Looking Ahead: Will Georgia Fare Better In 2010?

Josh RutledgeCorrespondent IOctober 5, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 1: Coach Mark Richt of the University of Georgia directs play against the Michigan State Spartans during the 2009 Capital One Bowl at the Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2009 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

It's been downhill since January 1, 2008.

That night, Georgia fans were celebrating on the streets of New Orleans. The Bulldogs had just demolished Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Expectations were already high for the 2008 season.

But since then, Georgia fans have been treated to disappointment after disappointment.

The team entered the 2008 season ranked No. 1. That lasted one week. Even with a win in week one, the Bulldogs gave up the top spot and they never came close to reclaiming it.

No one expected the Bulldogs to compete for a national championship in 2009. But the team was expected to be a solid contender in the SEC. Now, even a claim at second best in the East Division is debatable.

The season, of course, is still far from over. In fact, it looks eerily similar to that 2007 year. Georgia started 4-2 that year, before reeling off seven-straight wins. That could happen again. It's not likely. But Georgia fans are still hopeful.

For now, however, Georgia fans can't help but wonder if the Bulldogs will bounce back in 2010.

Offensively, the team will return a lot of quality players. A.J. Green will probably be a preseason Heisman-candidate. With a year under their belt, players like Orson Charles and Rantavious Wooten will have big expectations for their sophomore seasons.

If his performance against LSU was any indication, running back Washaun Ealey will be a star. And he'll be running behind an offensive line that won't lose a single starter this year.

Perhaps the biggest question mark offensively will be quarterback. Top recruits like Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will battle for the position in spring practice. It's tough to know what to expect from a first-year starter, but playing behind an experienced offensive line and having A.J. Green in the huddle will help.

Plus, replacing a player like Joe Cox won't carry too much expectation.

Defensively, Georgia will have several big holes. The team will lose several key players on their defensive line, including Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins. Replacing them won't be easy.

But most Georgia fans are already anxious to see some of the younger defensive players get more playing time. Even with seniors like Owens and Atkins, the Bulldogs defense has been terrible at times this season.

Could a new group of players be any worse?

On paper then, the 2010 Georgia Bulldogs look pretty solid. But the key question will be whether the coaching can turn that into quality play on the field. Richt hasn't faced much heat during his tenure at Georgia. But if 2009 finishes as poorly as it has started, fans will expect changes, especially on defense.

Barring some remarkable turn of events, fans will be outraged if Willie Martinez keeps his job, and Mark Richt would be making a dangerous, career-altering decision to keep him. If he doesn't fire Martinez—and Georgia struggles in 2010 again—then Richt's own job will come into question.

So yes, it's a tough time to be a Bulldog. But the future is bright, perhaps even for this season. Just so long as Richt and Co. don't screw it up.