ATLANTA - The Grand Ballroom at the Hilton in downtown Atlanta paired Georgia coach Mark Richt and Georgia Tech headman Chan Gailey on the same couch Thursday afternoon, when some of the best football minds in the state and the nation gathered for the Atlanta Sports Council's College Football Preview Luncheon.
Richt and Gailey joined ESPN's Lee Corso and journalist Tony Barnhart to discuss Yellow Jacket and Bulldog football, as well as the state of the college game in general.
Both coaches were optimistic about their teams' chances this year, while remaining aware of the work that needs to be done.
"We have a lot of questions unanswered right now, but we feel like we have the answers somewhere on our team," Richt said. "By mid-year we'll be hitting stride. I just hope we have enough success early to keep us in position to win a championship."
With Oklahoma State and South Carolina in their first two games, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them. And the Yellow Jackets will be no stranger to season-opening tests themselves, kicking off the season with Notre Dame for the second straight year.
"You'd rather not start the season with a physical, tough football team, but that's what's great about college football," Gailey said. "You don't know week in and week out. You play the games."
An underlying theme of the luncheon was young and inexperienced quarterbacks, both in the state of Georgia and across the SEC and ACC.
"Football, from top to
bottom is quarterback-driven," said Gailey, whose Yellow Jackets will have untested senior Taylor Bennet behind center this season.
"In general, teams with more experienced quarterbacks win the most games. It will be interesting to see the maturity of the quarterbacks this year."
Gailey also said that after the loss of Calvin Johnson to the NFL the Tech receiving corps would see a more diversified and balanced passing attack.
Corso showed faith in both Bennett and Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, but with one catch.
"If Georgia's defense can play well enough to keep the game close, he can win it for them in the fourth quarter," Corso said. "The key is defense. With that kid coming back they will always have a chance. And as long as (Tech) has (defensive coordinator) Jon Tenuta they'll be close."
Another young and unproven quarterback, Florida's Tim Tebow, was also brought up during the roundtable discussion.
"Matt Stafford was the best high school quarterback I had ever seen and he struggled a little bit (in his first year as a starter)," said Richt, who also recruited Tebow. "I'm hoping Tebow will struggle, too."
Sparked by a question from the audience, Corso let loose on the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
"It's not played in Jacksonville, Georgia," he said, referring to the apparent imbalance of fans and support in Florida during the game.
"Let's just say it would be a whole lot easier for Georgia to beat Florida in Athens."
Richt found it an appropriate comment.
"If it's a neutral game, let's play it in Atlanta every year," he joked.
The personality from College Gameday also repeatedly dubbed the SEC "the best conference in the nation," with the Jackets' conference picking up ground.
"It's getting better," Corso said of the ACC. "With Miami and Virginia Tech and Boston College, it's improved a lot."
Richt, whose Bulldogs went 1-4 in the SEC East last season, echoed Corso's sentiment about the conference.
"We certainly proved that everybody in the (SEC) East can beat us last year," he said, laughing.