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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 19: Georgia

It will be addition by subtraction for Georgia, with all due respect towards Willie Martinez.

Georgia sure does think the grass is greener, well, over there somewhere. Not here, not where Mark Richt is standing. From where I’m standing, I see a coach with 90 wins over the last nine years; a coach with enough juice to keep Georgia in the SEC hunt every fall; and a coach who finally stepped up to the plate, bit the bullet and replaced his longtime friend and coaching compatriot at defensive coordinator. So the last two seasons have been disappointing. In 2008, the Bulldogs fell well short of their preseason goal of a national championship. Last fall, the Bulldogs suffered five losses for the first time in the Richt era. From where I’m standing, Georgia could do far worse — and would be doing the program and its fans a tremendous disservice by investigating just how much greener the grass is on the other side.

Conference
SEC, East

Location
Athens, Ga.

Nickname
Bulldogs

Returning starters
14 (10 offense, 4 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 11

2009 record
(8-5, 4-4)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 32

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    La.-Lafayette
  • Sept. 11
    at South Carolina
  • Sept. 18
    Arkansas
  • Sept. 25
    at Mississippi St.
  • Oct. 2
    at Colorado
  • Oct. 9
    Tennessee
  • Oct. 16
    Vanderbilt
  • Oct. 23
    at Kentucky
  • Oct. 30
    at Florida
  • Nov. 6
    Idaho St.
  • Nov. 13
    at Auburn
  • Nov. 27
    Georgia Tech

Last year’s prediction

Are the Bulldogs good enough to beat the Gators? No, I’m not sure if anyone is good enough to beat the Gators in 2009. But I think Georgia will be good, very good, perhaps the third-best team in the entire SEC. Even in what some are viewing as a rebuilding year for Richt and the Bulldogs, sleep on this team at your own risk. My prediction: 10-2, 6-2 in the SEC, second behind Florida in the East division.

2009 recap

In a nutshell There’s a reason the pitchforks were out after last season: this was the worst team of the Richt era. This was his first five-loss squad, one that barely avoided a .500 regular season with an upset win over rival Georgia Tech in early December. Yes, the offense took a step back — losing a pair of would-be all-Americans to the N.F.L. draft will do that to an offense. The Bulldogs were middle-of-the-pack across the board offensively, landing lackluster quarterback play, uneven play from the offensive line and, above all else, horrific ball control. Having said all that, Georgia still scored 28.9 points per game; not quite like the good old days, but still good enough for another nine-win regular season. Then there’s the defense: statistically, the worst to ever don the red and black. How bad was it? Let’s just say this: the numbers do it justice. Don’t worry, changes have been made.

High point A 30-24 win against Georgia Tech to end the regular season. And nothing else comes even close. It’s almost hard to fathom, but the Bulldogs were a loss to Tech away from finishing the season at 6-6. For Georgia fans, the win provides an opportunity to start a new winning streak against the Yellow Jackets. I’m not sure if the Bulldogs will stretch this streak to seven, however.

Low point I count three contenders. One, a 45-19 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 10. Georgia made Tennessee’s Jonathan Crompton look like Peyton Manning. (Crompton did have a nice senior season.) Two, a home loss to Kentucky, which hadn’t happened since the Carter administration. Finally, another throttling at the hands of Tebow and the Gators. I’m going with Kentucky.

Tidbit Georgia is the only school in the country to have three Super Bowl M.V.P.’s. Can you name them? I’ll wait for you to guess. Stop reading and think about it. Ready? Free safety Jake Scott was M.V.P. of Super Bowl VII, when the undefeated Dolphins topped the Redskins; Denver’s Terrell Davis was M.V.P. of Super Bowl XXXII; and Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward was M.V.P. of Super Bowl XL.

Tidbit (winning edition) Georgia also has the 15th-best winning percentage in the F.B.S. since 1950: 444-226-20, a .658 clip. Are you ready for the top 14? It goes Ohio State (.758), Oklahoma (.756), Penn State (.736), Nebraska (.727), Texas (.723), Michigan (.707), Alabama (.704), U.S.C. (.703), Tennessee (.692), Florida (.676), Notre Dame (.674), Florida State (.667), Auburn (.665) and Arizona State (.659).

Former players in the N.F.L.

