We all know that last year was a complete disaster for the Bulldogs. If things do not improve, Mark Richt will surely be gone.
However, things are looking positive in Athens. Richt is fired up again, it will be Todd Grantham's second year, and Georgia pulled in a top-five recruiting class. These factors do not guarantee a great season, but they will help—and Georgia desperately needs help.
This help hopefully will come from incoming players and players who have yet to break out. The team has the pieces in place, but they need the players to come through.
Georgia already has a great quarterback, return man, punter, kicker and inside linebackers. Overall, their entire team has great talent. They have recruited well throughout Richt's tenure, and nothing has changed over the past three to four years.
The talent has been there, but it just has not been exploited. Some say it has been Richt's fault, others blame the offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo.
There is not a definite answer to why the team has underperformed, but as long as the problem is fixed this year, I don't care. Here are five players who I believe need to play above and beyond expectations:
5. Sanders Commings
He has not been terrible, but he is still part of a secondary that was burned multiple times last year. He did not do much to help the situation, and only had three interceptions.
Commings will be entering his junior year this season, and he needs to play like an experience SEC cornerback. You could say the same about Brandon Boykin in that he only had three picks as well, but he did a fine job defending and deflecting passes last year.
Also, he is one if not the best kick returner in the SEC. If Commings plays at a high level, then Georgia's passing defense will certainly improve. With all of the good quarterbacks in the league, it is always good to have a great secondary.
4. Washaun Ealey
In my humble opinion, I am glad that Georgia reinstated Ealey. I know he has been a so called "bad apple," but he still is very talented. He averaged over five yards a carry in his two seasons at UGA, which are good by any standards.
His only major problems is inconsistency. In one game he will be outstanding, while in another he will be mediocre. He also has a fumbling problem that hopefully has been, or will be, fixed this offseason.
This year it will be important that he provides stability if Isaiah Crowell becomes injured or does not play up to expectations. There can never be enough good running backs in the SEC, and Ealey needs to be one for the Bulldogs in 2011.
3. Ray Drew
One of Georgia's most coveted recruits, Drew has the talent to be one of the best defensive ends in the Southeastern Conference. One thing about recruits though, is that they have a chance to become busts.
Many five-star players have turned out to become second-string players or even third-stringers. Recruiting starts do not guarantee a successful college career. I have my fingers crossed though that Drew will turn out not to be one of those busts. I hope that he will develop into another Justin Houston, even if Drew is not an OLB.
He has all of the physical tools, but he needs to play up to his ability in order to become what is expected of him. Georgia needs a pass rusher, and Drew has the opportunity to be just that.
2. Tavarres King
Big shoes need to be filled due to A.J. Green's departure. Georgia has some wide receivers coming in, but they may not be ready or they could be red-shirted. A.J. Green single-handedly saved Georgia's season when he came back, and his departure could hurt the offense.
Tavarres King will probably now become Aaron Murray's primary target and deep threat. The Bulldogs do not need an exact replica of Green in order for the offense to function, but they need someone to play consistently and well.
King will be the replacement, and he needs to play like an SEC wide receiver. He has played pretty well in the past two years, so he certainly can perform as needed. Since he is replacing one of the most talented wide receivers in SEC history, it is especially important for him to step up.
1. The Coaching Staff
I realize that this is not a player, but these people are the ones who help develop and teach the athletes. For the past few years, the coaches have been inconsistent and lax at times.
Richt has been looking pretty complacent and even bored, which is never a good sign in the best conference in all of college football.
Bobo's play-calling has been somewhat predictable and poor, which also needs to change. I have not found much wrong in Grantham so far, since the defense last year improved dramatically in its first year in the 3-4 scheme.
The team has a new strength and conditioning coach this year who I hope will help stop the Bulldogs from becoming so exhausted in the fourth quarter. Also, the Dawgs have a new offensive line coach, which is very important because of the poor play of the line in the past three years.
If these coaches can do what they are paid to do and coach the team well, then the Dawgs should return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
For Richt, this is a do-or-die season, and he and his staff need to step it up in order to return to the glory days of the '80s and the early 2000s. They must coach the heck out of the players or go home.