The 2010 college football season was full of surprises, especially in the Southeastern Conference. A large-bodied first year SEC quarterback led his team to a National Championship title and a legendary coach decided to hang up the headset. Perhaps the most surprising story line in the SEC in 2010 was the uncharacteristic weakness of the Eastern Division as a whole.
South Carolina won the division with an unimpressive 5-3 SEC record, largely on the young legs of true freshman running back Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina is returning a terrific team in 2011, but I believe a different team is poised to have a tremendous recovery year and claim the SEC East title next year.
The Georgia Bulldogs will have a very good 2011 season, and several factors will help them make a December trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Drew Butler holding his 2009 Ray Guy Award
Normally a college football team has a good kicker or a good punter, but rarely does a team have one of the best kickers in the nation and the best punter in the nation. Drew Butler, son of former UGA All-American Kevin Butler, won the 2009 Ray Guy award for the best punter in the country and was a finalist for the same award in 2010.
In 2009, Butler led the country with an average of 48.8 yards per punt. In 2010 Butler posted another fantastic average of 45 yards per punt. Barring injury, Butler should again be at the top of the list for the Ray Guy award in 2011.
While a good punter can change the game by pinning his opponent deep in their own territory, a placekicker can put points on the board. Georgia has one of the best in the land in their senior kicker Blair Walsh. Walsh was a finalist for the Lou Groza award for best placekicker in the nation in 2009 and was again a semifinalist in 2010. In 2010, Walsh was 46-of-47 on extra points made and 20-of-23 on field goals made. Walsh was also 2-for-2 on field goals of 50 yards plus, and he accounted for 106 points for the Bulldogs.
These two kickers can change the dynamic of many games in 2011, and there is no reason they should not have phenomenal years. Both kickers have veteran experience in tight SEC games and both have the composure to lead the Bulldogs to an SEC East championship.
The loss of A.J. Green and Kris Durham to the NFL will leave a large void in the Bulldog's offense in 2011. Many people in Bulldog nation believe that Tavarres King will step up during the 2011 and be the go-to wide receiver for quarterback Aaron Murray. Last year, King trailed only Green and Durham in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. In the third-string role King had 504 yards receiving and a fantastic 18.7 yards per catch.
King volunteered to be the guy to step up and be the main guy as soon as Green declared for the draft. Tavarres has worked extremely hard thus far this offseason because he knows he will be given every opportunity to excel and be the No. 1 receiver in 2011. Tavarres King has all the tools to be an elite receiver in the SEC. He just needs the reps, and they should come in abundance this year.
Senior University of Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin
The decision of cornerback Brandon Boykin to come back and play his senior season at the University of Georgia will be a huge reason the Bulldogs win the 2011 SEC East title. Quite frankly, if Boykin had declared for the draft, the Bulldogs would have been razor thin at the cornerback position in terms of experience.
However, with his decision to stay at Georgia, Boykin gives the Bulldogs depth, experience and very high quality at cornerback. Boykin was projected to be an early-to-middle second round draft pick in the 2010 draft, so he obviously has all the tools to be an elite player once again in the SEC in 2011.
Boykin has been consistent for the Bulldogs, putting up 41 tackles and three interceptions in 2009 and 2010. Brandon Boykin is a solid defensive player who is very rarely beaten in coverage by a wide receiver. He reads the ball in the air extremely well, and he has very soft hands when an interception opportunity presents itself. Boykin is a solid tackler, and he has the ability to connect with force on his hits. His presence on the defensive side of the ball will impact opposing offensive coordinators' game plans, and his leadership will make him even more of a role model for all of the talented young corners coming into this system.
Even more impressive than Boykin's offensive numbers are his kick return numbers. In 2009 and 2010, Boykin averaged 26 yards per kickoff return and 24.5 yards per kickoff return, respectively. Both seasons Boykin had a return of more than 100 yards for a touchdown. Brandon Boykin is a home run threat to score a touchdown every time he receives a kickoff, and enemy kickers will certianly adjust their game to avoid him in 2011.
One of the strongest areas for the Georgia Bulldogs this year, in my opinion, will be their talented group of linebackers. Jarvis Jones, former USC Trojan, has come back home to Georgia after a neck injury sidelined him at Southern California two years ago. He was considered one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school and he has a tremendous head for the game of football. During his freshman campaign at USC in 2009, Jones racked up 13 total tackles playing limited duty in only five games. Jarvis should have a huge first year at Georgia and put up very impressive numbers in Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense.
