Is swing from pessimism to optimism justified for 2011 Dogs?

Will Aaron Murray make great strides in his second season as starter? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Will Aaron Murray make great strides in his second season as starter? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

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

576 comments Add your comment

Dawg79

February 15th, 2011
10:57 am

1st, why not lot to be optimistic about!

Bryan G.

February 15th, 2011
11:05 am

Let’s see how the first two games go before we decide to be optimistic or not

Bill

February 15th, 2011
11:06 am

The East is open, but it also was last year. Love the schedule for the DAWGS. Hope the new blood (recruits) bring a new attitude – like wanting to win as a team.

D A DoubleU G

February 15th, 2011
11:06 am

It is ALWAYS okay to be optimistic about the program we love.

Ask any hater (especially bitter, jealous Techie fans) and they will beg to differ. It drives them absolutely nuts that they still seethe G everywhere even after a disappointing season.

I cannot wait until September!!!!!

ALWAYS…..GO DAWGS!!!!!

gadawgs7

February 15th, 2011
11:08 am

I think its reasonable to be optimistic. We were a couple of plays a game away from winning five more games last season. Eliminating turnovers, a better running game, a defense in its second year of the 3-4, and a reasonable schedule should, at the very least, put us in the mix to compete for the SEC East.

DAWG07

February 15th, 2011
11:11 am

There is reason to be optimistic in 11. Whos would have ever dreamed that UGA could have finished with an exceptional recruiting class after the season and the Liberty Bowl that we didn’t want to go to.
The signs are up for the Dawgs but we must deliver on the field. Expect several newcomers to play prominent roles this fall.

GO DAWGS!

D A DoubleU G

February 15th, 2011
11:13 am

I am MUCH more optimistic about John Jenkins at Nose on the 2nd year 3-4 than ANY other recruit coming in.

I am also more optimistic about the 2012 Dawgs than the 2011 Dawgs.

2011 will be a year of positive changes. But we still drop a few. Any realistic fan knows this.

SBC Pastor

February 15th, 2011
11:14 am

I think we have reason to be optimistic, but it may take more than one year to see any trips to the SEC title game. I just hope that there is enough improvement this coming season to allow CMR to climb back up the ladder.

