2012 Record: 12-2 (7-1 in SEC)
Head Coach: Mark Richt (118-40 at Georgia, 67-29 in SEC)
Four Year Trend: 9 wins and 4.5 losses
Last Bowl Game: 2013 Capital One Bowl: beat Nebraska 45-31
Stadium: Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA (capacity = 92,746)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 8th out of 69 BCS teams
Neutral Site Game: 11/2 vs Florida
Stats to Fear: Stats to Fear: gave up 26 plays of 30 or more yards (11th in SEC), 1-5 in last three years in August/Sept games played against Top 25 opponents
Stats to Cheer: scored TDs on 76% of red zone trips (1st in SEC), had 45 plays of 30 yards or more (2nd in SEC)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 8th out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 9, Defense: 3, Special Teams: 2
Key Defensive Returnees: OLB Jordan Jenkins (31 tackles, 5 sacks), CB Damian Swann (53 tackles, 4 INT, 2 sacks), LB Amarlo Herrera (70 tackles), DT Garrison Smith (57 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Aaron Murray (3893 yds pass, 64.5% completions, 36 TD, 10 INT), RB Todd Gurley (1385 yds rush, 6.24 ypc, 17 TD), RB Keith Marshall (759 yds rush, 6.49 ypc, 8 TD), WR Malcolm Mitchell (40 rec, 4 TD), WR Michael Bennett (24 rec, 4 TD in 5 games), WR Chris Conley (20 rec, 6 TD), TE Arthur Lynch (24 rec, 4 TD)
Logan Booker: For this team is to meet or surpass expectations, it will require the absence of the dreaded sophomore slump from the running back duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. As true freshmen, these two certainly outshined any and all expectations that were placed on them before the 2012 season. Now looking at 2013, with both on watch lists and All-SEC teams, it will be interesting to see how they perform with a newfound weight on their shoulders. This will be key, as a successful run game will open up the passing game tremendously when opposing defenses try to sell out up the middle. With a plethora of returning wide receiver weapons for fourth year starting quarterback Aaron Murray to play with, expect the offense to put up big, balanced numbers.
CFBZ: The defense loses a ton of talent from the 2012 squad. Who do you see as the players who need to have the best years if the Bulldogs are to be a factor in the SEC and National Championship races?
Logan Booker: Junior defensive end Ray Drew needs to finally show the world why he was a highly recruited five-star athlete out of high school. In his first two seasons, he has yet to have any kind of break out moment, despite his tremendous size and strength. Also, with the departures of All-American Jarvis Jones and fellow first round NFL pick Alec Ogletree from the linebacker corps, sophomore Jordan Jenkins will be primed for a breakout year. Jenkins is considered by many to be NFL ready as a true sophomore, and he will certainly have the chance to prove it this season. In the secondary, true freshman strong safety Tray Matthews has been turning heads since his early arrival in Athens this past January. With a spring practice and fall camp the only thing under his belt, he will not only have a heavy load to handle, but be needed to step up in a very non-freshman-like way.
CFBZ: The opening schedule for Georgia is just brutal. They play Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in their first four games. Because South Carolina is a divisional game, that one has to be the most important if you were forced to pick one. The Gamecocks have had Georgia's number recently. What does Georgia need to do better in this game if they want to come away victorious?
Logan Booker: The main thing UGA has to do against Spurrier and the Gamecocks in 2013 is stay balanced on offense. The last several years the Dawgs either had issues at running back, or went down too early and had to rely on the arm of Aaron Murray. Of course, to do this, the Dawgs cannot come out as flat as they did in this game as they did in 2012. As long as they can keep the score close, they will be able to run the ball, and break out some play-action and utilize the deep ball once in a while. However, in order to do this, they will have to stop that Clowney guy on the other side of the ball. Last year, when South Carolina was up early and big, the Dawgs were forced to become one-dimensional, and Clowney thrived under those circumstances. The first quarter will be key for UGA, to either take a lead or keep it close. Very close.
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?
Logan Booker: Coming so close to glory in 2012, as in four yards short of glory, it will be hard to expect this team to duplicate that success with ease. However, I sense this team matured in a big way by dealing with the heartbreak of the magnitude they did last season. That said, I expect the Dawgs to be in the SEC title hunt late in the season. With the taste of a National Championship trip still on the tip of Dawg Nation’s tongue, anything short of a trip to Atlanta in December would likely constitute a title of disappointment, especially with the returning talent on offense. I am not ready to say losing that game will declare the season unsuccessful, but I am not sure the UGA program or its fans can endure losing that game in similar fashion in consecutive seasons. Earn a trip to Atlanta, either win it or represent yourselves with true class and grit, and UGA can label their 2013 season as a success.
