Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford's freshman year reflected his team's up-and-down season.
After Rivals.com rated him as the nation's top quarterback in the 2006 recruiting class, Stafford struggled to adjust to the college game as Georgia endured a midseason slump.
By the end of the year, however, Stafford began to show the leadership and arm strength that made him such a highly touted prospect.
Stafford led Georgia to a road upset of Auburn and a comeback victory over Georgia Tech in the Bulldogs' final two regular-season games.
"Becoming a leader means making plays," Stafford said. "As I got more experience and started making the plays, I think that's when the leadership started."
Now he faces arguably his toughest test of his young career against a team that made a similar late-season surge. Georgia (8-4) battles No. 14 Virginia Tech (10-2) in the Chick-fil-A bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (ESPN, 8 p.m.).
Virginia Tech has given up a total of 29 points during its current six-game winning streak. The Hokies lead the nation in scoring defense and total defense.
Chick-fil-A Bowl: Georgia (8-4) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2)
When: Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta TV info: ESPN
Georgia Bulldogs Conference: Southeastern Record: 8-4, 4-4 Coach:Mark Richt (60-17, sixth season) Passing leader:Matthew Stafford (126-of-235, 1,620 yards, six TDs, 12 INTs). Rushing leaders:Kregg Lumpkin (150 carries, 759 yards, five TDs), Danny Ware (75 carries, 302 yards, three TDs). Receiving leaders:Mohamed Massaquoi (28 catches, 348 yards, two TDs), Martrez Milner (27 catches, 376 yards, two TDs), Kenneth Harris (15 catches, 305 yards, 0 TDs). Defensive leaders: LB Tony Taylor (60 solos, 27 assists, 6½ tackles for loss, three sacks, five interceptions), DB Tra Battle (34 solos, 23 assists, 4½ tackles for loss, six interceptions, two sacks), LB Jarvis Jackson (35 solos, 34 assists, 2½ tackles for loss), DE Charles Johnson (32 solos, eight assists, 16 tackles for loss, 7½ sacks, nine pass breakups).
Virginia Tech Hokies Conference: Atlantic Coast Record: 10-2, 6-2 Coach:Frank Beamer (156-81-2, 20th season at Virginia Tech; 198-104-4 in 26 seasons overall). Passing leader:Sean Glennon (157-of-276, 2,097 yards, 11 TDs, eight INTs). Rushing leader:Branden Ore (221 carries, 1,095 yards, 14 TDs). Receiving leaders:David Clowney (33 catches, 416 yards, 0 TDs), Josh Morgan (31 catches, 434 yards, four TDs), Eddie Royal (27 catches, 452 yards, three TDs), Justin Harper (20 catches, 318 yards, one TD). Defensive leaders: LB Vince Hall (52 solos, 63 assists, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery), LB Xavier Adibi (27 solos, 51 assists, 5½ tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery), CB Brandon Flowers (27 solos, 21 assists, 7½ tackles for loss, 3½ sacks, three interceptions, 18 pass breakups), S Aaron Rouse (20 solos, 31 assists, 1½ tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one interception).
Georgia running game vs. West Virginia run defense: Kregg Lumpkin replaced injured starter Thomas Brown and averaged more than 5 yards per carry to emerge as Georgia's featured back. But he gained just 51 yards on 18 carries in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech. He could have similar trouble finding running room against Virginia Tech, which is allowing just 2.8 yards per carry. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Georgia passing game vs. Virginia Tech pass defense: After a slow start, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford began to show the promise that caused Rivals.com to rate him as the nation's top quarterback in the 2006 recruiting class. Stafford completed 70 percent of his passes in an upset of Auburn and rallied the Bulldogs to a victory over Georgia Tech. Even with that late surge, Stafford still finished the regular season with twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes. This game could represent another learning experience for the true freshman. Brandon Flowers is second in the nation in passes defended to lead Virginia Tech's top-ranked pass defense. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech running game vs. Georgia run defense: Branden Ore missed the regular-season finale against Virginia with a high ankle sprain, but he is expected to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Ore has rushed for 1,095 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, but he gained just 156 yards on his last 55 carries. Georgia has allowed 3.4 yards per carry this season. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech passing game vs. Georgia pass defense: Georgia boasts the nation's fifth-ranked pass defense. Tra Battle recorded three interceptions against Auburn, while Paul Oliver had fourth-quarter interceptions in narrow victories over Ole Miss and Georgia Tech. Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses give the Bulldogs a pair of fierce pass rushers. The Bulldogs need to watch out for the deep ball, as six of Sean Glennon's 11 touchdown passes went for at least 47 yards. Edge: Georgia.
Georgia coaches vs. Virginia Tech coaches: Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway left to take over as UAB's head coach. Mike Bobo, who handled the play-calling duties in Georgia's victory over Georgia Tech, has replaced Callaway as the offensive coordinator. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer owns a 7-7 bowl record, while Georgia's Mark Richt is 3-2 in bowl games. Edge: Virginia Tech.
Georgia will win if: The Bulldogs need to hope Stafford continues the rapid rate of improvement he showed in the final two games of the regular season.
Virginia Tech will win if: The Hokies need Ore to regain the form he showed while rushing for 410 yards in back-to-back victories over Southern Mississippi and Clemson.
Injury situation: Georgia kicker Brandon Coutu will play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl after missing the Bulldogs' last seven games of the regular season with a torn hamstring. Coutu entered the season as an All-America candidate and went 7-of-8 on field-goal attempts before getting hurt. ... Georgia tight end Martrez Milner has a stiff neck, but it won't prevent him from playing. ... Georgia has suspended backup center Ian Smith and backup offensive guard Seth Watts for this game. ... Virginia Tech running back Branden Ore expects to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl after missing the regular-season finale with a high ankle sprain. ... Virginia Tech offensive guard Ryan Shuman plans to return from a knee injury that sidelined him for the Hokies' last four games. ... Virginia Tech defensive end Noland Burchette injured his back in a practice this week, but he doesn't expect it to prevent him from playing.
Worth noting: This marks the second consecutive year Georgia has played a bowl game in the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs played in last season's Sugar Bowl, which temporarily moved from New Orleans to Atlanta because of Hurricane Katrina. … Georgia and Virginia Tech both played host to Georgia Tech this year. Georgia defeated Georgia Tech 15-12, while Virginia Tech lost to the Yellow Jackets 38-27. … Don't be surprised if this game features a blocked kick. Virginia Tech has blocked 30 kicks and Georgia has 24 blocks since 2001. … Georgia also started a true freshman at quarterback the last time it played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, then known as the Peach Bowl. Quincy Carter helped rally the Bulldogs from a 21-point deficit to beat Virginia 35-33 in the 1998 Peach Bowl. … Georgia running backs coach Tony Ball spent eight years as the Virginia Tech receivers coach. … Virginia Tech has allowed a total of 29 points in its last six games. The Hokies also have recorded four shutouts this season. … Virginia Tech is ranked first in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. The Hokies are second in the nation in pass-efficiency defense.
Line: Virginia Tech by 2½
Megargee's pick: Virginia Tech 20-17 Other Rivals.com Expert picks: Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Georgia 21-20. Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Virginia Tech 28-17. Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Virginia Tech 21-18. Make your picks on Rivals.com Bowl Pick 'Em.