IveyLeaguer

February 15th, 2011
11:14 am

You’re right about the secondary, Bill. There’s a long way to go at Safety.
~~~

Cunk Rogers

February 15th, 2011
11:20 am

If we can get some immediate mileage out of a few of the incoming freshman class, especially Crowell and Drew, a big year is possible. Throw big John Jenkins in the mix and Sugar could be falling from the sky!

fss

February 15th, 2011
11:20 am

I dunno – it comes down controlling the lines on offense and defense and how well we run the ball. Right now, those are HUGE questions for us…

Cuz

February 15th, 2011
11:23 am

I am optimistic before every season. Part of being me I guess.

DawginLex

February 15th, 2011
11:23 am

I’m not sold that Murray is going to be the starter. Most likely, he will but I would venture a guess that Lemay is going to get more than the obligatory 1 series per game. If he can come in a grasp things quickly, I could see him and Murray going 40/60.

Richt can not take a chance on Murray getting injured and having no answer to come in and play.

Sorry but Mason isn’t going to be the answer.

OrlG8r

February 15th, 2011
11:24 am

I think the DAWGS are ready to win yet another, consecutive championship… like they’ve done the last 20 pre-seasons…..

JaxDawg05

February 15th, 2011
11:26 am

After a 6-7 year, all you can be is optimistic.

Cuz

February 15th, 2011
11:26 am

Bill with some of the guys we recruited in the secondary, my hometown guy Sanders is going to be fighting for some playing time. Rambo, you are also being served notice.

West Coast Dawg

February 15th, 2011
11:30 am

It’s definitely the time to be optimistic and excited about the Dawgs! It could very well be a great season. Our biggest concerns to address are prob strength and conditioning (change is already made) and offense. As much as people have latched on to the fact that we scored so many points, we seem to forget that we did everything in such a quick-strike way – our average scoring drive for 2010 was about 3:05! How could any defense maintain their level of attack when given such short breaks?? Bobo may be ok, but he ain’t great – has his name ever been bantered around for open positions…anywhere? Hopefully now that Richt has freed up some time, he will work with Bobo on how to control a game and not just throw points on the board. We are always in danger of losing a close game because of our inability to run the clock.

George

February 15th, 2011
11:33 am

Bill,

Not a fair estimate at all.

1- Murray, jacked up his stats, 17 of 24 td’s were against teams with losing records. Murray is actually winless, 0-6 in his career against winning teams. That’s with AJ Green. Imagine how bad Murray will be without AJ, Murray was 1-3 without AJ last season, only win was against Louisiana Lafayette. Murray had fine games against Vanderbilt & Idaho State.
2- Boise State is better than Georgia. They’ll be favored, will win the game, their QB alone will throw circles around Georgia’s defense.
3- South Carolina, with Clowney, is the cream of the SEC East. The article was written before Clowney joined the team. Keep that in mind.
South Carolina will be favored by 17 over Georgia, it will be a blowout. Remember, without AJ Green, Murray could not even score on South Carolina last season.
4- Georgia’s rushing game has got worse every year under Bobo and now ranks 10th in the SEC. Losing the offensive line coach, and getting Will Friend wasn’t an upgrade. Look for Georgia to continue the 4th year of downward slide trend in the rushing game and finish 12th in the SEC. Bobo frankly can’t scheme a winning plan for a rushing game over a season.
5- Defense was actually bad against the run. And Jenkins might help, but losing Belin as the Inside LB coach was a huge blow to the rush defense.
6- Losing Houston on defense means you’re #1 sacker gone. No experience to replace him.
7- 3 consecutive years of less wins. This is a disturbing trend, from 10 wins, to 9 to 8 down to 6 last season. Looking at 5 this season. If Richt knew how to fix it, he already would have.
8- Recruiting has been good for last decade. But Richt can’t seem to translate that into wins. Low graded Richt a D- for 2010 on how he finished, and how Richt wasted talent.
9- Off the field arrests. This is just out of control. It’s to the point where you only ask when, and how often, you know it’s gonna happen.
10- Entitlement problem. You have guys transferring like Gray & Mettenberger because they sense Murray was entitled to start. With Richt naming Crowell starter over King & Ealey, you have to winder what’s going on at Georgia. Thomas Brown & Blair Walsh have cited the Georgia entitlement problem also.
11- mcGarity. The AD can’t seem to do anything right. He had the boys working out formt railers last season, and scheduled Boise this season, he’s been a failure so far and this year looks worse.

sogadog

February 15th, 2011
11:33 am

The jury is still out on Grantham’s defense. Otherwise a pretty fair assessment. If the strength and conditioning program and player attitudes improve, and team leaders emerge, the Dawgs could find themselves playing in the Dome twice this year. If not, they go 7-6.

Do we know yet who the candidates are for the linebackers coaching position? That will be an important hire and should have some bearing on the Dawg’s performance next year.

DAWGS forever

February 15th, 2011
11:33 am

We need measured excitement. Good to see things are looking up for a change but we have really fallen of late. Get refocused and recalibrated now!

