NCAA Football Preview - Georgia Bulldogs
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: For the second straight year, Georgia represented the SEC East in the conference championship game, but it once again failed to take down its West rival, falling to Alabama, 32-28, and thus losing out on an opportunity to play for the BCS National Championship.
Despite the disappointing end to the regular season, however, the Bulldogs proved to be one of the nation's most dominant teams in 2012, going 7-1 in conference play, with its only other loss coming at South Carolina on Oct. 6, 35-7. Their signature win came over No. 3 Florida on a neutral field on Oct. 27, 17-9.
After missing out on an at-large selection to a BCS bowl game, Georgia accepted a bid to the Capital One Bowl where it defeated No. 23 Nebraska, 45-31.
Mark Richt is entering his 13th year as the program's head coach, going 118-40 with eight bowl wins in 12 tries. The team has qualified for postseason play in 16 consecutive seasons.
OFFENSE: The Bulldogs' offense was spectacular a year ago, putting up 37.8 ppg on 467.6 ypg, scoring 40 points or more in eight games while finishing the season with a school-record 529 points. With the return of most of their top playmakers, an even better season could be in store in 2013.
Aaron Murray is already the most decorated quarterback in program history with a school-record 95 career touchdown passes, and the 2012 campaign was his best yet as he completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,893 yards, throwing 36 scoring strikes against only 10 interceptions. Murray is a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender as a senior and is excited for the opportunity his team has this season.
"We're right there as a team," Murray said. "We're more confident right now knowing we can compete in those big-time games against big-time competition. I think Georgia is back where it needs to be in terms of national respect and we just need to push the door open now."
Georgia provides some of the best run-pass balance in the nation thanks to its dynamic duo in the backfield. As freshmen, Todd Gurley (1,385 yards, 17 TDs) and Keith Marshall (759 yards, eight TDs) were unstoppable, with both averaging better than six yards per carry, and more of the same is expected in 2013.
Although Tavarres King -- Murray's go-to receiver last season with 42 receptions, 950 yards and nine touchdowns -- is now a member of the Denver Broncos, the Bulldogs have plenty of talented playmakers in the passing game, including wideouts Malcolm Mitchell (572 yards, four TDs) and Michael Bennett (345 yards, four TDs), and tight end Arthur Lynch (431 yards, three TDs). The team also returns four starters along the offensive line.
DEFENSE: Georgia's defense was also strong last season, holding opponents under 20 points per game on average, but the unit will have plenty of holes to fill following the offseason departure of standouts Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings.
Still, the Bulldogs retain plenty of talent on that side of the ball, especially at linebacker. Amarlo Herrera quietly racked up 70 tackles playing the in shadow of Ogletree, and Jordan Jenkins (eight TFL, five sacks) has the potential to have a breakout campaign filling in for Jones as an edge rusher.
Cornerback Damian Swann (53 tackles, four INTs) and defensive end Garrison Smith (57 tackles) are expected to have big years as both landed on preseason All-SEC teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Placekicker Marshall Morgan (8-of-14 on field goal attempts) and punter Collin Barber (41.5 avg) are both back after playing well as freshmen.
Mitchell served as the primary kickoff and punt return man in 2012, but totaled fewer than 420 yards. Gurley was used sparingly on kickoff returns and was outstanding with a 34.7 yard average, including a 100-yard touchdown versus Buffalo in the season opener.
OUTLOOK: After experiencing sustained success in recent years, expectations in Athens are sky-high, but Richt is taking the cautious approach when it comes to his team's projections.
"I think our team is one that has a lot of questions, and because of the questions it's created a lot of excitement," Richt said. "A lot of players are still fighting for starting positions. I think we have the ingredients to answer those questions. It's just a matter of how it's going to fall into place."
The loss of so many NFL-caliber players on the defensive side of the ball is sure to hurt, especially in a league with so many stout defenses to contend with, but the offense is primed to be as potent as ever. The Bulldogs' tough schedule includes matchups with Clemson, LSU and Vanderbilt, but the most important are undoubtedly the contests against South Carolina (Sept. 7) and Florida (Nov. 2). If they can take care of those East Division rivals, another SEC Championship Game appearance is likely.
08/23 12:47:52 ET