In 2011, the Georgia Bulldogs started the season 0-2 and then won 10 straight games, qualifying them to play in the SEC Championship. They lost that game 42-10 to LSU, and then the Outback Bowl, 33-30, to Michigan State in overtime. That record should completely befuddle anyone who is trying to figure out whether Georgia is headed up or down the college football mountain in 2012.
The good news if you are a Georgia fan is they are headed towards a BCS Bowl in 2012. Find out why—and what the secret ingredient the Bulldogs may have that will take them to the ultimate BCS Bowl—by reading on.
In 2011, the Bulldogs defense finished ranked fifth in the nation, according to the NCAA. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Alabama, LSU and South Carolina were ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively (Fla. State No. 4).
While Georgia fans have bragging rights about their team’s defense being in the top five in the nation, it was only the fourth best in the SEC. That will change this year.
Georgia returns nine starters from last year’s defense and has an all-upperclassmen lineup. They also field the best linebacking corps in the nation, according to three preseason publications (Phil Steele, Athlon and Lindy’s).
Their 3-4 alignment is anchored by two outstanding nose tackles in senior John Jenkins (6'3", 351 lbs) and his backup, junior Kwame Geathers (6'6", 350). In all, the defensive line returns seven of their top eight players from last year’s group. This unit is deep and very talented.
The defensive backfield is projected to be one of the SEC’s best in 2012. They are anchored by a first-team All-American safety, senior Bacarri Rambo (55 tackles, eight pass break-ups, eight interceptions), and return four of their top five players.
Alabama and LSU, though loaded with talent, are rebuilding somewhat. They boast two of the best coordinators in the game in Kirby Smart and John Chavis, but return only five and six starters, respectively. Carolina returns five starters and has a new coordinator. Gone is Ellis Johnson, and in his place is Lorenzo Ward, who was promoted from DB coach to defensive coordinator.
These factors, along with this being the third year in Grantham’s defensive system, is why Georgia will break through to lead the SEC in defense in 2012.
In the past 19 seasons, Georgia has only seen four years with a running back rushing for over 1,000 yards. Let that soak in for a minute…
Garrison Hearst rushed for over 1,000 in 1992, Musa Smith ran for 1,324 in 2002 and Knowshon Moreno did it twice. In ’07, he ran for 1,334 yards, and in ’08, he got 1,400. Otherwise, nada.
This is the year Georgia will have another 1,000-plus-yard running back in Isaiah Crowell. That, of course, is assuming he has no serious injuries. Crowell had some injury issues last year that affected his ability to produce in some games. This year, Georgia adds a pair of 4-star running backs in Todd Gurley (No. 2 RB in NC per Rivals) and Keith Marshall, widely regarded as the top freshman RB in the country. The additional quality help will likely push Crowell to excel this year.
Another important factor in a running game is the offensive line. The starting lineup will include several new faces this year, and that may not be a bad thing. A likely new starter will be 5-star freshman recruit John Theus (6'6", 292 lbs, No. 5 OT in nation, per Rivals).
Though the Bulldogs averaged 31 points a game in 2011, they did suffer 33 sacks allowed. Also, the running game just did not produce in the tough SEC Championship or in the bowl. Coach Richt has worked on "pounding the rock" this spring, and this team will be much improved running the ball in 2012.
Last year’s 45-42 game was fun to watch, unless you were a Bulldogs fan.
South Carolina scored touchdowns on a 68-yard fake punt return, a 25-yard interception return and a five-yard fumble return. They also returned another fumble 56 yards to the Georgia 5-yard line, where they went on to score another touchdown. They made the extra points on all four, totaling 28 of their 45 points directly due to Georgia mistakes.
Even with all the mistakes, Georgia still torched the highly touted Carolina D for 436 yards and 42 points. In 2012, Georgia will cut down on the mistakes and beat Carolina in Columbia.
The Bulldogs are clearly the most talented team in the SEC East this year. Mark Richt has recruited and developed a great group once again. Yet somehow, he has become known as a coach who can’t break through and win the big games.
That is an unfair label in the eyes of many who understand that only one team out of about 125 can be No. 1 in any given year.
Richt’s SEC championship record over his 11 seasons is 2-2. So, he’s won 50 percent of the biggest games his teams have played. Opening last season with him on the "hot seat" was unbelievable to me.
Fortunately, they did well, and apparently all's well in Athens…for now.
Counting the BCS National Championship Game, there are five BCS bowl games each year. In 2012, Georgia has the talent and coaching to participate in one of these games.
This year, that talent, along with the improved defense, will land Georgia in one of these games. The question now is which one? To wind up in the biggest game, they need one other ingredient.
To play in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, the only thing the Bulldogs need that they don’t already possess is a little bit of luck. Every year that I can remember, the teams that have played for a national championship have had one, sometimes two, close games that they flat out were lucky to win. That will be the case in 2012 as well. That’s one prognostication I would bet the house on.
Will Georgia be there?
Why not Georgia?