Jarvis is just one reason the Bulldog's linebacker core will be much improved this year. Another huge newcomer to the linebacker unit will be sophomore Alec Ogletree. Ogletree was a starting safety for the Bulldogs last year, and he was tremendous considering it was his first year in the 3-4 defense and in college football.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham moved Alec to linebacker this spring because he saw that Alec would be more of a "force" at linebacker. After watching the G-Day spring game, it was obvious that coach Grantham made the right decision. Ogletree was all over the field making forceful tackles, much like he will this fall.
Other linebackers who will have a huge impact on the Bulldog's defense include Christian Robinson, Richard Samuel and Cornelius Washington. Robinson was an excellent player for the Bulldogs last year, playing in 12 games and compiling 41 total tackles and two sacks. Washington was also very good in the games he played in, compiling 23 tackles, seven of which came against SEC East foe South Carolina.
Samuel is a beast of a specimen, measuring in at 6'2", 234 pounds. Richard Samuel was a 5-star linebacker recruit coming out of Cartersville, Georgia. After a stint at running back, Samuel is back home at linebacker in 2011. I expect Samuel to compete for a starting job in the fall and hopefully win one of the starting spots. Samuel can hit hard and cover well, and once he gets comfortable in this system, he could be a force for the Dawg's defense.
Tight end Orson Charles
The University of Georgia is known for landing some of the top tight ends in the country. This notion held true once again in 2011 as "dream team" member Jay Rome of Valdosta, Georgia chose to be a Bulldog. While I believe Rome will have an impact on the 2011 season, there are several tight ends that already have SEC experience and will be huge targets for Aaron Murray.
Going into his junior season, Orson Charles is already recognized as one of the best tight ends in the country. Orson is more of a hybrid receiver/tight end than the prototypical tight end. Orson could probably have an excellent career as a wide receiver, but with his tremendous blocking abilities he is a superstar tight end. In 2009 Orson had 23 receptions for 374 yards, followed by 26 receptions for 422 yards in 2010. Charles is a constant threat if a defense loses sight of him in the traffic, he can make a defense pay dearly for that mistake. Charles should be set to have a huge year as his high school quarterback Aaron Murray will look his way much more with A.J. Green and Kris Durham gone.
Murray can also look for tight ends Aron White and Arthur Lynch when he needs an extra option to throw to. White has 411 career receiving yards, along with excellent blocking ability. He has experience and poise to complement his soft hands. Lynch has not played that much, but he has looked very promising in the playing time he has gotten. The future is bright at Georgia at the tight end position, but the present will win the SEC East.
Opening a season against Boise State is not an easy task for any team. Just ask Virginia Tech. However, for the Georgia Bulldogs to win the SEC East the Boise State game means nothing. The Bulldogs can win, lose or tie this game and it will have no bearing on the 2011 SEC East race. The Georgia's 2011 SEC schedule is actually the most favorable schedule they have played in many years, and they should be able to navigate the schedule very well if they play up to their talent level.
The main reason the Bulldogs' schedule is so favorable is because of their matchups with SEC West teams. Every year Eastern Division teams rotate their schedules to play different Western Division teams. This year the Bulldogs will not face LSU, Arkansas or Alabama which were three of the top four teams in the West last year. Instead, Georgia will face Ole Miss, Mississippi State and the South's Oldest Rivalry versus Auburn. This is the weakest SEC West schedule the Bulldogs could hope for, and they should take advantage of this rare opportunity.
The second reason the Bulldogs' schedule is so favorable is that they play most of the better teams at home this year. In fact, the two biggest tests that I believe the bulldogs will face this year will be in Athens versus South Carolina and Auburn. If Georgia beats South Carolina at home, they will have a rather easy schedule until they face Florida in neutral Jacksonville. However, if Georgia loses one of these games, they will need to beat Auburn to win the SEC East with some luck. Auburn comes to Athens on Nov. 12, which could be a huge matchup for both teams.
UGA running back Caleb King
Sometimes losing a piece of your football team can be just as valuable as gaining a new piece for your football team. In Georgia's case, I believe they got the best of both worlds this offseason. This subtraction/addition happened in the running back department and I believe it will turn the Bulldogs' offense around starting Week 1 in the dome.
On May 9 Georgia's leading rusher Washaun Ealey was granted an unconditional release by head coach Mark Richt. Ealey rushed for 811 yards, nearly twice Caleb King's total of 430 yards. Some may ask, "how can losing your leading rusher be a good thing?" My answer is simple: attitude. Washaun was constantly suspended, and while he never had any very serious incidents, it seems like he was always in trouble.
Washaun even failed to show up for his punishment running one morning, which resulted in a suspension. I have heard from several people that Ealey did not have the best attitude, and with his constant fumbling of the ball inside the 5-yard line in tight games, I believe his transfer is going to be a huge plus to the Bulldogs.
