Georgia has won five SEC East titles in Mark Richt’s first 13 seasons and two of the past three. That remains the chief objective, and this season’s team should be right in the mix. Junior tailback Todd Gurley is the league’s most imposing offensive threat when healthy, and fifth-year senior quarterback Hutson Mason should provide enough balance passing to enable the offense to keep aiming for school records. Veteran linebackers and new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt give the defense a chance at sizable improvement.
There were countless occasions last season, most notably against Auburn and Nebraska, when confusion in the secondary resulted in disaster. Safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews are no longer in the program, nor is cornerback Shaq Wiggins, leaving Pruitt with senior cornerback Damian Swann, senior Corey Moore and little else in terms of experience. The Bulldogs are not lacking for eager contributors, such as J.J. Green and Aaron Davis, and whether this group comes together could determine the winner of the East.
The Bulldogs may not have any true freshmen crack the starting lineup for next week’s opener against Clemson, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get significant contributions. Tailback Nick Chubb rushed for 52 yards on seven carries in the first scrimmage and showed breakaway ability like Gurley has shown the past two seasons. Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter could give Georgia a spark whenever Jordan Jenkins or Leonard Floyd comes out, and receiver Isaiah McKenzie has turned heads as a return specialist.
Tale of two games
If Georgia can win twice in Columbia, the Bulldogs will go a long way in reaching the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs were throttled 35-7 two years ago in Columbia, S.C., and lost three straight years to the Gamecocks before winning 41-30 last September in Athens. Georgia will travel to Missouri seeking to avenge last season’s 41-26 loss to the Tigers, who ultimately won the East in just their second year in the league. Games against Florida and Auburn are always important, but the biggest one this year is the trip to South Carolina.
Georgia suffered a rash of offensive injuries last year after lighting up South Carolina and LSU to get to No. 6 in the country. Should that kind of weaponry exist throughout the 2014 season and the secondary improve, there is no reason why the Bulldogs shouldn’t return to double-digit victories. The most likely loss is the trip to South Carolina — Huston Mason’s first hostile test — so we’ll say 10-2 with the other loss coming to either Missouri, Florida or Auburn. The Bulldogs will miss the playoff but go to a very nice bowl.