Georgia Football: 2012 Season Preview for the Bulldogs
The talk has come to an end.
It’s time to kick off the 2012 season, and for the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s a season that could be one to remember or one they would like to have back.
It starts on Saturday when the Bulldogs take on Buffalo at Sanford Stadium. That game should be a dress rehearsal before they head to Missouri to face the Tigers. And after that, the season heats up as they face the rest of their SEC opponents and their archrival, Georgia Tech.
Speaking of the schedule, many experts think because of the opponents the Bulldogs are facing they should make it back to the SEC championship. Others think they will have a letdown because the expectations are too high and there are too many question marks on the offensive line.
There has been a lot going on with the Bulldogs on and off the field, and this 2012 preview will go in depth with the Bulldogs on offense, defense, what happened during the offseason, what Vegas thinks of the Bulldogs, who will be the offensive and defensive MVP, newcomer of the year and so much more.
Well, what are you waiting for? It’s time to dive in and get a closer look into the 2012 Georgia Bulldogs.
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
To say a lot has gone on with the Bulldogs during the offseason would be an understatement. It started with players like Branden Smith, Baccari Rambo, Sanders Commings and Alec Ogletree getting in trouble with either drugs or domestic violence.
Smith has been cleared of any wrongdoing and will not miss any games. But as for the other three, they could miss at least the first two games of the year.
And if that wasn’t enough, Isaiah Crowell gets in trouble for gun possession, which forces head coach Mark Richt to kick him off the team. Crowell will now play for Alabama State.
Then add Chase Vasser being suspended for the first two games for a DUI charge and Kolton Houston still being ruled ineligible; it has been a challenging offseason for Richt and Co.
The good thing is that young players like Damian Swann and Keith Marshall had good spring practices, and Todd Gurley is having a spectacular fall camp. But there’s no question Richt is glad the season is beginning in the next few days, because then he can focus on the on-field issues.
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Under the leadership of Aaron Murray, the offense was able to score 32 points per game. Murray, who had over 3,100 yards and a school-record 35 touchdown passes, will be the reason the Bulldogs offense soars or sinks in 2012.
He is going to need more help from the running game if the offense is going make more strides. With Crowell gone, it’s Ken Malcome’s time to shine. Malcome came on strong toward the end of last season and is getting the start against Buffalo.
If he can’t get the job done, the Bulldogs will turn to true freshmen Marshall and Gurley who have impressed the veteran players during fall camp. One player to watch is fullback Merrit Hall. He walked on to Georgia last year after getting zero offers to play linebacker. Hall is now the starting fullback, beating Richard Samuel, Zander Ogletree and Quayvon Hicks.
Malcolm Mitchell was the team’s most explosive receiver last year, but he will see more time at cornerback at least during the first half of the season. That should not phase the Bulldogs because Tavarres King and Marlon Brown look to have strong senior seasons, especially Brown who has not had the career he desired. King was the Bulldogs' leading receiver last year with 47 receptions, 705 yards and eight touchdowns.
The offensive line has been a work in progress since spring practice and will have to gel quickly in order for the offense to make strides. G Chris Burnette, T Kenarious Gates and G Dallas Lee are the returning starters, but Lee is trying to bounce back from a leg injury that caused him to miss half of last year. Those three are also the only three to have game experience. It showed in the spring game when the first-team defensive line pushed the offensive line around. But incoming freshmen John Theus and Greg Pyke should provide a much-needed boost.
Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White at tight end. Lynch is a very good blocker and can make plays in the open field, and Rome could be the next great tight end for the Bulldogs.
The defense was statistically one of the five best units in the country. They look to be ever better with 10 starters returning.
The defensive line will be a little different, as Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew will be defensive ends after playing outside linebacker last year. They looked sharp during spring practice and should really help nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers make plays—although they don’t really need any help making any plays.
Abry Jones could be the most underrated defensive end in the SEC because of the little recognition he gets for constantly making plays.
The reason for the little recognition is the linebackers are probably the best unit in the country, led by All-American Jarvis Jones. The USC transfer can do everything in the 3-4 system and has a very good chance to win the Butkus Award.
