Five more yards.
These words hurt. Five more yards and UGA would have been 2012 SEC champs and earned the right to kick the ever-loving piss out of Notre Dame to win the National Championship. Five more yards and Mark Richt would have cemented his legacy as the greatest coach in Georgia history. Five more yards and Aaron Murray would never have to answer another question about whether or not he can win the big game. Alas, Georgia sports be a cruel mistress (here’s looking at you, wild-card game and NFC Championship).
That was 2012. It’s over I guess it’s time to move on.
Mark Richt enters his 13th season between the hedges as the longest-tenured coach in the SEC (again). Expectations are sky-high as always in Athens as UGA enters the season ranked #5 in the meaningless Coaches Poll. Much of these expectations fall on the shoulders of last year’s success, as well as the return of all-but-one notable contributor from last season’s record-breaking offense. The expected improvement of an already-stacked offense will be needed to overcome the large turnover on the defensive side.
When attempting to describe the Dawg offense in 2013, I can’t think of any better word than “loaded.” The Dawgs return 10 of 11 starters and 21 of 22 off the 2-deep depth chart. Leading the pack—and the recipient of the 2013 Stephen Garcia “Wait, He’s Still There?” award—is RS Senior quarterback, Aaron Murray. Since taking over in 2010, Murray has always seemed to put up very impressive numbers against bad teams and very mediocre numbers against good teams. However, a switch seemed to flip for Murray at the start of the second half against Florida, in which he became the best quarterback in the country not named “Johnny Football.” Touchdowns went up, interceptions went down, and he finished the year as the 2nd highest rated passer in the country, behind only A.J. McCarron, who, to be fair, played behind an NFL-caliber offensive line at Bama. The playbook should be wide open for Murray, as he has earned the full trust of Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
Along with Murray, Bobo has an embarrassment of riches to play with. Tailback Todd Gurley hopes to build upon a monster freshman season, while fellow sophomore Keith Marshall had a pretty impressive debut in his own right. Gurley and Marshall, or Gurshall, form one of the most exciting 1-2 punches in the country. At receiver, Murray will look to experienced juniors Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley. Also returning is RS junior Michael Bennett who grew into Murray’s most reliable target before suffering a torn ACL before the South Carolina game last season. At tight end, Arthur Lynch is a strong blocker who became more of a weapon in the passing game last season, although sometimes suffering from a mild case of the dropsies. Also, look out for RS Sophomore TE Jay Rome. After “retiring” from the UGA basketball team, Rome really stepped up at the end of the season to become a force in the red zone. The entire 2-deep O-line returns, as well, to round out the stout offense.
For everything I just said about the offense, you can pretty much say the exact opposite of the defense. This group lost eight of 11 starters, including All-America Jarvis Jones and first-round pick Alec Ogletree. However, if you asked most Georgia fans, the defense last year was pretty disappointing when you consider all of the NFL talent on the roster. They couldn’t stop the run at all, which came back to bite them in the ass when they surrendered 350 yards on the ground in the SEC Championship game. Therefore, a lot of us are excited to see some fresh faces. That said, this group is seriously inexperienced. The schedule provides a steep learning curve with the facing of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins in the opener. Names to watch for: sophomore OLB Jordan Jenkins, true freshman FS Tray Matthews.
UGA begins the season on the road at Clemson, followed by a home meeting with dreaded Steve Spurrier and South Carolina. Conventional wisdom holds that the Dawg offense will need to put up a ton of points while the defense tries to figure out whatever the hell it is they’re doing out there. Other key games include LSU in Athens at the end of September, and the WLOCP (unofficially) against the Gators. Split those four and win the ones you’re supposed to will give you 10-2. Most fans would accept that—especially if one of those wins was to make it three in a row against Florida. Any more than that would be just peachy.
Best case: 12-0
Worst case: 8-4