SEC PREVIEWS: UGA picked to win East again

As if winning five straight national titles wasn't enough to declare the Southeastern Conference's college football supremacy, the league managed to take it one step further last season when the BCS title game matchup between Alabama and LSU guaranteed a sixth straight national champion from the SEC before the championship game was even played.

So how does seven in a row sound? Well it will be hard to bet against the SEC continuing its dominance, especially with LSU returning 15 starters from last year's squad and BCS champ Alabama still loaded on the offensive side even with the loss of standout running back Trent Richardson.

Yet the big story in SEC Football 2012 is the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the conference, something that figures to make it even tougher to get through the league schedule unscathed. While neither Mizzou nor the Aggies are expected to contend for SEC divisional titles, they both bring solid programs to the league. Missouri was ranked No. 1 in the country five years ago before losing to Oklahoma in the 2007 Big 12 title game, and A&M's Kyle Field is one of the most difficult venues in the country for visiting teams, something Florida, Arkansas and LSU will have to contend with this fall.

The Scout.com publishers believe that LSU and Georgia will repeat as division champions this year with LSU picked to win the SEC Championship. Previews of all 14 SEC teams are about to be featured on GamecockAnthem.com, and today we look at Georgia.



SEC EAST

Georgia (PREDICTED FINISH: 1ST IN EAST)


Georgia enters the 2012 season with heightened expectations. The Bulldogs won the 2011 SEC East division after getting off to a rocky 0-2 start. This season Georgia should be favored in almost all its games, and enters the fall as the favorite to repeat as division winners. The question now is: Can the Bulldogs knock off one of the West's powers to win the conference for the first time since 2005?

Junior quarterback Aaron Murray returns after a mammoth 2011. The Tampa native managed to shatter the school's touchdown record (35) without a standout receiver. To top it off, he led the Bulldogs to their first 10-win season since Matthew Stafford left in 2008.

While Murray's production was impressive during the season, he did make mistakes in big moments. His fumble in the second half of the SEC Championship Game allowed LSU to grab the momentum for good. In addition, his two critical mistakes against South Carolina (a Murray fumble was returned for a touchdown as was an interception he threw) and a critical interception late against Michigan State cost the Bulldogs wins in those contests. Murray's 2012 season will likely be judged not on how many big plays be makes, but rather how he controls big games.

Behind him will be a young but super-talented backfield. Leading the way is sophomore Isaiah Crowell, who paced the Bulldogs with more than 800 yards in his freshman season. Crowell missed much of the season with injuries or a suspension. Crowell showed his talent most against South Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn and for his efforts was named SEC Freshman of the Year. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this article was written, Crowell was arrested and kicked off the team) He will be backed up by Ken Malcome, speedy newcomer Keith Marshall and veteran Richard Samuel.

The Bulldogs will have to replace two former starting tight ends in the fall, and Arthur Lynch will likely get the lion's share of starting assignments. Jay Rome, a redshirt freshman, will be his backup. This inexperience could mean the Bulldogs will shift their focus to receivers, of which the Bulldogs have many types.

Malcolm Mitchell returns as the team's leading receiver, but he will play some defensive back this fall. Tavarres King, a senior, had an explosive bowl game against Michigan State. Marlon Brown, another senior, adds size to the receiver spot, while Rantavious

Wooten, who sat out last season due to injury, will return to play in the slot. Meanwhile sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, both of whom made game-changing catches in the fall, return to fill out Georgia's deepest receiver group in some time. Redshirt freshman Justin Scott-Wesley has the potential to change games with his speed. Bulldog coaches are hopeful that he can replace any production that may be missing with Mitchell playing defensive snaps.

The Bulldogs' offensive line will have to replace three multi-year starters. If there is a weak spot for Georgia, it is the offensive line. David Andrews will take over at center, with Chris Burnette and Kolton Houston as likely starters at guard beside him. Dallas Lee, a former starter at guard, Hunter Long and Watts Dantzler will also compete for starting spots in the interior of the line. Kenarious Gates will start at left tackle while true freshman John Theus is in position to start opposite him at right tackle. Austin Long and Dantzler will likely rotate at the tackle spots. Houston played some tackle in the spring, too.

Georgia's defense is the strength of the team, and the defensive line is as deep as at any time during defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's tenure. John Jenkins will start at nose guard with massive Kwame Geathers backing him up. Abry Jones will start at one defensive end spot with either Garrison Smith or converted linebacker Cornelious Washington at the other. Jones will be backed up by Ray Drew.

Jarvis Jones might be the most productive outside linebacker in the country. The returning All-America will play alongside Alec Ogletree and Mike Gilliard, who will play middle linebacker for Georgia. Ogletree is considered one of the top middle linebacker prospects in the country. Chase Vasser will have to hold off newcomer Jordan Jenkins and veteran Reuben Faloughi opposite Jones at the other outside linebacker spot. Georgia also has backup linebackers who have starting experience including Amarlo Herrera and Christian Robinson.

In the secondary the Bulldogs return three of four starters, including All-America safety Bacarri Rambo. Rambo led the team in interceptions last season and could break the school's all-time record this fall. Sanders Commings and Branden Smith should start at cornerback if Smith can hold off sophomore Damien Swann. Shawn Williams will start at the safety spot opposite Rambo. The Bulldogs will need to use depth in the secondary during the first couple of games of the season as Rambo, Commings and Smith all face suspensions. Mitchell will likely play a fair amount of defense at the start of the year.

Georgia's early schedule isn't as rigorous as last season, but the trip to Missouri for the Tigers' SEC opener could be tricky. Vanderbilt and Tennessee travel to Athens in September for the first time in decades. Then Georgia crosses the Savannah River for what seems to be the critical test of the season – at South Carolina. A win in that game will likely win the East for either side, but almost certainly for Georgia. A week off comes before a trip to Kentucky; then Georgia plays Florida in Jacksonville, and Ole Miss follows that game. Then Georgia travels to Auburn for the Deep South's oldest rivalry. Georgia Southern will serve as a tune up the week before Georgia hosts Georgia Tech.

PREVIOUS PREVIEWS:

EAST
South Carolina (2)
Florida (3)
Missouri (4)
Tennessee (5)
Vanderbilt (6)
Kentucky (7)

WEST
Alabama (2)
Arkansas (3)
Auburn (4)
Mississippi State (5)
Texas A&M (6)
Mississippi (7)

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