Georgia is moving on from a successful 2012 football season with few returning defensive starters but more than enough quarterbacks.
The Bulldogs will have Aaron Murray, Hutson Mason, Christian LeMay, Faton Bauta and early enrollee Brice Ramsey taking snaps when spring practice starts in early March. The Bulldogs have never entered a season with five scholarship quarterbacks since Mark Richt became coach, and they entered 2011 with only Murray, Mason and LeMay.
Murray guided Georgia to a 12-2 record, a second consecutive Southeastern Conference East Division title and a top-five national finish this past season, and he announced Sunday night that he was returning for his senior year. That was welcome news for Bulldogs fans but not so much for Mason, who redshirted this past season with the hope of starting the 2013 and '14 seasons.
"Hutson would have played a lot this year and might have even played more than what our second-teamers did based on the faith that we have in his ability to function well," Richt said Thursday afternoon. "He might have gotten in a series earlier here or there towards the end. I think he would have played a lot, and hopefully he will have opportunities to do the same next year.
"He is to the point he certainly knows what to do. He is ready for the next step, which is playing time, but what that looks like, I don't know."
While Murray has started 41 games and is the first quarterback in SEC history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, Mason has played in just eight games for Georgia. The 6-foot-3, 196-pounder from Marietta has been impressive in his limited time, completing 27 of 47 passes for 356 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Richt had a set rotation earlier in his tenure with David Greene and D.J. Shockley but said, "I'm not sitting here saying we're going to do anything like that."
Murray compiled a school-record 36 passing touchdowns this past season, and the Bulldogs set single-season records for touchdowns (72), points (529) and yards (6,547). The offense returns everybody except receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, leaving the biggest questions this year on defense.
The Bulldogs have bid farewell to defensive linemen John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers, Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington, as well as linebackers Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard and defensive backs Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo, Branden Smith and Shawn Williams.
Among the remaining few are end Garrison Smith, inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and cornerback Damian Swann.
"We better be ready, and we don't really have a choice obviously," Richt said. "I've got a lot of faith in these guys, but they've got to work and prepare right now. They can't just sit here and wait until camp starts or even the summer. They've got to start now.
"Their goal must be greater than just getting to play or getting to start or even possibly being All-SEC, for that matter. They need to prepare to try to be the best in all America in what they do."
The Bulldogs began this past season with a No. 6 ranking and can expect a similar starting point later this year. Richt said the plan is to remain an elite program after losing the SEC title to Alabama 32-28 when time ran out on the Bulldogs at the Crimson Tide's 5-yard line.
Richt said he didn't watch every play of Alabama's 42-14 hammering of Notre Dame but "saw enough to see where it was going."
The new Dogs
Georgia has a record 13 early enrollees this winter after having just 17 freshmen in August camp last year. Mandatory lifting for the team begins Monday, and the grueling Mat Drills will start Feb. 4.
"They're almost a class to themselves, and that's what I've told them," Richt said. "I want them to look out for each other and to help each other out. I want them to make sure no one is sitting in a room by himself."
Odds and ends
Richt did not know of any players seeking to leave for any reason other than Jones, Ogletree and Geathers, who declared early for the NFL draft. ... Injured receiver Michael Bennett (ACL) may do some route-running this spring but won't go through live drills. ... Richt doesn't feel an immediate need to name a recruiting coordinator following last month's departure of Rodney Garner. ... Jon Richt, who quarterbacked Division II Mars Hill (N.C.) College, has made his father proud by earning an invitation to the Raycom Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Jan. 19.