stepped in and passed for 2,588 yards and 24 touchdowns to earn All-SEC recognition while leading Georgia to the conference championship.
Richt believes enough talent remains to make another championship run. The Georgia defense is solid, especially at defensive end where Quentin Moses has All-American ability. The Bulldogs have three capable running backs in Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin. Sophomore receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is expected to dramatically improve on last season's totals of 38 catches, 505 yards and two touchdowns.
''I think we'll see a lot better Mohamed Massaquoi because he's just going to be better at running those routes,'' Richt said. ''If he keeps catching the ball like he has, he's going to get a bunch for us this year.''
Soon, Richt must decide who'll be throwing to Massaquoi. He'll choose between two guys -- Cox and Stafford – who have not thrown a collegiate pass, and another – Tereshinski – who threw 49 last season.
''You get used to the fact that you're going to have a new guy every once in a while,'' Richt said. ''We've been fortunate to have David Greene and D.J. Shockley ready to step in and help us win an SEC championship. That's been wonderful.
''If history repeats itself we'll find somebody who's going to play well. I think our system has a lot to do with that. I think the way we coach guys has a lot to do with that. I think recruiting the right kind of guys has a lot to do with it.''
Richt thinks history will be repeated. Just as importantly, if not more, so do Georgia's players.
Tradition of Excellence
No one is sure yet whom the starting quarterback will be for Georgia this season, but he will have big shoes to fill. Take a look at the performances of the Bulldogs' starting quarterbacks over the last five seasons under head coach Mark Richt:
''Whoever they put back there, there will be a small change,'' center Nick Jones said. ''The plays will be the same, but it'll just be a different guy calling the plays. Don't get me wrong, I'll miss D.J., but I have lots of confidence in the new guys.''
Gaining the team's confidence is vital for a quarterback, but Richt acknowledges that's only one factor his new passer will need as the Bulldogs take on Tennessee, Florida and Auburn among others this season.
''You want to have a guy that first and foremost won't give the game away,'' Richt said. ''I mean, when you've got a quarterback who is going to make a decision every time the ball is snapped to him, a lot of times he's making a decision before the snap of the ball - as far as getting you into the right play or getting out of a bad one. He's got to be able to handle that part first.
''Then, ultimately, you want a guy that can win some games for you through his knowledge of the game, by his ability to hit his target, by his mental toughness. We're looking for a guy to manage the whole situation and then ultimately we want a guy that can make a difference and win some of the big games that we'll play in.''
Stafford is probably the guy that most fits that description. However, he's also the least experienced -having played high school football in Texas last autumn. Stafford spent most of the spring just trying to learn Richt's system.
He did, however, throw a 64-yard touchdown pass on his first attempt in Georgia's spring game, while neither Tereshinski nor Cox were impressive.
Richt has maintained the spring game will have no effect on who will start in September. Also, he pointed out that who starts against Western Kentucky won't necessarily be the starter against, say, Colorado on Sept. 23.
''We don't tackle our (quarterbacks) in practice,'' he said. ''I don't know how some guys are going to react when they get hit real hard. That's why I'm saying it could be a game or two or three into the season before we're really sure. A guy has to be a good decision maker, he's got to be accurate and he's got to handle the pressure.
''I think we have more than one guy that can get the job done. Now, my job is to find out who that is and make sure that he's ready to help us win.''
History shows that Richt has been able to do that. He just has to repeat it.