Ogletree is no slouch either when it comes to making plays. He is a hard-nose linebacker who rarely misses tackles. Michael Gillard and Vasser make up the rest of the linebackers, but Amarlo Herrera and Christian Robinson will see plenty of action.
The secondary could be the weakest position on the unit because of the lack of depth, which is the reason Mitchell was moved to cornerback. Mitchell will help Smith and Damian Swann in the backfield until Commings returns from suspension.
Rambo is an All-American safety, and the combination of him and Shawn Williams make up the best safety duo in the SEC. Corey Moore will take the place of Rambo if he ends up being suspended. The coaches believe they won’t lose much with the loss of Rambo because Moore is having an outstanding fall camp.
Special Teams Preview
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE
Blair Walsh and Drew Butler will be a hard kicker and punter combination to replace. But Marshall Morgan and Colin Barber are looking to fill the void. The coaches aren’t worried, because based on the Bulldogs' track record with both positions, they should settle in very quickly.
As for the return specialist, Branden Smith is the leading candidate to return both punts and kicks. But because of the depth issues at cornerback, players like Justin Scott-Wesley, Mitchell, Swann and Sheldon Dawson have a chance.
The one thing that has to improve is kick and punt coverage. That nearly cost the Bulldogs against Vanderbilt, and their lack of coverage against LSU changed the complexity of the SEC championship. Expect Richt to have a few starters play special teams just like he did last year.
This time last year, Richt’s job was on the line. He had to win last year in order for him to get off the hot seat. He did just that, as his team won 10 consecutive games and the SEC East title.
So far in his 11 years in Athens, Richt has won two SEC titles, five SEC East titles and SEC Coach of the Year twice. The question is can he get his team to the national championship and win it?
If Richt wants to get there, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have to help him. Bobo has received a lot of criticism for his play-calling and that he needs to open the playbook up for Murray. But he has been a great recruiter and was a big part of bringing the 2011 Dream Team together.
Grantham is also a great recruiter but has proved to the entire country that he can coach in the college game. He knows how to use a certain player’s strength and makes sure his players are always in position to make plays consistently.
Once again, the schedule plays in the Bulldogs' favor. In fact, they could be undefeated when they face South Carolina on October 6.
The game against Missouri was not supposed to happen because the Bulldogs were scheduled to play at Alabama. But with Missouri entering the SEC East this year, the Tide were bumped out.
The Bulldogs' home schedule features Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, Vandy, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
The road schedule, which includes South Carolina and Missouri, also features Kentucky, Auburn and Florida—which is always in Jacksonville. There’s a very good chance the Bulldogs could be undefeated when they play the Gators on October 27. If that happens, there’s a really good chance they could have a perfect regular season.
One Game the Bulldogs Will Absolutely Win
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
There are a few games the Bulldogs will absolutely win. But if there’s only one to choose, it would have to be the game against Florida Atlantic.
Despite having 15 starters returning, the Owls play in a weak Sun Belt Conference and were winless last year. That’s why they brought in Carl Pelini to hopefully turn the program around.
The talent between the Bulldogs and the Owls is night and day. The Owls should improve under Pelini, but there is little to zero chance they will threaten the Bulldogs.
One Game That's a Tossup
Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE
The one game that could be a tossup could be against the new kids on the block.
When the Bulldogs take on Missouri, it will be the first SEC game for the Tigers, which will make it a very emotional game for the players, coaches and fans.
The Tigers have plenty of weapons on offense to compete in the SEC, and it will only be a matter of time before the Tigers make some noise once they get their feet wet.
In order for the Bulldogs to win, they have to simply execute. They are more talented than the Tigers. If they can limit the mistakes and ignore the crowd, they should be able to come away with a win.
One Game the Bulldogs Could Lose
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
If there’s one game that the Bulldogs could lose, it would have to be against the team that has given the Bulldogs the most fits the last few years.
Like the Bulldogs, South Carolina is a team that could reach the SEC title game. The game against the Bulldogs will be huge, to say the least.
The fact that this game is being played in South Carolina gives the Gamecocks the slight edge, but this game should go down to the wire like it has the last few years.
Murray was the Offensive MVP last year, and he should claim that title this season.