49 CB Asher Allen (Minnesota), DT Geno Atkins (Cincinnati), CB Champ Bailey (Denver), RB Thomas Brown (Cleveland), WR Reggie Brown (Tampa Bay), DE Chris Clemons (Seattle), LB Rennie Curran (Tennessee), DE Phillip Daniels (Washington), LB Thomas Davis (Carolina), LB Dannell Ellerbe (Baltimore), DT Demetric Evans (San Francisco), DE Robert Geathers (Cincinnati), LB Tony Gilbert (Jacksonville), DT Kedric Golston (Washington), DE Charles Grant (Miami), DE Marcus Howard (Tennessee), DT Corvey Irvin (Carolina), OG Max Jean-Gilles (Philadelphia), CB Tim Jennings (Chicago), DE Charles Johnson (Carolina), S Reshad Jones (Miami), S Sean Jones (Tampa Bay), K John Kasay (Carolina), RB Kregg Lumpkin (Green Bay), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (Cleveland), TE Randy McMichael (San Diego), DE Brandon Miller (Seattle), CB Prince Miller (Baltimore), WR Michael Moore (Detroit), RB Knowshon Moreno (Denver), LB Quentin Moses (Miami), FS Paul Oliver (San Diego), DT Jeff Owens (Philadelphia), S Jermaine Phillips (Tampa Bay), TE Leonard Pope (Kansas City), OT Dennis Roland (Cincinnati), DE Richard Seymour (Oakland), QB D.J. Shockley (Atlanta), QB Matthew Stafford (Detroit), OT Jonathan Stinchcomb (New Orleans), DT Marcus Stroud (Buffalo), OG Vincent Vance (Chicago), C Fernando Velasco (Tennessee), WR Hines Ward (Pittsburgh), RB Danny Ware (New York Giants), TE Benjamin Watson (Cleveland), DT Kade Weston (New England), LB Will Witherspoon (Tennessee), DE Jarius Wynn (Green Bay).

Arbitrary top five list

Best players in Braves (Atlanta or Milwaukee) history
1. OF Hank Aaron.
2. P Greg Maddux.
3. P Warren Spahn.
4. 3B Eddie Mathews.
5. P Phil Niekro.

Coaching

Mark Richt (Miami ’82), 90-27 over nine seasons with the Bulldogs. Yes, that’s 10 wins a year, if my math is correct. Let’s not allow the disappointing finishes of the last two years to tarnish what Richt has accomplished with the Bulldogs; the fact that a 18-8 mark over two years can be construed as a disappointment should be reason enough to comprehend to what heights Richt has taken the Georgia program. Since the start, Richt has had the Bulldogs among the top programs in the nation. After going 8-4 in 2001, his debut season, tying a Georgia record for wins by a rookie coach, Richt led the Dawgs to a team-record 13 wins in 2002, a season that culminated in an SEC championship. Richt duplicated that feat in 2005, when he led Georgia to a 10-3 mark and its second conference title. There had been no down point prior to last season for the Bulldogs since Richt took over, though one could point out the 9-4 mark in 2006 as a brief lull for the Georgia program. You’re doing pretty well when a 9-4 record, with a .500 mark in the SEC, signals the lowest point of your tenure. However, last season was concerning, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Hence Richt’s decision — forced or not — to address that side of his coaching staff Only five SEC coaches have won 10 games or more in four straight seasons: Richt (2002-5), Bear Bryant (1971-74, 1977-80), Vince Dooley (1980-83), Phil Fulmer (1995-98) and Steve Spurrier (1993-98). How about that list? And while Georgia Tech has stolen some headlines from the Bulldogs since Paul Johnson’s arrival, Richt remains 8-1 against the program’s arch-rival; the Dawgs have held the Yellow Jackets to 17 points or fewer in seven of those eight victories. Prior to taking the Georgia head coaching job – his first – Richt spent 14 years as an assistant at Florida State, the last seven as offensive coordinator. Over that seven-year stint, the Seminoles went 76-9-1, winning the 1999 national title. In the nine years since, F.S.U. has gone 74-42 with only a single 10-win season. Coincidence?

