Georgia Bulldogs: 2011-2012 5 Top Surprises from the Dawg House
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
With stockings full of cheer and prime commits for 2012, the Georgia Bulldogs are headed for a postseason full of surprises. After an upbeat year where the Dawgs head coach, Mark Richt, skyrocketed from hot seat to hero, here's a package wrapped with what-ifs to fit every Georgia fan to a tee.
Boasting 10 wins and just two conference losses (to South Carolina in the regular season and LSU in the championship game), the Dawgs are reloading before heading to Tampa and a clash with Michigan State (10-3). Thankful they're over their Nike Pro-Combat opener with a loss to Boise, things are looking up for the boys of Athens, Georgia.
While fans are sipping on eggnog and dining on Christmas Day leftovers, someone's in the kitchen cooking up a pot full of chatter for postseason sports radio fans to chew on.
So gather round the dried-up pine needles, used wrapping paper and turn on the twinkling lights. It's time to talk Bulldogs.From who's coming back and who's not to what's in store for southbound bowl fans, the post and preseason sleigh ride starts now.
Surprise No. 1: There's a Lot at Stake at the Outback Bowl
The Bulldogs will meet Michigan State on Jan. 2.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
It's been a long time since the Big Ten had such an impressive regular season record, and Michigan State will ride into Tampa to meet the Bulldogs boasting their best regular season record since 1987.
A win for the Dawgs (No. 18) will shut the naysayers up. Georgia's 2011 schedule has been called cushy by some, and a win over the No. 12 Spartans would give Coach Mark Richt and team the clout they need to be taken seriously as SEC contenders in 2012.
But pardon the pun, there's a lot at stake at this Outback Bowl. Coach Mark Dantonio will be seeking his first postseason win as the Spartans head coach, and indeed, this is a team that has strayed from its path to sunny California to sunny Florida. With Nebraska joining the Big Ten, the Legends and Leaders divisions clashed in Indianapolis for its first conference championship game.
But it rained on Michigan State's Rose Bowl dreams. The Spartans lost to No. 9 Wisconsin, 42-39, and hence, sent them to the land of Bloomin' Onions.
After losing five straight bowl games—last year defeated by Alabama, 49-7—Michigan State under Dantonio will be a tough challenge for the Bulldogs. Aaron Murray completed only 16 of 40 passes against No. 1 LSU in the conference championship game. The Bulldogs offense finished third in the SEC, averaging 413.8 yards compared to a tough Michigan State defense that allowed 272.7 yards per game.
Surprise. The Bulldogs were tough, too! They finished third in the FBS, allowing 268.5 yards per game with multiple standouts. At steak, or should we say, stake, could be Coach Richt's future with the Dawgs, which, at press time, remains steady and sure.
But should they lose to Michigan State, the fallout from Richt's secondary NCAA violations of being too generous to his coaching staff, plus the embarrassment of a loss, might bring his status back to the forefront of sports radio gossip. Tune in Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. EST as the Dawgs strut their SEC dominance into a bowl that could set the tone for next year.
Surprise No. 2: Georgia's Recruiting Class Has Got Clout
When it comes to recruiting, Coach Mark Richt has the SEC edge.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
You could almost hear the moans from Gainesville (Fla.) to Tuscaloosa (Ala.) when five-star (Rivals.com) offensive tackle John Theus committed to the Georgia Bulldogs 2012 class.
Theus (6'6", 292 lbs.) was a standout at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., and highly sought after by schools like Florida, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC.
Perhaps it was Richt's finesse combined with the fact that Theus' older brother and offensive lineman Nathan swayed his choice toward Athens.
But he's not the only surprise Georgia has coming their way. Just a few days ago (Dec. 22), JUCO offensive lineman Mark Beard faxed his letter of intent to UGA, bringing pre-holiday smiles to the coaching staff and fans alike. Beard (6'4", 290 lbs.) attends Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, and this three-star (Rivals.com) recruit passed over offers like Houston, Mississippi State, South Alabama Troy and UAB.
The Bulldogs hav,e to date, 16 commits—including one five-star, six four-star and six three-star—for its 2012 class. Another impressive standout and Georgia commitment (and a surprise) is Faton Bauta, a quarterback from Palm Beach Gardens (FL). This 6'2", 222 lb., player was heavily recruited by Alabama, among others like Boston College, Kentucky, Syracuse and Miami.
Surprise. Georgia's just getting started.
Surprise No. 3: Some Georgia Standouts Seeing NFL Stars
All SEC tight-end Orson Charles to seek draft evaluation.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
To go or not to go? That's the million dollar question when it comes to the status of some Georgia players returning to Athens for 2012.
As early as last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that tight-end Orson Charles would seek a draft evaluation, and that in itself comes as no surprise. But along with Charles, the report indicated that junior safety Bacarri Rambo and his sophomore quarterback teammate, Aaron Murray, might also join in the fun.
Charles, according to the Atlanta newspaper, has publicly stated that he would pray about his decision to leave the Bulldogs and has not yet made up his mind. Charles is just one touchdown catch from becoming one of Georgia's elite career leaders for tight ends. With all bets on that he will earn that achievement in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl against Michigan State, watch for him to become one of the first Bulldogs to consider an exit.
January 15 is the deadline to submit paperwork to declare intentions for the NFL draft, with three days as the deadline to withdraw. What's in store? Just count the days until you'll find out for sure.
Surprise No. 4: Isaiah Crowell's Matured After 2011 Play
Isaiah Crowell's season has been filled with highs and lows ... mostly highs.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Tailing a great like Herschel Walker isn't easy but University of Georgia freshman Isaiah Crowell is getting closer to becoming a shadow of the 1980s great. You see, Crowell already has 29 more yards rushing—the best performance by a freshman tailback—since Walker in 1980.
If Crowell can stay out of trouble—both injury and behavior wise—during the remainder of the holidays, get ready to watch him break a 1,000-yard season in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl in Tampa. Watch out, Spartans!
Crowell, who was named SEC Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American, hasn't gotten all A's this season. Between a few suspensions and injuries, there's one surprise we can share: Crowell has matured. While the press pushes rumors of Crowell's possible transfer, he says no way. Look for him to get stronger and better in 2012. That's no surprise!
Surprise No. 5: This Could Be the SEC Team to Beat in 2012
The Bulldogs pounced on rival Georgia Tech this year closing out as East champions. Could they be in for a pre-season Top 10 in 2012?
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Winning 10 consecutive games and an Eastern Division championship this year, look for the Bulldogs to crack the 2012 preseason's top 10. Forget that they lost by 32 to this year's No. 1 LSU when it counted. The disappointing loss to the Tigers made some think twice about the value of this team. They lost to the three best opponents on their schedule.
Next year's schedule will reflect the same soft schedule thanks to the SEC conference realignment that puts their toughest Western Division opponents as Ole Miss and Auburn. While an away game at Alabama was originally slated, the switch takes the Bulldogs to Missouri instead. Another change knocks the traditional SEC opener with South Carolina to October, a move that's ruffled the feathers of fans.
For the Dawgs, the new schedule goes like this: An opening game versus Buffalo leads to a conference matchup at Missouri and then three consecutive home games versus Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The Bulldogs will meet South Carolina in Columbia and then head to Kentucky, closing out the season with Florida and Ole Miss at home, a trip to Auburn and two final home games against Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
A surprise win against Michigan State on Jan. 2 at The Outback Bowl could boost the Bulldogs respect-o-meter to its highest point and give them just what they need to jump-start their way into a happy new year!