If you disregard their first two games and final two games, 2011 was a rousing success for the Georgia Bulldogs. Unfortunately, this isn’t a dream world.
Calls for Head Coach Mark Richt’s head were very loud after the Dawgs opened with losses to Boise State and South Carolina, both home games – although the Boise game was technically in Atlanta. It was Georgia’s first 0-2 start since 1996 and it looked like Richt was a goner, although there was no shame in losing to the No. 5 and No. 12 teams in the nation, respectively.
But Georgia turned things around by winning its next nine games to finish 7-1 in the SEC, win the East Division and play in its first SEC title game since 2005. However, those wins might have been fool’s gold as the Dawgs beat only two ranked teams in Auburn and Georgia Tech and neither of those two finished the season in the Top 25. Frankly, UGa took advantage of a down East Division and also got to play West Division cellar-dwellers Ole Miss and Mississippi State instead of the likes of LSU, Alabama and Arkansas.
That Georgia wasn’t as good as its 10-2 record showed when LSU spanked the Dawgs, 42-10, in the SEC Championship Game, although to be fair Georgia did lead 10-7 at the half before being overwhelmed after intermission. It was the second-largest margin of victory in SEC title game history. Georgia finished its season 10-4 (No. 19 in the final AP poll) after a 33-30 triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl in arguably the most exciting bowl game of the year.
Oddsmakers believe the Dawgs will repeat in the East this season. Here is Doc’s Sports 2012 Georgia Bulldogs college football preview and predictions:
Richt won’t have to worry about job security for a while as he got a new five-year deal this offseason that will extend him through the 2016 season. Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham, who was feeling some pressure after Georgia allowed a combined 80 points in those first two losses, also has some security as he got a two-year extension that guarantees his salary through the 2014 season. If there’s one coach thus feeling pressure it’s often-maligned Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo, a former Dawgs QB. Georgia fans love to rip Bobo’s play-calling, but Richt continues to publicly support him (what else would he do?).
Let’s start with two key losses from last year’s team before we get to who is back: Stud tight end Orson Charles and leading rusher Isaiah Crowell, formerly the nation’s top-ranked prep running back recruit, are no longer in Athens. Charles is now a Cincinnati Bengal, but his departure wasn’t all that surprising. Crowell, meanwhile, was arrested June 29 and charged with a felony count of possessing a weapon in a school zone, a felony count of an altered identification mark and a misdemeanor count of possession/carrying a concealed weapon. He was dismissed from the team and he transferred to FCS school Alabama State, where he can play this year. Crowell ran 185 times for 850 yards with five touchdowns as a freshman but was dogged (pun intended) by disciplinary problems.
Six starters are due back on offense, led by Heisman candidate QB Aaron Murray. He started every game last year and completed 223-of-403 passes for 3,149 yards and a single-season school record 35 TDs. He also rushed for two scores to set the school mark for overall touchdowns at 37. Murray ranked second in passing (224.9 yards per game) in the SEC but did throw 14 picks, including two each in losses to LSU and Michigan State.
Murray’s leading receiver, Tavares King (47 catches, 705 yards, 8 TDs) returns. At running back Ken Malcome (42 carries, 174 yards in 2011) or freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley will try to replace Crowell. Georgia loses three seniors from last year’s offensive line and has no returning seniors up front.
Nine starters are due back on defense, but this unit is dealing with multiple suspensions of lengths to be determined. It appears that four of that unit’s best players, safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings, and linebacker Alec Ogletree, will be suspended to start the 2012 season. Reports are that all but Commings’ are drug related, with Smith being arrested for marijuana possession while on spring break.
Rambo was suspended for the Bulldogs' opener against Boise State last season for an unnamed rules violation but still earned All-America honors while leading the SEC with eight interceptions. Ogletree missed six games last season with a broken foot, but he led Georgia in tackles in each of the last five games. Smith started seven games last season, making 24 tackles and two interceptions. Richt still hasn’t announced the length of their suspensions, but reports hint at four for Ogletree, two for Rambo and one for Smith. Commings, who started all 14 games last year, will sit out the first two games because of his involvement in a domestic dispute in Athens in February.
Thus, the defensive backfield looks to be incredibly thin to start the season. Richt dismissed freshman defensive backs Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders in February for violating team rules and backup cornerback Jordan Love transferred to Towson in the offseason. That unit is so thin that receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who was second on the team with 665 receiving yards last season as a true freshman, will likely have to play defense. He led the Bulldogs in 2011 with 60.5 receiving yards a game but has experience at corner, having been named the top prep cornerback in the nation out of high school. Richt said the plan is for Mitchell to play cornerback in the opening games against Buffalo and Missouri before potentially moving back to offense or getting time on both sides of the ball.
At least there are no issues surrounding outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, a consensus All-American who had 13.5 sacks in 2011. But it’s hard to imagine this unit will rank No. 3 nationally in yards per game allowed again as it did last year with all those players suspended.
2012 Georgia Bulldogs Football Schedule Analysis
Needless to say, Georgia won’t have any problems with Buffalo, but winning at Missouri in Week 2 in the Tigers’ SEC debut is likely going to be a problem with Mizzou having a stud QB in James Franklin to pick apart that Georgia secondary. The Dawgs then get three straight at home in Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee and will be favored in all three, although the Vols should be a test. The rest of the schedule is: at South Carolina, at Kentucky, vs. Florida (Jacksonville), vs. Ole Miss, at Auburn, vs. Georgia Southern and vs. Georgia Tech.
I have trouble seeing Georgia winning at South Carolina, but the Dawgs could well run the table after that considering they only have two true road games after the Gamecocks: Kentucky is lousy and the Bulldogs are already five-point favorites at Auburn on 5Dimes.
2012 Georgia Bulldogs SEC and Futures Betting Odds
At 5Dimes, Georgia’s “over/under” wins total is set at 9.5, with the over a -155 favorite. To win the BCS Championship, Georgia is +2000. To play in the game, the Dawgs are +1100. To play in any BCS bowl game, Georgia is +200 and not to at -280. To win the SEC title, Georgia is at +575 (third-favorite) and to win the East again UGa is a +155 favorite. Murray is +400 to finish in the Top 3 of the Heisman voting and +1400 to win it.
2012 Georgia Bulldogs Football Predictions
I don’t think Georgia is a BCS Championship-caliber team, but do believe the Dawgs finish 10-2 in the regular season (so over wins) and get back to the SEC title game, where they lose again. Still, that should be enough to get a BCS bowl at-large bid. With a possible struggling running game minus Crowell, and Charles also gone, I don’t see Murray finishing in the Top 3 of the Heisman.
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