2013 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in SEC (third in SEC East)
2013 postseason: Gator Bowl vs. Nebraska (24-19 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Mark Richt (126-45 overall; same in 13 years at Georgia)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bobo (eighth season)
2013 offensive rankings: 65th rushing offense (169.9 ypg); 15th passing offense (314.2 ypg); 17th total offense (484.2 ypg); 21st scoring offense (36.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Jeremy Pruitt (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 41st rushing defense (148.2 ypg); 60th passing defense (227.4 ypg); 45th total defense (375.5 ypg); T-78th scoring defense (29 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Athens, Ga.
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746; grass)
Last conference title: 2005
The Bulldogs return nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who bolted Tallahassee for Athens, being widely considered a significant upgrade over the departed Todd Grantham. Pruitt’s focus during his first handful of months with the Bulldogs has been twofold: one, creating more turnovers — 27 last year isn’t enough for a coordinator who watched his FSU group force 39 — and, two, stop giving up the game-changing plays like the one that cost them the Auburn game last season. Given the returning talent and Pruitt’s presence, there are no more excuses for subpar defensive performance game-in and game-out (eighth in the SEC in scoring defense, tied for 78th nationally).
On the flip side, the offense barely returns half of its starters from a season ago, less than half if wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is an injury no-go to start the season. For the first time since the 2009 season, someone who doesn’t answer to the name “Aaron Murray” will be under center when the Bulldogs take the field against Clemson, exacerbating the inexperienced starting talent on offense. If a couple of receivers can get healthy on that side of the ball… if Todd Gurley can stay healthy in the backfield… if Murray’s replacement, a fifth-year senior, can use the early beginning to his starting career to his advantage… if all of those happen, this group could be less of a liability than some think they will be. It may take time, though, which is bad news with a key SEC matchup very early on the schedule.
The worst news for Georgia last season was long-time starting quarterback Murray going down with a serious knee injury in late November. It may have also served as the best news as Hutson Mason got a two-game head-start on his career as the Bulldogs’ starter. That experience, as limited as it is, will serve Hutson and UGA well; what won’t is the lack of depth at the wide receiver position. The Bulldogs certainly have the talent, but at least half that experienced talent — Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley — has injury issues heading into the season. If at least one of those two can get healthy and stay there for the year, it will certainly help cushion Mason’s learning curve.
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at South Carolina, Sept. 13
As both Georgia and South Carolina are expected to be the cream of the crop in the SEC East, it would stand to reason that this game, played the third weekend of the season, could prove to be the SEC title game ticket-puncher for the winning side. That could prove problematic for the Bulldogs as not only will they be playing on the road in Columbia, they will be facing what is arguably the best squad Steve Spurrier has assembled during his decade with the Gamecocks. While UGA won last year’s game, USC has owned the series of late by winning the previous three by a combined 42 points. The good news is that, as was the case in 2012, a loss wouldn’t derail UGA’s SEC championship game hopes as there’s plenty of time for the Gamecocks to trip on their own junk heading down the stretch.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Todd Gurley
There are several no-brainers when it comes to this category amongst our Top 25 teams; this is one of the biggest of the no-brainers. When healthy, Gurley is arguably the most talented player at his position in the country. He’s rushed for nearly 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons in Athens. Injuries cost him three games in early to mid-October last year, or those two-year totals would have been close to 3,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns on the ground. He’s also turned into a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, as evidenced by his 37 catches and six receiving touchdowns in his injury-stunted season. Again, if he can stay healthy, the talent and production are and will continue to be undeniable. Simply put, a healthy Gurley is a Heisman candidate from Game 1 on through early December.
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