Last season: 8-5 (5-3)
All-time record: 767-407-54
SEC titles: 12
Opener: Clemson on Aug. 30
COMING FRIDAY: Kentucky
This time last year, Georgia inside linebacker Ramik Wilson was a virtual unknown throughout most of the Southeastern Conference.
Wilson soon will enter his senior year having topped the league with 133 tackles and earning All-SEC status last season. The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder from Tampa tallied four tackles as a freshman and six as a sophomore.
"It kind of did happen overnight, but I also stayed patient and waited my turn," Wilson said last week at SEC media days. "I had great players in front of me like Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. They knew I was going to be a great player, and they told me to stay level-headed and be for the team first."
Last year was not the best for Georgia's team, which followed up a 12-2 record in 2012 with an erratic 8-5 mark. Injuries occasionally limited an offense that was relentless during September victories over South Carolina and LSU, while youth and confusion led to defensive breakdowns that were a constant throughout the year.
A missed tackle by cornerback Damian Swann sprung Sammy Watkins loose for a 77-yard touchdown reception in the opening loss at Clemson, and there were colossal mistakes in the secondary during losses at Auburn and to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
"I don't think we were as bad as people claim we were," Wilson said. "We were in the top five in sacks, and we were pretty high up against the run, too. Our front seven was stout, and we know we have to pick things up in the back end. We barely got any turnovers last year, but we have a lot of starters back.
"We've got Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. Damian Swann is going to come back better. We've got a lot of talent coming back. We've just got to put it together. I think the sky is the limit for this defense."
Wilson did show signs of emerging late in the 2012 season, collecting a forced fumble and a tackle for loss in the SEC championship loss to Alabama.
In last year's opener, Wilson surpassed his career tackle total by amassing 13 at Clemson. He topped that with 15 tackles and a sack at Tennessee and then topped that with 18 tackles and a sack at Auburn.
"I didn't have tons of game experience going into last year, but now I do," Wilson said. "The game has slowed down for me, and now I know what to do. I'm just going to go out there and do the best I can."
Wilson became the third Bulldogs player to lead the SEC in tackles, joining Whit Marshall (128 in 1995) and Rennie Curran (130 in 2009). Finishing second in the league last year was fellow Bulldogs inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who had 112 and will be alongside Wilson again this year.
"Ramik got a lot better last year, and he got a lot better from last season to this spring," Bulldogs junior tailback Todd Gurley said. "He just knows the game, and he's an athlete, so he's running all the time. You can't get away from him.
"He and Amarlo are All-SEC to me. The guys were 1-2 in the SEC in tackles last season, so we know they deserve to be there."
Georgia's offense is expected to pack the same punch it has the past two seasons, with fifth-year senior quarterback Hutson Mason gaining some valuable experience late last season after Aaron Murray's ACL tear. Mason will have a slew of veteran receivers headed by Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell, but the biggest strength should be at tailback with Gurley, Keith Marshall and incoming freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Wilson is one of eight returning starters on defense, which is now coordinated by Jeremy Pruitt. Tracy Rocker, Mike Ekeler and Kevin Sherrer are the other new defensive assistants, with Pruitt overseeing a secondary that was often in chaos a year ago.
Pruitt is replacing Todd Grantham, who worked with outside linebackers, and Wilson believes that things already are very different.
"Dudes are giving more effort," Wilson said. "He brings out the best out of everybody, and that's what we need -- the best out of everybody. We need to win right now, and we have the team to do it."
Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was dismissed from the team Wednesday following his arrest on a felony charge of aggravated assault/family violence early Tuesday morning. Taylor played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman last season, recording nine tackles and a sack.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...