Tidbit (coaching edition) Three new faces on the defensive coaching staff. We all know about the change at coordinator: out is Willie Martinez, perhaps one year too late — no reason to get into that argument; in is Todd Grantham, most recently the defensive line coach with the Dallas Cowboys. Grantham’s first order of  business was installing the 3-4 defense, which — in my opinion — will eventually take great advantage of the Georgia’s customary team speed on defense. It might take a year for this unit to gel, however. Grantham is joined by new additions Scott Lakatos, the former secondary coach for Connecticut who will hold the same duties with the Bulldogs; and inside linebackers coach Warren Belin, formerly of Vanderbilt. Georgia retained defensive line coach Rodney Garner, of course, as Garner is one of the finest recruiters in the country.

Players to watch

Quarterback is a concern, if only because the starter, Aaron Murray, is a redshirt freshman. Yes, Murray is untested. Expect some growing pains, particularly in the early season, while Murray begins to translate his scout team experience to live game situations. Those struggles might extend even further into SEC play, though I expect Murray to be firing on all cylinders by mid-October. What will Georgia eventually land from the talented rookie starter? Another multiple-year starter, barring injury, and a semblance of consistency from a position now on its third starter in as many years. In addition, let’s get one thing straight: even as a redshirt freshman, first-year starter, Murray’s production will at least match that which Georgia received from its quarterbacks in 2009. There’s a reason the Georgia staff entertained the idea of pulling his redshirt midway through last season: he’s an upgrade at the position. Depth is a major concern, however. Logan Gray will serve as the backup, but he’s an athlete, not a quarterback.

A.J. Green will factor heavily into Murray’s development, of course, as the all-everything junior certainly ranks among the nation’s premier offensive skill players. When on the field in 2009, Green ranked among the most productive pass-catchers in the country: through the end of October — eight games — Green had 44 receptions for 732 yards and 6 touchdowns. His final month was marred by injuries, as Green missed all of three games and most of another. His year ended with — on paper — good, not great numbers: 53 catches for 802 yards. When he was healthy, however, Green was one of the top receivers in the country. Murray will rely on him heavily in 2010.

The Bulldogs also return sophomore Tavarres King, who made 18 catches for 377 yards last fall, and welcome back a healthy Kris Durham. The senior, who made 13 grabs in 2008, missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Depth will come from several highly-touted underclassmen, such as Rantavious Wooden, Marlon Brown, Israel Troupe and Taylor Bradberry.

Georgia also relies heavily upon ts tight ends in the passing game. Sophomore Orson Charles was an immediate hit as a true freshman, pulling in 23 receptions for 374 yards and 3 scores in his debut campaign. Look for him to serve in an even bigger role in 2010, particularly as a security blanket for Murray. Junior Aron White could start for many teams in the SEC; he’ll be a secondary option at tight end for the Bulldogs, though he did land almost 200 yards receiving a season ago.

It’s time for the offensive line to come together. With all five starters returning, this should be Georgia’s finest offensive front since 2007. The group is led by senior left tackle Clint Boling, a first-team all-SEC pick last fall. Another senior, Josh Davis, will start at right tackle. Depth — and, potentially, a push for a starting job — could come from junior Trinton Sturdivant, the 2007 starter who has missed each of the last two seasons with knee injuries. The interior of the line is experienced, with junior Cordy Glenn at left guard, senior Chris Davis at right guard and junior Ben Jones at center; Jones is entering his third season in the starting lineup. Depth will also be less of a concern, particularly is Sturdivant and Tanner Strickland — he also missed all of 2009 — recover from injuries.

Georgia will again go with a by-committee approach in the running game. The duo, Washaun Ealey and Caleb king, combined for 1,311 yards rushing and 10 scores in 2009, with Ealey leading the way with 717 yards on the ground. To see how effective this pair can be, take a look at how they tore apart the Georgia Tech defense in last year’s rivalry game: 349 yards and 2 scores on 9.2 yards per carry. If Georgia opted to look elsewhere — or if injuries became a concern — it could turn to sophomore Carlton Thomas, among others. Senior Shaun Chapas will be leading the way from his fullback spot.

It might be a year of transition on defense for the Bulldogs, as Grantham attempts to install a new philosophy while replacing seven departed starters. This might not be a bad combination: in a way, Grantham’s task could have been more difficult had the Bulldogs returned most of the pieces of last year’s defense. Instead, the former N.F.L. assistant will have a relatively blank slate upon which to build his attack.

