With only a few games left for the Bulldogs, it’s time to take an early look into the 2014 season.
Yes, there is still a lot of football to be played this season, and there’s still a chance the Bulldogs can play for the SEC title. But it’s never too early to look ahead into the future, especially with Aaron Murray not returning.
And because of Murray, the expectations for the Bulldogs won’t be as high as they were in the past. But based on what Mark Richt has done at Georgia, fans do expect them to be in the hunt for the SEC title.
And based on who they have returning on both sides of the ball, that is not a far-fetched dream.
Here are four realistic expectations for the Bulldogs in 2014.
Hutson Mason will take over as the starting quarterback next season, and he will have a chance to lead an offense that could be one of the best in the country.
Aaron Murray did a lot of good for the Bulldogs during his career. But because of the experience Mason has in the offense, he should have no issues picking up where Murray left off.
This is not to say Mason will put up huge numbers in his first full season as a starter, but he has played well in the spring games and fall scrimmages and has even looked sharp in mop-up duty in regular-season games.
Plus, when Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are in the backfield, it will make Mason’s life a lot easier.
Speaking of Gurley, there is no reason he won’t be a Heisman candidate by this time next season.
The only reason he’s not in the running this season is he missed five weeks of action. But when he made his return against Florida, he rushed for 100 yards and also had 87 receiving yards.
If Gurley can remain healthy next season, he will lead the SEC in rushing because the coaches will give him a lot of touches.
And if Gurley has a huge season and leads the Bulldogs to the SEC title game, he will be holding up the Heisman Trophy in December 2014.
The defense has been criticized constantly for their play this season. Part of the blame has to go to the players, and part of it has to go to the coaches.
But because of the experience returning to the roster next season, the Bulldogs will be a better defensive unit.
Because of the starters lost from last season, the defense is going through a transition phase where new and very young players have to play a lot more than expected. They are going through a lot of growing pains now, but the more reps they see, the better they will become in the future.
This is not to say the defense will be elite next year, but if they continue to work this season, it will pay dividends by 2014.
If the offense doesn’t lose a step with Mason and the defense is improved, then winning the SEC East should be a realistic goal.
The Bulldogs schedule plays more into their favor next year. They will face Clemson in Athens to start the season. They will then have the week off before facing South Carolina on the road. The Bulldogs' toughest game will be at Missouri later in the year. Other than that, the Bulldogs should be favored in every other game they play, including Florida.
And if they win the SEC East once again, it shows the Bulldogs as being one of the most consistent teams in the SEC other than Alabama.
The Bulldogs have had their issues when it comes to reaching expectations. But they should be able to meet the four that were explained.
Talent has never been an issue for the Bulldogs. It’s a matter of execution. They have to be focused in spring practice, fall practice and during regular-season games to reach their goals.
Richt’s group has had a lot of success and will continue to do so. But the expectations for this team will always be high, and in order for them to reach them, they have to prove they can play consistent football in the last four games of the 2013 season.