As everybody was taking a turn hammering a nail in Mark Richt's coffin during the off-season after a disappointing 2010 season a funny thing happened….Richt did what few are able to do and successfully turned his team back around. In the last two years, Georgia has posted a 22-6 record with a very impressive 14-2 SEC record. After going toe-to-toe with the eventual National Champions in the SEC Title Game and coming up just four yards short, can the Bulldogs rebound and take their third straight trip to Atlanta and maybe more?
The Georgia offense really came alive in 2012 with the help of two true freshmen. After struggling to find a 1,000 yard RB and difference maker at RB since the exit of Knowshon Moreno, Georgia finally found what it was looking for with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in 2012. Gurley finished the season with nine 100 yard rushing games and really became the go-to back at the end of the season. Marshall provided the change of pace and I think Georgia will look to get him more involved in the game this year, possibly at areas other than the traditional RB position. Aaron Murray has a lot of detractors that say he can't win the big one but I don't know a lot of college QBs I would take over him. Murray is a good all-around athlete and is as big of a threat to throw the deep ball as anyone in college football. Murray's receiving corps are stocked this year as he will get Malcolm Mitchell all year (no more defense for Mitchell), Michael Bennett returns from injury and Chris Conley also returns. In addition to the strong WR corps, the Bulldogs also have two good options at TE with Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome. The OL wasn't great last year but it was improved and will only get better this season as all five starters return and Kolton Houston has finally gained his eligibility from the NCAA. The OL should go eight deep this season in their third year under coach Will Friend. Last year Georgia completed 47% of their third downs (17th in Nation), scored TDs on 76% of red zone trips (3rd in Nation), had 90 plays of 20 or more yards (3rd in Nation) and 28 plays of 40 or more yards (2nd in Nation) and they might be even better this season.
Defense is where most of the question-marks are for Georgia as they had seven players taken in the NFL draft. Georgia was good last year on defense giving up 19.6 ppg but they were a middle of the pack defense when you look at third down conversions, giving up the big play and stopping the run. Overall, I think it's fair to say that the defense under performed based on talent in 2012. Now with a lot of that talent gone, Georgia will refresh and the question is if it will actually be a positive thing or if it will take the youngsters time to grow into their role. Watch out for DE Garrison Smith as he might be the most underrated defensive player in the SEC. He's a guy that has the nose for the ball and just seems to be in the right place at the right time. The big question on the DL is who will fill the middle and replace John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Georgia looks to be more athletic up front but will certainly be less experienced. At LB, the Dawgs must replace a pair of first round picks in Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. Amarlo Herrera returns as a starter inside and Jordan Jenkins will flip over to the opposite side to replace Jones. That leaves two spots up for grabs. There is definitely talent here for Georgia as they've stockpiled some LBs and they will also use Josh Harvey-Clemons (who is suspended for the Clemson game) in the hybrid LB/DB role when they are in the nickel package. The defensive backfield must replace three starters and their top back-up. Damian Swann will lock down one corner and he will most likely start opposite sophomore Sheldon Dawson but true freshmen Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins have been impressing in fall practice and will see the field. At safety, Georgia will rely on Clemons and true freshman Tray Matthews to fill in for Rambo and leader Shawn Williams. It's a lot asking so many young players to step up for Georgia and the concern for the Bulldogs is that they won't have the buffer of an easy game or two due to the schedule.
Georgia's schedule will punch them right in the face at the beginning of the year. They start off at Clemson, then they host South Carolina. Two weeks later Les Miles is coming to town. There is not a tougher start to the college football season anywhere and these four weeks will make or break Georgia's season. After the LSU game is where Georgia could be ripe for a letdown, depending on how they've performed, as they play at Tennessee, vs Missouri and then host Vandy before getting a bye week. While it's likely that none of those teams will be ranked in the Top 25 (although it is possible) they all can beat you if you don't bring your A game. The next big game on the schedule is Florida on Nov 2nd and you know Will Muschamp is chomping at the bit for that game as he's 0-2 so far against the Dawgs. It's a tough schedule and Georgia will likely need their offense to carry them at the beginning of the season. When I look at this Georgia team, I could see them winning a National Championship but I could also see them "disappointing" at 8-4. My heart, yes I'm a Georgia alum, tells me Georgia finishes the regular season at 11-1 but my head tells me that there are too many question-marks on defense and too many pitfalls along the way. Let's go with the homer pick. If the Dawgs can solve South Carolina, they will be back in the SEC Championship game for the third straight year.
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