Preseason View Of Georgia
Georgia's quest to win the SEC Championship and beyond fell a few yards short in 2012. Now the Bulldogs will have regroup and replace a slew of playmakers on defense to make another run at the conference crown, and (with a little luck) the BCS National Title.
Aaron Murray returns for his fifth and final season in Athens as Georgia's quarterback. Murray will likely break a slew of school and conference passing records by the time 2013 ends as he already has more than 10,000 yards passing in three years. But Murray will be graded most on if the Bulldogs return to play for the SEC Championship for a third season in a row.
No team in the SEC has represented its division in the conference championship three years in a row since 1996. But to get back to the Georgia Dome the Bulldogs will have to rely on Murray and an offense that returns much of the firepower from a year ago.
Running back Todd Gurley took the SEC East by storm – ending his 2013 campaign with 1,385 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. His 17 touchdowns were a record for freshmen at Georgia. Only Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker had more yards as a freshman.
But Gurley had a partner in the backfield – Keith Marshall. The fellow North Carolina native had 759 yards on the ground with eight touchdowns. Murray, Gurley and Marshall combine to form one of the top backfields in college football.
Georgia's offensive line returns in tact with the most depth it has had in some time. Georgia's receivers could also be some of the best in the conference with junior Malcolm Mitchell (1,237 yards and eight touchdowns) leading the way. Keep an eye on junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph and the return of junior Michael Bennett at receiver as well.
Georgia's offense is loaded.
But the Bulldogs defense has both skill and question marks. Losing the likes of Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree to the first round of the NFL speaks to the question at Georgia: Who is going to step in to replace them the others who left for the NFL.
Jordan Jenkins started opposite Jones at outside linebacker most of 2012 and is considered one of the top playmakers on defense for the Bulldogs. Amarlo Herrera returns, too, with significant starting experience at linebacker. Ramik Wilson and James Deloach will step in as new starters at linebacker. Both played heavy minutes last fall.
Damien Swann returns to start at cornerback with newcomer Sheldon Dawson opposite him. Safety is where Georgia will be very skilled, but very, very young. Josh Harvey-Clemons and true freshman Tray Matthews will likely start at safety. Harvey-Clemons, at 6-5, 220, is one of the bigger safeties in conference.
Veteran starter Garrison Smith will team up with a group of defensive linemen to form Georgia's front. Junior Mike Thornton is expected to start at nose guard with sophomore Sterling Bailey at defensive end. The Bulldogs have seven legitimate defensive linemen to rotate into their 3-4 scheme.
Georgia will have to navigate a challenging start to the season. A season-opening trip to Clemson will be a challenge. A week later South Carolina comes to town with a three-game winning streak against the Bulldogs. The winner of that game will be the favorite to win the East. Then after an open week and a game with North Texas, Georgia will host LSU.
The Bulldogs will then travel to Knoxville before returning home to take on Missouri. A trip to Vanderbilt comes the following week.
Georgia gets a bye the week before the annual fight with Florida in Jacksonville. Appalachian State travels to Athens a week later. Then the Bulldogs go to Auburn for the second year in a row – a quirk in the SEC schedule the Bulldogs allowed in order to keep the longest-running rivalry in the SEC going without missing a year.
Kentucky travels to Georgia a week later. Then the Bulldogs travel to Atlanta to take on in-state rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have defeated the Jackets 18 of the last 22 contests.
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