The Georgia Bulldogs will enter the 2012 season with far more confidence than they ever could have imagined back on September 11, 2011. They hope they can put their newfound mental fuel to good use.
September 11 of last year marked the day after Georgia fell to 0-2 on the season, courtesy of a bitter 45-42 defeat at home against SEC East Division rival South Carolina. Coach Mark Richt's team had already lost a prime-time showdown to Boise State a week earlier, and in a season when much was expected of his team, Richt genuinely felt a lot of heat.
Then, however, Georgia rallied. The Bulldogs were aided by a relatively soft SEC schedule in which they didn't have to play one of the SEC West's top three teams – LSU, Alabama and Arkansas – but they still had to win all seven of their remaining league games to factor into the SEC race, and they did. They came back from a double-digit deficit to top Florida, and when South Carolina lost to both Auburn (in an upset) and then Arkansas (the one tough West team the Gamecocks faced on their slate), all Georgia needed to do to win the East was to hold off Kentucky in the SEC finale. Georgia wasn't artful in that game, but the Bulldogs prevailed, and after whacking Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, they had turned 0-2 into 10-2. Yes, a 10-game winning streak marked the team's response to adversity. It's true that LSU smacked Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, but the Bulldogs had still proven their worth. This program stands on firmer footing, just what it needed before South Carolina and the rest of the East try to topple the Bulldogs in 2012.
Returning Starters: 6
Georgia will want to pound the ball between the tackles this season to take the heat off its quarterback, Aaron Murray. It's quite true that Murray is an upper-tier signal caller in the SEC, but in order for Murray to feel comfortable in the pocket, his running backs will have to be effective. Georgia has three particularly talented ballcarriers. Isaiah Crowell was supposed to be the featured running back for the team, but he got kicked out of Athens when he was charged with illegal possession of a weapon. He transferred to Alabama State. Richard Samuel and Ken Malcome have also shown a lot of promise, and will now have to shoulder the load in the backfield. When Georgia goes on the road to play South Carolina, it will need to be able to run the ball, given the prowess of the Gamecocks' pass rush.
Returning Starters: 9
Georgia's defense flourished last year under Todd Grantham, the defensive coordinator who has made a big difference in Athens. Georgia allowed 13 points or fewer in five of its eight SEC games, and even though South Carolina scored 45 points against Georgia in week two, UGA's defense allowed just 24 of those points. This season really comes down to Georgia's continued ability to generate game-changing turnovers on defense, as was the case in the season-defining comeback win over Florida last year. If Georgia can retain the attention to detail that marked last year's 10-game winning streak, there's no reason the Bulldogs can't repeat as SEC East champions… with the defense once again playing the central role.
The Bulldogs' schedule is once again a favorable one. The team might lose at South Carolina and yet fight its way past the Gamecocks for the second straight season. Taking care of business against Missouri and Florida will be extremely important for Mark Richt's club this season. If the Dawgs can get through those two games, they should defend their East Division title.
Prediction: SEC East Champion; will lose to LSU in SEC Championship Game