Junior DeAngelo Tyson — one of many five-star recruits on this defense — will land the first crack at playing over the center in Georgia’s new 3-4 look. I’ve said it many times throughout the summer: it all starts at this spot. Tyson’s job will be to occupy blockers, of course, keeping his linebacker clean, able to make plays in space. He will control the flow of the running game; quite a large task for a relatively untested interior lineman. There’s no doubting Tyson’s ability, but should he falter — or need a breather — Georgia can insert redshirt freshman Kwame Geathers or juniors Candler Cook and Justin Anderson into the rotation. Anderson is an intriguing prospect: a converted offensive lineman, he’s the largest option at nose tackle.

Sophomore Abry Jones and senior Demarcus Dobbs held the two starting end spots as Georgia entered fall camp. Dobbs is the team’s most game-tested end, as the senior made 30 tackles and 4.5 sacks a year ago. What Jones has is girth: at 6’3, 290 pounds, he’s a prototypical-sized 3-4 defensive end. Dobbs is no slouch in this regard, though it will be interesting to see if he maintains his burst with the 10 or so pounds he’s added to his frame.

A former end is making the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker: Justin Houston, an all-SEC candidate in a three-point stance, will stand up as one of Georgia’s two outside guys in the new defensive alignment. He was very productive at end a year ago, leading Georgia in tackles for loss (15) and sacks (7.5). It’s not an extreme change, as Houston will still be asked to stand against the run on the strong side and get to the quarterback on passing downs. Still, don’t underestimate the length of time it will take Houston to develop a comfort level at his new spot.

Sophomore Cornelius Washington holds down the starting role at weak side linebacker, ahead of incumbent starter Darryl Gamble. The senior started in the middle for the Bulldogs in 2009, making 47 tackles. However, Washington — who made four sacks in spot time in 2009 — looks like the better athlete; at the very least, the pair will split time. Given Georgia’s inexperience on defense, it will be tough to keep Gamble off the field. Senior Akeem Dent and sophomore Christian Robinson will start in the middle. However, like on the outside, look for junior Marcus Dowtin to earn significant playing time. Dowtin, currently behind Robinson on the depth chart, is Georgia’s leading returning tackler. Keep an eye on converted running back Richard Samuel, who starred at linebacker in high school before beginning his Georgia career on offense.

Georgia is as strong in the kicking game as any team in the country. Junior punter Drew Butler, the reigning Ray Guy Award winner, averaged 48.1 yards per his 56 punts. Roughly a third of those punts, 19, were downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Georgia’s kicker is also no slouch: junior Blair Walsh was a Lou Groza Award finalist, nailing 20 of 22 tries — including four of five from outside of 50 yards.

Position battles to watch

Secondary Three starters must be replaced in the defensive backfield, with junior Brandon Boykin the lone returning starter. Boykin has great potential at cornerback; he’s already a devastating weapon in the return game. Boykin set an SEC record last fall by bringing back three kickoffs for touchdowns. Senior Vance Cuff currently stands atop the depth chart at the second cornerback spot, though Georgia might find it hard to keep sophomore Branden Smith out of the starting lineup. It was thought that Smith might miss this coming season with academic issues, but he was recently allowed to rejoin the team. After making an impact on both sides of the ball in 2009 — he added 208 yards rushing with a pair of scores — Smith will concentrate on defense as a sophomore. If he doesn’t start, pushing Cuff into a secondary role, Smith will be a key reserve. Junior Nick Williams holds the edge at strong safety, though Georgia could also turn to sophomore Shawn Williams at this spot. Depth at strong safety took a slight hit when senior Quintin Banks, due to chronic knee problems, opted to end his playing career. It will be sophomore Bacarri Rambo at free safety; Rambo had a stellar rookie campaign, intercepting a pair of passes in his limited duty.

