The Georgia Bulldogs certainly ended their 2012-13 campaign on a high note with their 45-31 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl.
Watching the Dawgs "finish the drill" was a wonderful moment for Georgia Football fans all over the country. The Huskers gave them a battle and fought to the very last whistle, and we were fortunate enough to come away the victors.
No, the Capital One Bowl may have not been where the Dawgs' eyes were set a month before, when they marched into the Georgia Dome to do battle with the Crimson Tide, but that only leaves them with a new set of goals for the 2013-14 season.
Next year, an SEC Championship victory and BCS Championship shot are on the to-do list.
Here is a breakdown of the 5 storylines that will determine the Bulldogs' fate:
It's never easy to replace the men you lose in college football, and next year will test that to the extreme with the departure of 10 defensive starters. The Georgia defense is going to have to get to work early to combat the massive overhaul of personnel.
Next year, Georgia's defense will be relying heavily on those men who have already suited up in the red and black. Jordan Jenkins, Damian Swann, Garrison Smith, Amarlo Herrera and Ray Drew are going to be looked at for guidance by all of the incoming talent.
Last year, Shawn Williams took on the role of leading the defense when he called into question their toughness (which led to a much stronger second half to the season).
Which one of these players will emerge as the new leader in 2013?
My money's on Damian Swann, who began to emerge as possibly the most talented defensive back on the field for the Dawgs in 2012.
Assuming he stays, 2013 will begin Todd Grantham's fourth season as defensive coordinator. We are beginning to see the athletes that he has personally recruited for his defense. It should be interesting to see what the 3-4 starts to mold into with all of these fresh, fast, Grantham-recruited players
The phrase "once is not enough" holds as true today as it ever has. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the two-headed running attack for the Dawgs, put up impressive numbers in their freshmen campaigns to solidify them as truly special runners.
In 2013, we will be looking for a repeat of that performance in order to cement them as the most talented rushing duo in Georgia history. Herschel Walker, the inspiration behind the duo's nickname "Gurshall," stepped up his productivity in his second year with the Dawgs, and we expect the sophomore twosome will do the same.
Due to Ken Malcome's transfer to Southern Illinois, Gurshall will now be viewed as the veteran in the backfield. With the only on-field experience for Georgia's running backs between the two of them, they will be looked at by new recruit A.J. Turman—and hopefully 4-star back Alvin Kamara—to lead the way into the 2013 season.
Todd Gurley will have his own set of distractions as well, considering he will surely begin the year as a Heisman candidate alongside QB Aaron Murray and Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina's premier pass-rusher. He will need to keep the same focus and humble demeanor that we have all grown to love and respect.
Opposing defenses will know what's coming at them next year when they line up across from No. 3 and No. 4. Gurley and Marshall will need to improve on everything they learned last year in order to keep the other teams guessing along the way.
Even more importantly, Aaron Murray will have a target on his back as well, and the two young backs will need to run with more power and vision than ever before to keep defenses honest and to protect their quarterback.
In his fourth season as the Georgia Bulldogs' starting quarterback, Aaron Murray will be on pace to break virtually every SEC quarterback record that he hasn't already taken as his own.
In order to lead this team to their most successful season under his command yet, Murray will have to stay focused and continue his improvement just as he has from year to year so far.
One major key to this will be staying healthy. Presumably, Murray will be looking to enter the NFL draft at the end of next season, and in order to maintain his draft status and give the Dawgs their best chance of winning, he needs to be on the field.
No. 11 will be coming off an outstanding season of shattering UGA records, as well as the first bowl victory of his Georgia career. Murray will need to use that momentum and channel it into success come next year.
In 2013, Aaron Murray will need to emerge as the unquestionable leader of not only this offense, but the entire Georgia Bulldogs team. Unless he wishes to go the way of Matt Barkley this past season, he will need to show why he came back for a fourth year and leave it all on the field as he begins the journey to the national championship.
Although these two things are not often discussed together, they combine for one devastating consequence: They keep key players off the field.
In 2012, the Georgia Bulldogs began the season with four defensive starters suspended for various violations. The defense never seemed able to completely sync up after that, and they lost a lot of ground they had gained with their 2011 season.
In addition to the lack of sync, the Dawgs also lacked some discipline on defense as well, giving up too many big plays down the stretch. Not until Shawn Williams' call-out after Week 8, when the Dawgs barely squeezed by lowly Kentucky, did the defense snap into any sort of rhythm. It's hard for me to believe that everything would have gone the same way had they been able to start the same guys all season.
In addition to discipline, the Dawgs also had some major injury issues this year. They lost receivers Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown for nearly half the season. Jarvis Jones had to sit out two games with an ankle problem. Linebacker Chase Vasser and defensive lineman Abry Jones both missed large amounts of time, including the SEC championship game. Malcolm Mitchell also had to come off the field early in the Capital One Bowl.
If the Dawgs are going to have a successful season in 2013, they will need to keep all of these issues to a minimum and allow themselves the greatest opportunity to show up every Saturday with a full arsenal of players.
The Georgia Bulldogs are going to get two major tests early next year by beginning the season against two sure-to-be-nationally-ranked opponents in Clemson and South Carolina.
Clemson is coming off a momentous Chick-Fil-A Bowl victory over highly touted LSU. South Carolina finished off its season with a win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Georgia will face a top-ten offense and a top-fifteen defense (NCAA) in Weeks 1 and 2.
With the return of Tajh Boyd, Clemson will be on the hunt for an ACC championship, and they certainly will do everything in their power to make sure Georgia doesn't start that hunt off on a sour note.
South Carolina will have lost Marcus Lattimore, their workhorse back for the past two years, but will still come at Georgia strong—the same way they do every year.
For the Dawgs to make their 2013 season special, they will need to fight through this gauntlet before continuing on to slightly smoother waters. If they can play to their potential and stay at least moderately healthy, we should see our Georgia Bulldogs back in the Georgia Dome next December and hopefully in Pasadena on Jan. 6th, 2014.