Athlon rates Georgia No. 8

Coach Mark Richt must replace the entire offensive line and linebacking corps from last season's Southeastern Conference champions.<br><br>Running back Musa Smith, who rushed for 1,324 yards, and defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan are also history.

What Richt has in stock are not one but two of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Kregg Lumpkin might step in.

A three-game stretch in late September and early October — at Auburn show up.

Stubborn: Georgia finished fourth nationally last fall in scoring defense, allowing 15.1 points per game.

It's about time: Georgia's SEC championship in 2002 was its first since Herschel Walker's Heisman year of 1982.

In closing: The Bulldogs beat three bowl teams in a row — Georgia Tech — to conclude the regular season.

2002 results: 13–1 (7–1 SEC)

2002 Bowl Game: Beat Florida State 26-13 in Sugar Bowl

Returning starters: 3 offense, 7 defense, placekicker

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 at Clemson
S. 6 Middle Tennessee
S. 13 South Carolina
S. 20 at LSU
O. 4 Alabama
O. 11 at Tennessee
O. 18 at Vanderbilt
O. 25 UAB
N. 1 #Florida
N. 15 Auburn
N. 22 Kentucky
N. 29 at Georgia Tech

Schedule Analysis: It ain't easy. Clemson gave the Dawgs fits last year, as did South Carolina. Georgia plays the top three teams in the SEC West in LSU, Alabama and Auburn, and the Tennessee game is on the road. Oh yeah, then there's that game with Florida.

Final Word: Yes, we pick Georgia to repeat as SEC East champs, but it is not going to be easy. The strength of the team will be defense at the outset, with seven starters back and three new, athletic linebackers starting for the first time. Expect the Bulldogs to be awfully stingy on that side of the ball. Offensively, Mark Richt will have to figure out how best to use his two talented quarterbacks behind a young and inexperienced offensive line. Georgia has recruited well recently, so finding production and running back and receiver should not be an issue, but the offensive line will have to mature quickly for the Dawgs to move the ball. Georgia may have some flaws this year, but Florida and Tennessee do, too. After playing third fiddle for too long, the Bulldogs may grab their second straight SEC title.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Sports Southeastern edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Southeastern and National editions are set to hit newsstands June 6.

#8 Georgia

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