Today we continue our conference wide preview and take a look at Georgia, the favorite to win the East. The 2011 season will be briefly reviewed and a team by team break down of the schedule will be included along with a couple of keys to the season. Stats and returning starters will come from Phil Steele.
Coach: Mark Richt (106-38 at Georgia)
Team: Georgia Bulldogs
Last season: 2011 started with much unrest among the Georgia faithful. A disappointing 2010 ended with a loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl and had turned the heat up on Mark Richt. Georgia fans were convinced there needed to be a new head man in Athens. The “fire Richt” got all of the ammunition needed when Georgia got run out of the Georgia Dome by Boise St (35-21), and Melvin Ingram snatched a victory for the Gamecocks in Athens. Richt, somehow, was able to right the ship behind offensive standouts Aaron Murray and Isaiah Crowell (no longer with the team). Georgia pasted Coastal Carolina before notching back to back wins over Ole Miss and Mississippi State (easy schedule). More...
Georgia outlasted Tennessee 20-12 and came close to losing to Vandy (33-28) in an emotional game that saw UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham exchange words with James Franklin of Vandy after the game. Georgia rolled into Jacksonville, a house of demons for Richt, to take on a Florida team that finally had John Brantley returning to the line-up. Florida was able to jump to a 17-3 lead late in the second quarter, but the Bulldog D clamped down in third and fourth quarter allowing less than fifty yards and a single first down in a 24-20 comeback win. Georgia returned to Athens to trounce pay for play foe New Mexico State and rolled long-time rival Auburn, 45-7. A 19-10 win over Kentucky cemented Richt’s first SEC East title since 2005. Georgia was able to dispatch in state rival Georgia Tech 31-17 prior to heading to Atlanta to play LSU for the conference title. After reeling off ten straight wins, Georgia finished 2011 the same way it began, with back to back losses. LSU, after a close half, broke through to win 42-10 in the SEC CG. Tampa hosted the Bulldogs in the Outback bowl in what became a forgettable overtime loss to Michigan State.
Best case/ Worst case: (12-0/6-6) I know that seems like a “taking the easy way out” BC/WC, however this Georgia team could go either way. The positives for this Georgia team are pretty obvious: an experienced quarterback, very strong defense, and a slushy schedule, especially in the “SEC West” department. If you look a little closer, there are some questions. Suspensions, off field issues, and offensive line depth could derail this season and bring the heat back to the seat of Mark Richt’s trousers.
Georgia starts with paid for W against Buffalo, before heading to Columbia, Missouri (with half of their secondary staying in Athens due to various offenses). No doubt the atmosphere will be amped up and Georgia will be playing an offense capable of scoring in bunches and the Bulldogs will be well short of a full deck on defense. This is the kind of game that Richt’s teams have not played well in over the years. A return trip to Athens against an outmanned Florida Atlantic team will bring UGA’s overall record to 2-1. Vandy and Tennessee will head to Knoxville for back to back weeks. While James Franklin’s Commodores have become the media darlings, this writer is passing on the VU koolaid. Mark down September 29 as the weekend that Georgia’s season headed down the drain. A road trip to South Carolina on October 6 will finish it. The calls for Richt’s head will begin before Richt can jog from the East sideline at Williams Brice to the visitors’ locker room. An off week will not help Richt’s cause. Georgia will beat Kentucky because, well, everyone will beat Kentucky this year. October 27 means a trip to Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. This game has not been kind to UGA. The ‘Dawgs have notched only four wins in Jacksonville with the last pair of back to back wins dating to ’88 and ’89. Georgia was able to notch a win in 2011 against a Florida team unable to advance the ball for more than 50 yards in the second half. Look for an improved Florida team to continue to the recent tradition in Jacksonville. The remaining four games on the schedule MIGHT give Richt a chance to save his job, but wins over Ole Miss, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech and possibly Auburn should only show the brass at UGA what they already know. Georgia is good enough to beat the teams it should, but tends to fold when the pressure is on.
Georgia will win eight games in 2012, but will fall far short of all expectations. Missouri, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida will give second year AD plenty of reason to take a hard look at the direction of his program.
Losses: South Carolina
Toss up: Missouri, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech
Show up and win: Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia Southern
Keys: One has to wonder about the impact of continued off field distractions in Athens. Suspensions have forced stand out receiver Malcolm Mitchell into two-way duty in the Georgia secondary. Due to players leaving, by choice or by force, Georgia is down to 72 scholarship players. Depth on the offensive line is a real concern for the ‘Dawgs. Georgia must replace both tackles plus multi-year starter at center, Ben Jones. Murray may be counting on a true freshman John Theus at one of the tackle spots. No doubt he is talented, no doubt SEC defensive ends will teach him some hard lessons in year one. Murray may well be the best quarterback in the SEC, but if he is constantly under pressure, it won’t matter. One has to wonder, if Mark Richt hasn’t won a BCS title yet, when will he?
Bryant Roberts is a life long SEC fan, has 2 autographed pictures of Steve Spurrier, is addicted to BBQ, and a graduate of Presbyterian College. Follow him on twitter here.