Maybe it’s the Dream Team, maybe it’s just the natural swinging of the pendulum, but some of the national media pessimism about Mark Richt’s program is starting to lift, just a little.
Take College Football News’ Brian Harbach, who earlier picked Georgia to finish ninth in the SEC in the coming season.
Now Harbach is taking another look and writes: “The more I pay attention to what Mark Richt has done this offseason, the more intrigued I become with their chances to jump up from a year of disappointment to an SEC East title.”
Harbach acknowledges that Georgia’s decline from preseason No. 1 over the past three seasons has been “clouding the perception of the program,” but putting that aside, he says, “there are more than a few reasons to be excited about UGA’s opportunity this fall and it is only fair to look at the other side of the coin to see the full picture of this Georgia team.”
One big factor in thinking the Dogs might bounce back, Harbach says, is the schedule. While a lot of folks think opening with what likely will be two Top 10 teams in Boise State and South Carolina looks pretty daunting, Harbach says “the SEC isn’t a mediocre ACC team and this isn’t some meaningless bowl game” so “you won’t see me picking Boise to beat Georgia in Georgia.”
He goes on to note that the Dogs play the Gamecocks at home and get “what most feel are the three worst teams in the SEC West (Auburn, MSU and Ole Miss).” Plus Florida has changed coaches “and Kentucky/Vanderbilt are still in the East. That looks like a pretty manageable SEC slate of games.”
Beyond the schedule, Harbach notes Aaron Murray will be back at quarterback “and while the term Sophomore Slump does exist, most players make the most improvement in their second year. Having Aaron Murray as the returning starter and in his third season at UGA is a huge plus for the Dawgs.”
Harbach takes a remarkably positive view of the Dogs on the other side of the ball, saying “the Georgia defense was actually pretty good last year … with a brand new scheme UGA had the fourth rated total defense and the fifth rated scoring defense in the SEC.” He thinks the “secondary should be very strong” and overall feels “one huge advantage Richt has going into this season is that he doesn’t need to worry about the defense.”
The offense needs attention, Harbach says, “but for some reason I am more confident about the offensive line than in past seasons” thanks to the departure of Stacy Searels, who “just wasn’t getting the job done.”
Harbach isn’t yet ready to revise his preseason estimation of where the Dogs will finish, but says, “The SEC East is wide open, any of four teams can win the division and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if any of the four do win it. When you actually break down the Georgia team it isn’t out of the question to see them having a big year.”
Overall, a pretty fair assessment of Richt’s team, though I’m not sure I’m quite as sold on the Dogs’ secondary as Harbach is.
So what do you think? Was Harbach closer to the mark picking the Dogs ninth in the conference, or is this newfound optimism justified?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg