The success of 2007 bred high expectations for 2008, and while this season didn't work out according to plans, that doesn't mean hopes won't be high again next year.
"I guess we've just got the bar raised so high that anything less than a championship is a disappointment," Richt said. "That's not all bad. I want the Georgia people, the players and the coaches to expect championships. I want that to be our goal."
Georgia could undertake that goal in 2009 with a much different look that it began this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno, defensive tackle Jeff Owens and cornerback Asher Allen are all considering leaving for the NFL with at least another year of eligibility remaining in college, while senior leaders like CJ Byrd, Mohamed Massaquoi and Brannan Southerland will definitely be gone.
So the cast that will make up next year's Bulldogs will have to include a few rising stars, and according to this season's veterans, there are no shortage of possibilities.
Brandon Boykin, cornerback. When surveying the current crop of Bulldogs as to which player is poised for a breakout 2009, no name was mentioned more than Boykin's. The true freshman from Fayetteville has appeared in all 12 games this season, making six tackles in a limited role as a part-time nickelback.
Boykin possesses excellent speed and has a knack for making impressive plays in practice. Should Allen decide to head to the NFL a year early, Boykin could be the leading contender to step into the starting job at corner.
"I've seen him do some ‘wow' things to receivers," Byrd said of Boykins. "He'll just pop the ball and just end up with it in his hands as he falls. Every time he goes against somebody, he's going to get a pick or pop the ball, a (pass breakup), it doesn't matter. He's a playmaker."
DeAngelo Tyson, defensive tackle. The 300-pound defensive tackle was an All-American at Statesboro High in 2007, and while his first action with Georgia has been a bit of a mix bag, he has shown enough flashes to convince his teammates he can fill a bigger role next season.
With Owens suffering a season-ending injury in Georgia's first game, Kade Weston battling through injuries all year, and Brandon Wood missing two games with a suspension, Tyson was called upon to fill in ahead of schedule this year. He appeared in all 12 games, making nine tackles – one for a loss – and racking up five quarterback hurries.
"He stepped in when his name was called, and he's pretty good," senior Corvey Irvin said. "He's learned his plays. He caught on the fastest out of the whole group from seniors to freshmen coming in and knowing his plays. Now he's got to work on the other part – fundamentals and technique and stuff."
"As a backfield, Caleb's going to do a great job for us, and so is Richard," Moreno said. "They're different kinds of runners, but they both run hard. I think those two guys – especially Richard because he hasn't been playing too much – they'll be a force next year."
King, a redshirt freshman, grabbed the bulk of the backup attempts this season, rushing 61 times for 247 yards and one touchdown. He seemed to have solidified himself as the second option at running back before missing a key block against Florida that landed him on the bench for much of the remainder of the season.
Samuel had a rocky freshman season, too. He fumbled his first carry of the year then found himself benched after missing an opportunity to score on a red-zone carry against South Carolina. While he only carried 26 times this season, he averaged more than five yards per rush and chipped in as the Bulldogs' primary kick returner as the season drew to a close.
"He's an intelligent person so he'll pick it up a lot more," wide receiver Kris Durham said of Sameul. "It's hard coming out of high school and understanding the entire offense, so he's got a lot to look forward to next year."
Tavarres King, wide receiver. King and fellow wide receiver A.J. Green both entered this season with hopes of having a major impact as freshmen. For Green, those hopes came to fruition, and then some. He leads the SEC in receiving and has been a key playmaker for the Bulldogs this year.
King showed promise early, too. In limited playing time, he caught two passes – one for 25 yards and the other for 41. Shortly after the 41-yard grab against Arizona State, however, he re-aggravated an ankle injury he originally suffered in fall camp. He didn't play again and applied for a medical redshirt. If he can make a full recovery and come back strong in 2009, however, Massaquoi said he could have an impact similar to the one Green had this year.
"I really like Tavarres King's future," Massaquoi said. "I think he has a very special talent. This season, allowing him to see the speed of the game, this next offseason is going to be big for him just to continue to develop, and I think he's going to do a great job of it."
Trinton Sturdivant and Vince Vance, offensive linemen. These two aren't rookies, but their impact in 2008 was negligible thanks to season-ending injuries suffered in the early going. Sturdivant started every game at left tackle in 2007, but went down with a knee injury in fall camp this year. Vance had taken over at left tackle by midseason this year, but he suffered a knee injury against Tennessee that ended his year. Both should be back to solidify a line that will be filled with experience next season.
"I know Trinton is doing really well with everything, and Vince just had his surgery," sophomore Clint Boling said. "Hopefully some of those guys are able to come along and come back next year to have a break-out year."