The Most-Important Dawg?

ATHENS – Imagine, for a paragraph, the best-case scenario for the end of the Georgia football team's 2010 regular season.

A celebration at the Georgia Dome, hoisting an SEC title trophy, and head coach Mark Richt ticking off the players that came through and made it all possible.

Now dwell on the worst-case: A miserable finish with a loss to its in-state rival, resulting in a lower-tier bowl or none at all, and fans and coaches grumbling about what went wrong. Or more specifically, who went wrong.

Yes, football is a team game, and the coaches and their play-calling is vital. But as Georgia goes forward into a critical season, it needs good seasons from a number of players. And some more than others.

Here's one ranking:

1. AARON MURRAY, QB: The quarterback is almost always a team's most important player, but especially this year with Georgia.

Murray, a redshirt freshman, isn't being asked to be a "hero," to use Richt's words. There's talent around him (like the next player on this list) and as experienced an offensive line as there is in the country. Murray doesn't have to be an All-SEC pick. If he just plays solid and keeps the mistakes to a minimum, the Bulldogs will be happy.

2. A.J. GREEN, WR: What's a good way for Murray to at least look like an all-star? Get the ball to No. 8. In the team's preseason scrimmages, Green has taken a few Murray passes and turned them into touchdowns. Green just needs to stay healthy, which he hasn't quite been able to do in his previous two college seasons.

3. WASHAUN EALEY and CALEB KING, TB: The pair of tailbacks should have some good holes to run through, thanks to the veteran offensive line. But they still have to run through them. A good run game will take a ton of pressure off of Murray, so big years from one, or both tailbacks would be huge.

4. JUSTIN HOUSTON, OLB: The new defense could really use a breakout star, the kind of guy that offenses have to plan around. Houston can be that guy. The junior led the team with 7.5 sacks last year, and in the new 3-4 scheme should have more freedom to make big plays.

5. BRANDON BOYKIN, CB: The junior is vital for two reasons. He's Georgia's best cover corner, who will normally be assigned the other team's top receiver. But he could also be one of the SEC's best kick returners, and might see time on punt return too.

6: DEMARCUS DOBBS, DE: The senior is another player hoping to benefit from the new scheme. He has 6.5 career sacks, but could double that total if he can get around enough blocks. And the more pressure he causes, the more he opens up things for the entire defense.

7. CLINT BOLING and CORDY GLENN, OL: These are the anchors of the veteran offensive line, and probably the two the team could least afford to lose. Everyone assumes the Georgia line will be stout; If one or both of these guys struggle or get hurt, all bets are off.

8. THE OTHER RECEIVERS: Green could face double-coverage on every play, or at least plenty of attention. But if another guy can emerge as a threat, that will help open up a lot of passing possibilities.

It could be any number of receivers: Tavares King will be a candidate once he returns from his one-game suspension, and the 6-foot-5 Marlon Brown has had a good camp.

The tight ends are also a deep group, so Orson Charles, Aron White and company could emerge as a favorite Murray target.

9. BACARRI RAMBO, S: The redshirt sophomore moves into a starting role, but at which position – free or strong – it remains to be seen. The team would love for Rambo to live up to his last name and emerge as a hard-hitting, Thomas Davis-type of safety.

10. AKEEM DENT, ILB: There was a reason a lot of people around the program were worried when Dent had toe surgery in July. But the unofficial captain of the defense appears on track to be ready for the opener, or at least the first SEC game at South Carolina.

Christian Robinson, Marcus Dowtin and Akeem Hebron seem to have done a good job filling in this month in Dent's absence. But nothing replaces a fifth-year senior who will be directing the front seven in the team's new 3-4 defense.


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