Game(s) to watch

Georgia Tech, as always, as well as Florida. As noted earlier, the Bulldogs would love to begin another extended winning streak over their in-state rivals. I see Georgia as Florida’s only real threat to the SEC East crown, though South Carolina certainly could exceed its preseason expectations. Speaking of the Gamecocks, the mid-September tussle in Columbia will go far towards determining the second-place team in the division.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell This team isn’t winning an SEC championship, isn’t challenging for a national title, but will be improved. Can Georgia fans live with this? I would hope so, as given this team’s youth — only seven senior starters, by my count — it’s only natural to expect a few growing pains. Also in Georgia’s path: a redshirt freshman quarterback, the team’s third starter at the position in as many years; some depth issues at receiver, though A.J. Green is good enough to carry this group alone; and the wholesale remaking of a defense that had hit rock bottom under its previous coordinator. About that first point: I believe Georgia will land better quarterback play in 2010 than it did a year ago. Part of this is due to the quarterback himself; Murray will get better and better as the year progresses. Part of this is due to the development of a solid offensive line, as well as the two capable rushers in the backfield. As for the defense… well, Grantham might not be an immediate hit. Keep the faith. There’s talent on this side of the ball, speed to burn, fast, agile defenders hungry to prove last year was an aberration, not the rule. Will we see Georgia pitching shutouts come September? No, probably not. Will we see Georgia pitching shutouts come November? Again, probably not. But we’ll see a far more disciplined and determined group, one that will develop on a week-to-week basis. So, in my mind, the concerns surrounding this team aren’t survivable — the defense might not be up to Georgia’s past standards, but will be better. And that’s all fans should expect in 2010: be better. Don’t lose to Kentucky. Start fast — this is a distinct possibility, given the early schedule — and end strong. Give Florida all it can handle. Beat Georgia Tech. Show us, Mark Richt, that you’re still the answer. Georgia’s not winning an SEC championship, but it will prove itself capable of living up to its preseason expectations for the first time since 2007.

Dream season Georgia returns to the top of the SEC East: 10-2, 6-2 in conference play. Obviously, the head-to-head tiebreaker over Florida decides the top team in the division.

Nightmare season The new defense doesn’t take; neither does the new quarterback. Georgia slides down to 6-6, 3-5 in the SEC.

In case you were wondering

Where do Georgia fans congregate? A number of options for the discerning Georgia fan. For message board chatter, check out Dawg RunDawg RantDawg Post and UGASports.com. For those interested in some Georgia blogs, check out Get the PictureGeorgia Sports Blog and Bulldogs Blog.

Up Next

Who is No. 18? Our next program has allowed more than 293 points in a season only once in its history.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. M Meyer says:

    I’m guessing Linebacker University (the fighting Joe Pa’s) is next.

  2. 'Catatonic Tim says:

    Lions gave up 312 points in 1983.

  3. TresselBall says:

    Good guess on the Nits. Would probably be much higher (top ten) if it weren’t for the situation at QB.

    I hope they punk the tide and can’t wait for them to come get their whippin Nov. 13th ;o)

  4. M Meyer says:

    I think every Big-Ten fan is pulling for the Nittany Lions in that game against Alabama. No matter what happens with Penn State on the 13th, the real game to decide the B10 will be on the 20th. I’m just hoping that Northwestern doesn’t punk Iowa again by taking out its best player on offense for the third year in a row.

  5. 'Catatonic Tim says:

    They were both clean hits. Quit making excuses; Kafka missed most of last year’s game, too.

  6. Kevin says:

    Nice job on the preview. Dontavious Jackson left the team last month. Freshman Ken “Boo” Malcome would be the go to guy after King, Ealey and Carlon Thomas. Also, surprised you didn’t mention Jakar “Hitman” Hamilton (JUCO) as he’s in the 3-man rotation at safety right now with Rambo and Nick Williams. When Rambo plays FS he is playing with Nick Williams and when Rambo plays SS he’s on the field with Hamilton.

  7. [...] Pre-Snap Read has Dawgs #19 (but LHB didn't make their blogroll): Only five SEC coaches have won 10 games or more in four straight seasons: Richt (2002-5), Bear Bryant (1971-74, 1977-80), Vince Dooley (1980-83), Phil Fulmer (1995-98) and Steve Spurrier (1993-98). How about that list? [...]

  8. [...] been made.” Jump to Comments You can see Pre-Snap Read’s preview of #19 Georgia here.  I would describe it as cautiously optimistic – in other words, falling somewhere between [...]

  9. katiesdad says:

    dawgs haven’t been worth watching since vince dooley and herschel left.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Nc2XsimM90

  10. [...] Five and Five: No. 19, Georgia By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 19, is Georgia. You can find a larger Georgia preview here. [...]

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