Many of you already know about the huge running back addition the Bulldogs had in the offseason. Georgia signed the top ESPN 150 running back in the country in 5-star recruit Isaiah Crowell. Crowell had a terrific high school career and established himself as the most elusive back in the country. Many Bulldog fans believe that Crowell is as good as former Bulldog Knowshon Moreno. While Crowell does have lofty expectations, he will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself in the 2011 season.
Coach Richt has already said that it should be no surprise if Crowell is toting the rock on the first play in the dome during the season opener if he comes in and does what he should do. I fully expect Crowell to be toting that rock and living up to all the hype.
Georgia also has some running backs returing to the team who should have a big impact on the 2011 season. Another possible starting running back is Caleb King. King was the team's second leading rusher last year behind Ealey, and according to reports, he has improved substantially this offseason. King is supposedly back to his old form with sharp cuts and elusive running ability. I am very excited to see how King can perform this year.
Former Georgia defensive tackle Deangelo Tyson
What many believe was Georgia's biggest weakness in 2010, I believe will be one of their biggest strengths in 2011. In a 3-4 defense, the key to success is a beefy yet mobile nose tackle. Last year DeAngelo Tyson stepped in and anchored down the defensive tackle spot, despite being extremely undersized. Tyson did the best job he could, but he was born and bred as a defensive end.
Tyson will be making a very welcomed move in 2011 to defensive end, thanks to the addition of John Jenkins and the improved play of Kwame Geathers. Geather's freshman year was decent as he recorded seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
This offseason Kwame Geathers has adapted to his new position extremely well and he was even named the spring's defensive MVP. Kwame more than likely heard about Georgia's newest addition in John Jenkins, and knew he would have to play extremely well to earn consideration from the coaches.
John Jenkins, a former Oklahoma State commit, decided to make the switch to UGA when he saw the need that Georgia had at defensive tackle. Jenkins was a JUCO All-American at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and many believe that he is even more talented than Terrence Cody of Alabama. Jenkins measures in at 6'4" inches and weighs more than 340 pounds.
He will require double teams that will allow the defensive ends, such as Tyson, and the linebackers to get into the opposing teams offensive backfield. These two players will at least rotate in and out, keeping one fresh at all times and correcting the biggest problem with Georgia's defense last year.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt questions a call in the Auburn game
Coach Richt is no fool, and he knows that his seat is growing more and more hot after two unimpressive seasons in a row at Georgia. However, coach Richt is far from a bad coach, a statement that is proven by his career record at Georgia. Through 10 seasons, Richt's record of 96 wins and 34 losses shows that he knows how to win football games. Coach Richt just signed one of the best recruiting classes he has ever signed, and I expect that momentum to carry through into the regular season and translate into big wins on the field.
Coach Richt has displayed a new intensity this offseason. He seems more energized, and he is already running his team much better. So far this offseason, there have been no player arrests or suspensions. That is huge considering all of the negative media surrounding the Bulldog program at the beginning of the 2010 season. Coach Richt even re-assigned good friend coach Dave Van Halanger and made Joe Tereshinski the new strength coach. Richt is not afraid to change things up, and hopefully these changes will push Georgia back to the pinnacle of college football where they should be.
University of Georgia sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray
What can you say about Aaron Murray? As a red-shirt freshman Murray far passed the expectations that any Bulldog fan could have possibly had for him. Murray was not only one of the finest quarterbacks in the SEC, but all of college football in his freshman campaign at Georgia. Murray threw for a phenomenal 3,049 yards with a competition percentage of 61.1 percent and a passer rating of 154.5. Murray also posted a touchdown to interception ratio of 24-to-8. Murray was extremely accurate and showed great mobility as well.
I believe that Aaron Murray will be even better for the Bulldogs in 2011 for several reasons. The first is that he has a year of SEC experience under his belt. Murray was amazing as a freshman, and with a full SEC season completed, he can now fine tune his game. Murray is one of the hardest workers on the Bulldogs' team. He is always looking at film or practicing his throws in the practice facility. Murray will also have a more experienced Orson Charles to throw to. Charles has been unreal through his first two seasons, and I do not expect him to slow down at all in 2011.
The most important reason that Aaron Murray will be much improved this year is the improved running game. With the addition of Isaiah Crowell, there will be more focus on the running game allowing Murray to take advantage of the opposing defenses.
When coordinators focus on the run Murray will be able to pick apart the thinned out defense. Aaron Murray should avoid the sophomore slump much like David Greene and Matthew Stafford did for Georgia. Murray will be the main driving force behind the Bulldogs' push to become the 2011 SEC East champions.