by Gary Olshan Chief Analyst

The Bulldogs made big strides last season, winning 10 straight games o clinch its first SEC East Division title since 2005. With 15 starters back, there is plenty of optimism in Athens heading into 2012.

Historically, HC Mark Richt (left), who was under heavy external pressure last year, has not always done well when the bar has been raised. But the schedule is relatively soft, with four home games in the first five weeks, and Alabama, LSU and Arkansas left off the slate. UGA, however, must survive its Week 2 clash at Missouri without suspended starting CB Sanders Commings (domestic battery), All-American S Bacarri Rambo (failed drug test) and LB Alec Ogletree (rules violation).

With 27 starts under his belt, dynamic sr. QB Aaron Murray (right) is primed for his best season. And the highly-seasoned, bone-jarring defense certainly has a chance to be truly dominant, with 10 NFL prospects reportedly manning that unit.

The high-powered offense (32 ppg; 6 starters back) has a plethora of skill performers returning (top five RBs back in fold), and athletic QB Murray (59%, 35 TDs, 14 ints.; has accounted for 65 career TDs) set to obliterate the program record of 77 TDs, held by David Greene. But there is precious little experience behind Murray, with jr. Hunter Mason expected to redshirt, leaving untested RS frosh Christian Lemay as the No. 2 pilot.

Murray (right) has his favorite target WR Tavarres King (47 grabs, 8 TDs), who feels no extra pressure to be “the guy” just because his cohort Malcolm Mitchell (45 catches) will likely be at wide-out on only a part-time basis after moving to CB in the spring. King asserts, “We’ve got four or five guys who can make plays, we saw that last year with Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and Marlon Brown. We’ve got weapons.” Coaches hoping unproven TEs Arthur Lynch or Jay Rome can emerge to replace the solid production left by NFL draftee Orson Charles (45 grabs). In addition, dangerous soph Malcolm Crowell (850 YR) has set a goal to become a better teammate after serving a pair of disciplinary suspensions in his freshman campaign. And coaches are praising early enrollee frosh RB Keith Marshall (four-star recruit), who displayed “good running instincts” in the spring, according to Richt.

The MAJOR issue is the restructured OL, which returns only two starters (with no returning seniors), including Kenarious Gates, who has moved from LG to LT.

Game-changing, consensus All-American jr. OLB Jarvis Jones (SEC-leading 13.5 sacks) strongly believes the senior-laden defense (20.6 ppg, 3.2 ypc; 35 sacks) has the chance to numero uno in the nation after finishing fifth nationally in total “D” (277.2 ypg) in 2011. “We’re going to take this thing to another level and try to be the best defense in the nation,” asserts Jones. The mammoth NT tandem of John Jenkins (6-3, 351) and Kwame Geathers (left, 6-6, and 350!) have developed into the immovable, inside run-stuffers that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham needs to make his 3-4 scheme work. DL coach Rodney Garner says about Geathers, “the light is starting to come on and I really expect a big year from him.” The entire two-deep returns at LB. And Grantham believes aforementioned WR/CB Mitchell has all the tools to be a real playmaker in the secondary after making a seamless transition in the spring, while omnipresent SS Shawn Williams (team-high 72 tackles) and consummate FS Baccari remain a nightmare for opposing passers.

Specials teams have some BIG shoes to fill with departure of PK Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler, perhaps the nation’s best kicking tandem over the past four years, as well as Brandon Boykin, the school’s all-time leader in kick return yardage. The Bulldogs have a cadre of speed merchants to return kicks, but the brand new kicking game must immediately rely on the true freshman duo of Marshall Morgan (kicker) and Collin Barber (punter).

Summary...In the rising SEC East (with former Big XII power Missouri joining ranks), preseason favorite Georgia is no lock to repeat as the SEC East champ. The Dawgs, who were unable to cope with South Carolina in a 45-42 home loss LY, must travel to Columbia to face Spurrier’s highly-regarded squad on Oct. 6. And you can bet that proud Auburn will be sky high to avenge LY’s mortifying 45-7 trouncing “tween the hedges,” when Richt’s troops travel to The Plains on Nov. 10. But then again, if the unsettled OL comes together sooner than later and irreplaceable QB Murray can avoid the infirmary, defensively-stout Georgia stands a good chance to return to the SEC title game


Return To Home Page