2011 College Football Predictions: 10 Bold Reasons Georgia Wins the SEC
For the past two seasons, Georgia has entered the fall with high expectations only to fall deep into the pool of mediocrity.
Heading into this year, fans are surprisingly just as ecstatic about the prospects of Georgia taking the SEC East title in 2011.
So, what will make this year different than the past two, where Georgia's total record is 14-12?
Here are 10 reasons.
Lack of Off-Field Issues
Georgia spent the last three seasons making headlines on ESPN more times for arrests and suspensions than winning big football games.
Last summer might have been the worst when it came to discipline.
Knock on wood here, but as of now the only player who's deviated from the Dawgs focus on respectable behavior is tailback Washaun Ealey, who's had a past of problems since arriving in Athens in 2009.
Ealey was briefly suspended from football activities earlier this spring, and even after reinstatement is still in the doghouse, according to head coach Mark Richt.
With three months to go and spring practice over, it's so far, so good for the Bulldogs. Now, things could get off track before September rolls around, but many fans and players are convinced that Richt and company have finally righted the ship.
Quarterback Aaron Murray and Linebacker Christian Robinson are both very high-character guys who have apparently become vocal leaders in the locker room. They both claim this group is tight knit and cares too much about winning to get into trouble this offseason.
Time will tell, but so far, the behavior of the Bulldogs, in contrast to previous years, gets a thumb up from me.
Year 2 in Todd Grantham's 3-4 Defense
Georgia's defense wasn't all that bad last season, ranking 31st in total defense in 2010 out of 120 FBS teams.
Yet they were still criticized.
Georgia gave up a terribly high third-down conversion rate to offenses and was mightily inconsistent from game to game.
However, this year's batch of defensive players claim that their tenure will reap successes.
Players are apparently not thinking as much, but reacting, and thus are playing much faster.
This was actually fairly evident in the G-Day game held to finish spring practice. The defense played with a proactive and aggressive mentality that delighted the fans.
The Receiving Corps Is Nowhere Near as Lacking as People Think
If you go back and look at Georgia's highlights from 2010, you will notice that receiver Tavarres King had a lot of eye-opening highlights that did him justice in the same company as A.J. Green.
With Green gone, many pundits are convinced that Georgia will mirror the offensive struggles with the passing game that they had before Green came back from his suspension.
You will notice, however, that in the past two years (where Georgia was breaking in first-year starters at quarterback), the offense progressed exponentially in terms of scoring as the year went on.
The receivers weren't bad as much as the quarterbacks weren't comfortable, and there is no doubt that Aaron Murray had to deal with a learning curve in his first four starts as an SEC quarterback.
But Murray still looked good in a few early games, as did his receivers.
Tavarres King was a big-play threat and did not struggle with drops last season. Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett are both expected to be solid receivers for the Dawgs as well.
With a comfortable quarterback, it's hard to imagine Georgia really dropping off that much in terms of their passing game. Yes, A.J. Green was special, but Georgia won its last SEC championship with the most average receiving corps in the conference.
South Carolina Will Not Take the SEC East Again
Yes, the Gamecocks won the SEC East last year.
But they were only a game better than mediocre Florida, two games better than mediocre Georgia and finished with a 9-5 record that speaks no dominance over the 8-5 mark Georgia slumped into just two seasons ago.
What am I getting at?
Look, South Carolina has talent at some major positions, but overall, they still aren't anywhere loaded enough to be a 10-2 or 11-1 SEC power.
Although Georgia and Florida both were terrible last season, their situations have more potential for significant success.
Georgia's talent, pieces falling into place on defense and smarts at quarterback should bode well for them.
The Gamecocks starting quarterback might not even be on the team in the fall and they will have to break in Connor Shaw.
Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore might scare the pants off of me, but we might be saying that about Georgia's entire defensive front seven come September.
South Carolina likely will enter the season with controversy, which won't help. Also, they have to win in Athens in their SEC opener vs. their arch rival.
If they don't win, it's unlikely they catch UGA or Florida in the East race.
Florida Will Have an Equal or Worse Identity Issue at Quarterback
I can see the hate comments now, but I'm going to continue to go with my gut.
Florida's John Brantley went into last year with high expectations and was most people's preseason pick for an All-SEC honor.
So much for that.
Florida's offense, which had been so unstoppable in Urban Meyer's scheme since his arrival, was completely and utterly hopeless and confused for most of the 2010 season.
When an offense that good suddenly becomes that bad, you know you're missing a piece. That missing piece was obviously continuity at quarterback.
Florida shuffled between the struggling Brantley, Trey Burton and converted tight end Jordan Reed and never found a solution to their offensive woes.
Now, they head into an entirely new system, which means there are going to be growing pains. But Brantley already struggled to produce in a system he had practiced in for over a year. So, what reason should we have to believe that Florida's offense will spend a lot of time finding their way in 2011?
