Georgia Football: Is 2014 a Make-or-Break Year for Mark Richt?

Brian Jones@Brian_L_JonesContributor IJanuary 2, 2014

Jan 1, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt talks to his team during a time out in the third quarter of their game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at EverBank Field. The Nebraska Cornhuskers beat the Georgia Bulldogs 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Richt has been through this before.

After going through a season full of disappointment, the Bulldogs are expected to be much better in 2014. Richt went through this after the 2010 season when Georgia went 6-7 and bounced back to win 10 games in 2011.

But the expectations for this team next season will be high despite not having Aaron Murray. So the question is: Will 2014 be a make-or-break year for Richt?

The loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl was a really early preview of what the 2014 season could be. The Bulldogs did not play particularly well, but there are some things to take away from the loss.

It starts with Todd Gurley, who had 86 rushing yards and 97 receiving yards against the Cornhuskers. Gurley was not 100 percent, but he was still the most valuable player for the Bulldogs. He will be back along with a healthy Keith Marshall.

Also, the receiving corps will be healthy and ready to go. It’s uncertain if Malcolm Mitchell will return for his senior season, but Michael Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley and Chris Conley should return and make the unit very strong.

Nov 30, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt (sun glasses) talks to his players prior to the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Three offensive linemen will not return in 2014, but with a slew of reserves that saw a lot of action in 2013, the unit will be experienced and should have no issues coming together quickly.

As for the defense, nearly all but one starter will return next season. They struggled in 2013, especially the secondary, but the group will be more mature and not make the mistakes they made this past season.

Hutson Mason benefited from starting in the final two games of the season. Mason was solid in both but still has room for improvement. He will have a lot of time to be even better than he was in the Georgia Tech and Nebraska games. And he will need to be because Clemson comes to Athens to start the season.

Speaking of the schedule, the Bulldogs will not only face Clemson, they will also have road trips to South Carolina and Missouri, as well as a home battle with Auburn. Those are three swing games that could determine the Bulldogs' fate.

It’s clear that Richt will have his work cut out for him, but the talent is there on both sides of the roster to overcome the competition. If the Bulldogs can stay healthy, there is no reason they can’t win 10 games.

Mark Richt doesn't want to talk about next year. But his players, with justification, are expecting "big things."

— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) December 29, 2013

But the fans want more. They want to see this team win the SEC and have a chance to play for a national championship instead of coming up short when it matters most.

This is not to say that Richt will be fired or on the hot seat if things go south next season, but there has to be a realization that if there is no improvement and the Bulldogs make the same mistakes, the fans, alumni and supporters will not be happy with the state of the program.