MEMPHIS - As the rain fell Friday and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray's desperation heave into the end zone was batted down with no time remaining, the Central Florida Knights celebrated the moment.
Minutes later, just a few feet away from ecstatic UCF fans purchasing commemorative Liberty Bowl championship T-shirts for $20 apiece, Georgia coach Mark Richt, receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Brandon Boykin quietly filed into the postgame news conference. Having just lost 10-6 to the Knights to conclude a 6-7 season, the Bulldogs were eager to get as far away from this moment as possible.
"We have to make some changes," Richt said. "We have to make sure this doesn't happen again in the future. Now when I say change, I don't necessarily mean personnel or anything like that. I don't want to light a fire, but we need to improve, and we're going to improve. We're going to get Georgia where it belongs."
Richt announced that 2010 was over and that everybody was looking forward to 2011, but the first few days of '11 may be painful as well. Green and outside linebacker Justin Houston are expected to declare early for the NFL draft, while Boykin, punter Drew Butler and offensive linemen Cordy Glenn and Trinton Sturdivant also are considering bolting early.
Should Glenn and Sturdivant depart, the Bulldogs would return one starter from a line that underachieved this season and left Murray running for cover against UCF.
Losing Houston could saddle defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with a potentially tougher assignment in his second year, considering his first batch of linebackers also contained seniors Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble. Georgia limited UCF to 241 total yards but allowed 30 or more points five times during the regular season.
"Trust me, I am fully aware of the things we need to work on and what we've got to do," Grantham said. "We've got to continue to recruit and develop, that's No. 1. That kind of has been taking place since the Georgia Tech game, and another phase will be in January with the players coming back and the offseason program."
Grantham added that there will be a lot of player evaluations between now and the spring, when he said several position changes could take place. His arrival last January followed Richt's firing of Willie Martinez after the '09 regular season, which yielded a 7-5 record and a trip to the Independence Bowl.
Strength coach Dave Van Halanger, who was with Martinez on Richt's inaugural staff in 2001, was the casualty this season and was replaced by longtime Bulldogs strength assistant Joe Tereshinski.
"The culture of our program is changing," kicker Blair Walsh said. "We've got a new regime of seniors coming in, and we'll go from there. We have a new strength coach, and we're going to start a new philosophy here."
Georgia faces one of the nation's toughest starts to next season, as the Bulldogs open against Boise State and South Carolina, but the overall schedule is as pleasing as it gets in today's SEC. The Bulldogs will play eight games within the state, and the three West Division teams they avoid are Alabama, Arkansas and LSU.
Should the Bulldogs lose a lot of juniors in upcoming days, they could be picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC East, which had all six teams lose five or more games this season.
"We've got to go back and rededicate ourselves to doing what it takes," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, "and that's every single man and every single coach."