I'm not saying Florida won't eventually be good, but they could very well slip up versus Alabama and at Louisiana State due to an offense in progress.
Georgia's Schedule Is Mightily Navigable
Speaking of Florida playing Alabama and LSU, back to back, let's take a look at how the two biggest threats to Georgia's success look schedule-wise.
Florida must play at LSU, at Auburn and at South Carolina, and of course, as mentioned, they host Alabama.
South Carolina has to play at Georgia, at Mississippi State and at Arkansas.
Assuming Georgia goes 1-1 in their games against South Carolina and Florida (neither of those games are road games), the Dawgs schedule looks much easier and more manageable.
Georgia does not have to face LSU, Alabama or Arkansas during the regular schedule.
Their SEC road games are at Ole Miss, at Tennessee and at Vanderbilt.
That might be the easiest SEC road schedule ever. Georgia gets South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn at home.
Many are projecting that if Georgia beats South Carolina they likely won't lose more than one or two games in conference.
The Defensive Front Seven
Last year, Georgia played with a lot of guys out of position and had a few pending redshirts and transfers, as well as seniority at linebacker that might have kept the best players off the field.
Heading into this year, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could not be more excited about his personnel.
DeAngelo Tyson, who was way out of position at nose tackle last season, moves to defensive end. That move is thanks to the arrival of top defensive tackle prospect John Jenkins.
But Kwame Geathers was an absolutely unblockable animal at G-Day, and many are even speculating that Georgia could have an incredible interior with their front seven.
The linebackers are switched up as well. Christian Robinson is a smart leader and has added a lot of weight in muscle. Jarvis Jones, a former top prospect, picks up his eligibility after transferring from South California and should make an immediate impact at outside linebacker.
And converted safety, now middle linebacker Alec Ogletree has been confirmed to be the Thomas Davis, Greg Blue type of defensive presence that Georgia has lacked since its last SEC title.
The Running Game Will Improve
Georgia offensive coordinator has finally come to the realization that an air it out, run to set up the pass offense may not be the best for taking championships.
Georgia's offense over the past two seasons has never committed to the run game, nor has it been able to dictate the pace of a game.
Most fans look at Georgia's rather respectable defensive statistics, and offensive output of 35 points a game and wonder how in the world this team finds ways to lose ball games.
The answer is right under our nose, and quite simple. Georgia has to be able to control the game on the ground. They have to be authoritative up front.
With suspensions and injuries sending Georgia's running back unit through a whirlwind in the past two seasons and constant shuffling on the offensive line, the running attack never blossomed.
But if King and Ealey can stay healthy and Isaiah Crowell makes an immediate impact, the ground game dominance could finally return.
Fans want to see a tailback by committee between Crowell and one of the other running backs. Remember that in 2005 we won the title with Thomas Brown, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin toting the rock.
Even if one or the other (regarding Ealey and King) fail to produce, it's obvious nobody will hesitate to invite Crowell into the huddle.
Mark Richt Has to Produce, for His Job
Head coach Mark Richt was bigger than God in Athens from 2002 until the 2008 loss to Alabama.
He's still one of the winningest coaches in the FBS and comes out of every year with proven top-notch recruiting leverage.
But after two mediocre years, Richt is now officially on the hot seat.
If Richt fails to win nine or more games in 2011, fans will be ready to run him out of town. If Richt fails to win eight games, athletic director Greg McGarity might do that for them.
It's do or die for Richt. An SEC East championship should be his desperate and only priority.
I'll knock on wood one more time before finishing this article.
Okay, anyways, who's the best quarterback in Georgia history?
David Greene is the first that comes to mind. Eric Zeier, Fran Tarkenton and Matthew Stafford are names that are sure to follow.
Well, in a few years, we might be putting Greene at No. 2.
Yes, considering Aaron Murray started his career with seven losses, it's hard to imagine he passes Greene as Georgia's winningest quarterback.
But, if any Georgia quarterback has ever rivaled Greene in terms of showing greatness as a freshman, it was Murray.
He went into Columbia last season and played like a tenured veteran against South Carolina. He battled a feisty Arkansas defense to lead a late fourth quarter comeback in his first SEC home game.
He led an even more incredible comeback against Florida in the biggest game of his life and flat out embarrassed the Georgia Tech defense in the final game of the year.
Murray is everything you want in a young quarterback. He's focused. He's mentally tough. He's smart. He stays out of trouble.
He obviously puts his entire body on the line for his team in games, staying in bounds and thinking twice about sliding on run plays.
And he was a proven passing machine as a redshirt freshman, passing for over 3,000 yards and tossing 24 touchdowns to just eight interceptions.
He's only going to get better and has great chemistry with playmaking tight end Orson Charles.