I-A College Football
 
 
          === Bulls battle sixth-ranked Bulldogs in 2012 lidlifter ===
 
 Athens, GA (Sports Network) - The sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs are a dark
 horse candidate to make a run at the BCS National Championship, and that quest
 begins on Saturday afternoon when they host the Buffalo Bulls in non-conference
 action.
 
 Buffalo's 2011 campaign was one disappointment after another en route to a 3-9
 record, though it was actually an improvement upon its two-win season in 2010.
 Coach Jeff Quinn's Bulls managed to play reasonably well at home, with wins
 over Stony Brook (35-7), Ohio University (38-37), Akron (51-10), although they
 lost all six of their road tilts. UB is hoping for a better showing in the new-
 look Mid-American Conference this season.
 
 Led by 11th-year head coach Mark Richt, Georgia put together a very strong
 showing in 2011 with a 10-4 overall record. They went 7-1 in the SEC, winning
 the Eastern Division and earning the right to play LSU in the conference
 championship game, but ultimately fell short of a BCS bowl bid by losing to
 the Tigers, 42-10. In the Outback Bowl, the Bulldogs lost a hard-fought battle
 to No. 12 Michigan State, 33-30 in triple-overtime, but still finished the
 season ranked 18th in both major polls.
 
 Saturday's clash marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
 
 Following the departure of quarterback Chazz Anderson, Buffalo had an open
 competition in the offseason between Jerry Davis and Alex Zordich to determine
 his replacement under center. In the end, Zordich came out on top, though he
 still has a lot to prove as he's thrown just 1 touchdown against 6
 interceptions in his career.
 
 Alex Neutz returns to the receiving corps, and he figures to improve upon an
 impressive sophomore season (43 rec, 641 yds, 4 TDs) now that he is the team's
 unquestioned No. 1 target. Cordero Dixon and Fred Lee will also figure in the
 passing game.
 
 The focal point of the offense will once again be tailback Branden Oliver, who
 ranked 14th in the NCAA in rushing yards per game (116.3). He also set a school
 record with 1,395 rushing yards, and he has a great chance to have another big
 year running behind a veteran offensive line, which returns four starters.
 
 Not surprisingly, the Bulls' nine-loss campaign did not reflect kindly on the
 defense. The unit allowed 28 points or more in nine of its 12 games in 2011.
 The addition of new defensive coordinator Lou Tepper, who has 45 years of
 coaching experience, is a step in the right direction.
 
 The defensive line is inexperienced, with just one returning starter (defensive
 end Steven Means), but the Bulls will try to combat that weakness with quality
 at the linebacker position. Khalil Mack (20.5 TFL) was named to the All-MAC
 First Team and is capable of making plays all over the field, and Lee Skinner
 only figures to take another step forward following an impressive freshman
 season (80 tackles).
 
 The secondary also remains largely intact. Safety Isaac Baugh will provide
 senior leadership for a unit trying to increase its big-play quota.
 
 The coach and his players believe the pieces are in place for an improvement
 upon last year's record.
 
 "Everybody knows we've got to work way harder than last year to get where we
 want to be," Mack said. "We have the experience, we have a lot of people
 returning on both sides of the ball."
 
 The Bulldogs were one of the more potent offensive teams in the SEC a year
 ago, ranking only behind Arkansas and Alabama in total offense with 408.5
 yards per game, while putting up 32 points per outing.
 
 The catalyst once again will be quarterback Aaron Murray, who completed 59.1
 percent of his passes for 3,149 yards and a league-best 35 touchdowns, earning
 him Second Team All-SEC honors in 2011. After showing improvement in each of
 his first two seasons as a starter, the junior hopes to take the next step in
 2012 as a potential Heisman contender.
 
 Murray has an array of receivers to distribute the ball to, led by senior
 Tavarres King, who tallied career-highs in yards (705) and touchdowns (8) in
 2011. Despite being part of one of the SEC's more reliable receiving corps,
 King is confident he and his cohorts can improve.
 
 "I certainly have to step up my level of play," King said. "I think that I'm
 going to do that and continue to be consistent for this team. I've got Michael
 Bennett, Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten (with me at receiver) - those guys
 are ones that you can count on week-in and week-out. I feel like we can do a
 good job."
 
 Taking over the starting tailback job from Isaiah Crowell, who was dismissed
 from the team this summer following an arrest, will be sophomore Ken Malcome,
 who rushed for just 183 yards last season.
 
 Returning for Georgia's defense this season is one of the nation's top
 playmakers in Jarvis Jones, who was named to the All-SEC First Team, and a
 First Team All-American after logging 70 tackles, 19.5 TFL and 13.5 sacks last
 year. Hoping to cement himself as a top-tier NFL prospect, Jones will have
 plenty of motivation to improve.
 
 Safety Barcarri Rambo (SEC-best 8 INTs in 2011) was also named an All-American
 in 2011, though he is expected to miss the first four games of the season while
 serving a suspension.
 
 Other key members of the Georgia defense returning are safety Shawn Williams
 (75 tackles, 4 interceptions), cornerback Sanders Commings (55 tackles, 1
 interception) and linebacker Michael Gilliard (80 tackles, 7 TFL).
 
 Perhaps the most intriguing Bulldog this year is Malcolm Mitchell. He put
 together a great freshman season at receiver in 2011 (45 rec, 665 yds, 4 TDs),
 but this year the super-athlete will see action at cornerback as well. Richt
 wants to use Mitchell primarily on defense in the beginning of the season,
 though the plan is to eventually have him take equal snaps on both sides of the
 ball.
 
 
 
 08/29 11:54:14 ET

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