go DAWGS!

not so fast

February 15th, 2011
11:34 am

Murray has yet to prove himself in a big game. The tests will come early in BSU and SC. We’ll find out early in the season if the secondary and overall Def has improved during first two games. If the D gives up chunks like it did last season it’ll be another disasterous season for the dawgs. If the Off line performs as dismal as it did last season ditto as well.

I think keys to good GA season are Murray, Crowell and much maligned DC earning his fat paycheck.

Dawg_Mike

February 15th, 2011
11:35 am

I am optimistic as always, that is until we settle for field goals. If we start that crap again I am gonna lose it.

DAWGS forever

February 15th, 2011
11:36 am

George as much as it hurts that was a pretty fair overview. Mahalo!

Dawg_Mike

February 15th, 2011
11:37 am

George, you are a buzz kill.

James

February 15th, 2011
11:37 am

I was optimistic the last 3 seasons, but Richt’s teams got worse in wins each year. I’m not an idiot, I know now it’s going be worse than the year before as long as Richt’s there.

Gary

February 15th, 2011
11:37 am

I agree this could be a big year for the Dawgs. The schedule, once you get past the first 2 games, isnt as tough as it has in recent years. Big rivals like Auburn and Florida will not be as tough, and Tennessee although better, still does not have the talent of their glory days. I see a great opportunity to win at least 10 games and an outside chance to run the table if they get past Boise and SC. Go Dawgs!

Columbus Dawg

February 15th, 2011
11:37 am

Putting Ogletree at the one safety spot late in the season was a very good move, and will pay dividends this year. As for the other safety spot, there needs to be serious competition for that starting job, as the player who started there in 2010 regressed deeply after the 2009 collision with the Auburn back. Boykin will do a good job at his corner spot, but there needs to be competition for the pther corner spot as well. I think all in all we will see great improvement on the D.

We all know that the offense rests on the improvement of the OL. Ealey ran very well in games where he received adequate blocking, problem was the OL could only block the likes of Kentucky and Tech. We have to be able to play big boy football on the OL, and have not done so since Sturdivant was a freshman. I have never been so embarrassed as I was in 2008 trying to watch the OL get totally dominated by the Alabama and Florida D lines. This was why we fell from grace so quickly. I will go out on a limb and say that Coach Friend wants to make an impact worse than that fat pos Auburn D.A. that just went to Texas. Sorry, just could not stand to see one of Dye’s dips coming to UGA to coach. Look the Chickens of Columbia are better than usual, but I’m pretty sure old Leonard Postoasties would pick the Red Clay Hounds to win that one at home in 2011. If Richt gets serious about it like he has in the past, then he once again should prevail in the opener with Boise. get by those two, and I like our chances. It’s college, and momentum of various kinds plays greatly into great runs and championships. I was just as angry, and pesimistic as anyone when that clock ticked down in Memphis, but now things don’t look quite as bad as they once did.

how2fish

February 15th, 2011
11:38 am

@D A DoubleU G 11:13 I couldn’t agree more, we should show solid improvement this year. OrlG8r is you can’t be upbeat about your team before the season you should try another sport..or just hold your breath till you turn blue…troll.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajc sports editor, Nathaniel Kimbro and Brian Harbach, Georgia Sports Now. Georgia Sports Now said: Is swing from pessimism to optimism justified for 2011 Dogs? http://bit.ly/gyznfM #UGA [...]

how2fish

February 15th, 2011
11:39 am

Hey look Patrick is back only he’s calling himself George…

Dawg_Mike

February 15th, 2011
11:40 am

We might stand a good chance against SC if Clowney is academically ineligible to enroll….

Maryland Jacket

February 15th, 2011
11:43 am

For both teams, we’ll see later this year, say, around September.

swimdawg68

February 15th, 2011
11:43 am

Look what the addition of 2 players did for Auburn last year. I think the addition of Jenkins at nose and several of the young players will deliver a fairly stout defense. Orson Charles tells me things are different in the weight room than in the past, he thinks our OL will be much stronger. By the way, Orson is excited about some two tight end sets with him and the kid from Valdosta, along with some of our wide-outs, it will create big problems for defenses.

I agree we have 2 very tough games to start the year, but Boise in the Dome and USC in Athens should give us an edge. Murray will be even better this year than last and he was rated 3rd best in the conference last year as a “red-shirt” freshman. With the schedule we have, and our expected considerable improvement on both sides of the ball, I look for us to challenge for the SEC East.

James

February 15th, 2011
11:44 am

Same coaching staff pretty much, same head coach, same oc & dc, hard to imagine things getting better, when this staff just gets worse every year as far as winning goes.

SEC Football

February 15th, 2011
11:50 am