With this being his third year as the starter, Murray should continue his maturation process. He’s not afraid to take chances, and he knows how to spread the football around.
The one thing that has to happen, though, is the offensive line needs to be cohesive in order for Murray to make plays. But Murray is mobile enough to escape the pocket when he needs to.
Because of the talent returning and the schedule, Murray should have over 3,200 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Is there really any doubt who is the Defensive MVP?
Jones was outstanding last year, and with the same players coming back this year, he should have another big season.
Like it was said earlier, Jones can do everything as an outside linebacker, which makes him the best linebacker in the country.
He may not have 13.5 sacks, but there’s a very good chance he will have over 10 sacks and 80 tackles. And don’t be surprised if he comes up with a few interceptions, because he’s underrated in pass coverage.
Newcomer of the Year
Photo credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
This is not to say that Malcome won’t get the job done at tailback, but Gurley has all the tools to be an elite running back in the SEC.
Marshall has all the tools also, but Gurley has great size and good speed to be the premier back for the Bulldogs in the near future.
Gurley has even gotten comparisons to former Alabama running back Trent Richardson, but he was quick to dismiss those observations.
Gurley will be part of a four-back rotation for the Buffalo game, but if he performs as well as he did during the scrimmages, he will see a lot more action as the season rolls on.
Best NFL Draft Prospect
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
This was also a no-brainer.
Jones is not only the best NFL prospect on the roster, he could be the best overall defensive NFL prospect.
He had a chance to be a first-round pick last year, but Jones decided to stay because he felt like there was still unfinished business in Athens.
There are more NFL teams playing the 3-4, and one of the positions that teams are stockpiling is outside linebackers. Due to Jones’ playmaking ability, he should go at least in the top 10.
When Mel Kiper came out with an early 2013 big board in May, he had Jones at No. 2. It’s safe to say Jones will be making the trip to New York in late April.
Best 5 Twitter Followers
Jeff Griffith-US PRESSWIRE
Following athletes and coaches on Twitter is always entertaining. It’s no different for the Bulldogs.
Murray is fun to follow because he gives followers his thoughts on the season as well as college life in general.
Jones is good to follow because he always interacts with his followers, and he gives inspiring messages.
Rambo will retweet fans who show him love and will post pictures of him in action on the field.
Gurley has over 25,000 tweets, so that alone should give fans a reason to follow him.
Even Richt has a Twitter account. He only has 155 tweets, and he is only following his family members, but his tweets get fans ready for a game as well as the upcoming season.
What Does Vegas Say?
Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE
The oddsmakers in Vegas have been working all summer to evaluate all the teams and come up with who are the favorites to win big.
They do show the Bulldogs love, as they are favored to win seven of their eight SEC games (h/t SB Nation). This means they are the favorite to win the SEC East. But they have Alabama defeating the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship.
As for reaching and winning the BCS Championship, the Bulldogs are at plus-1600 (16/1) odds which means a fan would have to put down $100 to win $1,600 (h/t Tyler Morgan, pregame.com). They are the seventh-favorite team to win the national title.
Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
I’m going to go a different route and say the Bulldogs will reach the Fiesta Bowl if they finish with the record that I think they will finish with. They won’t win the SEC because LSU and Alabama are too strong. But they will come into the SEC Championship Game with a better record and should still be in the top 10.
If they don’t reach a BCS bowl, they should be playing on New Year’s Day, and it should be the Capital One Bowl if they lose the SEC Championship Game. That may be a little disappointing to Georgia fans; it’s a lot better than where they were in 2009 and 2010.
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
It has been mentioned how the schedule favors the Bulldogs this year, and because of that, along with the returning starters and newcomers that will contribute, the Bulldogs should finish with a 11-1 record.
This is not like the 2008 team where they were the No. 1 team and end up losing three games. Murray is ready to set the world on fire, the defense will be better than last year and the special teams should be improved with some new faces.
However, the offensive line has to come together quickly, and the defense has to survive some early-season suspensions. The reality is they are better than every team on their schedule except South Carolina. If Richt can get his team ready to play every game and limit the mistakes on offense and special teams, it’s not out of the question for the Bulldogs to win 11, maybe 12 games this season.