CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 6 Georgia

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2011 record: 10-4 overall, 7-1 in SEC (1st in East)

2011 postseason: SEC championship game (42-10 loss to LSU); Outback Bowl (33-30 3 OT win over Michigan State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 19/No. 20

Head coach: Mark Richt (106-38 in 11 seasons at Georgia)

Offensive coordinator: Mike Bobo (12th season at Georgia, sixth as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 49th rushing offense (164 ypg); 48th passing offense (244.5 ypg); 39th total offense (408.5 ypg); 33rd scoring offense (32 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: six

Defensive coordinator: Todd Grantham (fourth season at Georgia, fourth as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 11th rushing defense (101.2 ypg); 10th passing defense (176 ypg); 5th total defense (277.2 ypg); 23rd scoring defense (20.6 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: nine

Location: Athens, Ga.

Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746; grass)

Last league title: 2005

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
This one’s easy — the schedule.  Sure, the Bulldogs will have to travel to SEC East rival South Carolina as well as Auburn, but, for the third straight season, they will avoid both Alabama and LSU.  On top of that, they won’t face Arkansas for the second year in a row.  Add that to what should once again be a stifling defense — nine starters return from a unit that finished fifth in yards allowed per game last season — and Georgia is primed for back-to-back divisional crowns.

The Bad
This one’s almost as easy — the running game.  OK, maybe “bad” is too strong of a word, but it is troublesome, at least on paper.  Not only did the Bulldogs lose their leading rusher — Isaiah Crowell, who was dismissed by Richt and landed in an FCS program — but theyalso  lost three starting linemen as well.  Fortunately, Keith Marshall, the No. 2 all-purpose back in the country, was a member of the Bulldogs recruiting class this year and will be given the opportunity to run with what should’ve been Crowell’s ball.

Make-or-break game: vs. South Carolina, Oct. 6
Last season, South Carolina handed Georgia one of its two regular-season losses, a 45-42 win in the second weekend of the season in Athens.  This season, Georgia will be forced to travel to Columbia for a game that should play a pivotal role in determining the East’s representative in the SEC title game, although Florida could very well have something to say in the division as well.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Aaron Murray
In two years as starter, Murray has thrown for more than 6,100 yards and 59 touchdowns, including 35 last season as a sophomore.  With uncertainty swirling around the running game, an even bigger reliance on the junior’s right arm will likely be in the offing, especially early on in the season as the Bulldogs feel their way around on the ground.  Of course, the additional workload should benefit Murray statistically, which would greatly help the QB land at least a December trip to New York City.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.