Winning the first two games will not make the season but how we play in those two games could tell a lot. Play well and win one of the games and we will have a good year. Play well and win both games and it could be a great year. I am putting more into how we play those two games more than if we win. May sound crazy but will be some new players in key positions that will determine the kind of season we have! I personally think you will see a different attitude this year for the positive.

Dbalcer

February 15th, 2011
11:53 am

I am excited about next year and will be rooting on my DAWGS.

duh

February 15th, 2011
11:54 am

NEXT YEAR IS TOTALLY THE YEAR!!111! PRE-SEASON NATIONAL CHAMPS, BABY!!!111!! BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK!!11!!1

kerryb

February 15th, 2011
11:55 am

DawginLex, How could you not be sold on Murray as a starter. The guy was the one of the top freshman QB’s in the country throwing for 3,000 yards and more than double the amount of TD’s to INT’s. Also scored some with his legs. As a freshman in his first year I thought he did a great job. He was the only thing to be excited about last year. What on earth does he have to do to sell him on you. Get your head out of your butt.

James

February 15th, 2011
11:59 am

Perhaps Murray could start by beating his first winning team and not going 0-6 against winning teams.

kerryb

February 15th, 2011
12:01 pm

James, if you are a UGA fan take your pessimistic fair weather behind to another team. Your bringing everyone down. Time to get positive about the future and quit living in the past. I’m tired of so called UGA fans and their down in the dumps attitude. If you don’t like whats going on, go somewhere else. We don’t need you as fans anymore. Enough is enough. If UGA wins the east next year you will be one of these sky is falling guys that will be saying then, “Well we won this year but next year we have the same coaches and will start losing again”.

chazzo

February 15th, 2011
12:10 pm

1) Listing Auburn, MSU, and Ole Miss as the three worst teams may be true but somewhat misleading as all three could likely be in the top 25 and two of them in the top 15 or so in the nation. We all know there is not an easy schedule in the SEC. That being said, it is far more favorable than the last three seasons.

2) Being optimistic “for some reason” about the O line doesn’t sound all that optimistic. Searles apparently complained/blamed the strength and conditioning and perhaps the players work ethic. then he got a nice fat raise to go elsewhere. There is a new sheriff in town. Who knows how he will adjust to a level of responsibility?

3) D-line is still suspect to me. I am optimistic but cautiously so. Nobody seems to be talking about linebackers. We are losing some key guys there. I know there is Samuels and some new recruits and the kid from Southern Cal, but there is certainly not a returning, experienced, cohesive unit. The backfield at least has that… a group of guys that have had a lot of playing time together (even if some of it involved running around aimlessly and blowing coverages).

4) OFFENSE? they will pull something together. The running game is still a question mark. I am more concerned about that the receivers. Line should be okay, and the TEs are superb.

Sounds like Harbach is writing a horoscope. There is just enough reserve that he can say he really didn’t call it that way. All these preseason write ups and polls are designed to sell magazines to football addicts during the offseason.

Last year was the final tumble of a wall built on a shaky foundation. This is the rebuilding year. It will be better than last year, and yes UGA could possibly win the East (for what it is worth). Look for 8 solid wins and the rest could go either way.

chazzo

February 15th, 2011
12:18 pm

George,

Mett didn’t transfer due to entitlement. He was kicked off the team for sexually assaulting a woman in a bar. He then assaulted a cop. I think it was a good kid got drunk kind of thing, but then again I don’t know him. He was a major talent, and I hope he does well at LSU.

chazzo

February 15th, 2011
12:21 pm

West Coast Dawg,

You make an excellent point about clock management. You have to keep your D off the field. Also, the couple of times we saw the two-minute drill last season (bowl game and UF). It looked like they had never practiced it.

DawginOH

February 15th, 2011
12:24 pm

A lot of it depends on the progress that Coach T makes in the S & C program. If Georgia can control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, this can be a really good team.

Friend will do a better job with the offensive line and Jenkins could be the missing piece of the puzzle on the defensive line, but the boys are going to have to be in good shape and ready to dominate.

SouthSide Dawg

February 15th, 2011
12:25 pm

Yeah but…. can they stop the run?

Bo

February 15th, 2011
12:28 pm

I am optimistic about the secondary it’s the O-line that I’m concerned about.

With the addition of Jenkins, I expect the D-line to be able to stop the run and pressure the passer. I think the secondary looked bad because they were (1.) afraid that the line wouldn’t stop a RB and (2.) getting beat because the opposing QB wasn’t getting pressured.

If the line can’t open holes, this could be a frustraing year for the offense. We don’t have AJ to keep the D honest.

yearofthedawg

February 15th, 2011
12:28 pm

I’m going to wait until after the first 12 games before I decide how good I think we can be.

tom

February 15th, 2011
12:30 pm

WHO THE HELL IS GEORGE????????

chazzo

February 15th, 2011
12:31 pm

PS George,

Gray is a great athlete. I wish him well. But, what did he ever do in a game that would convince you that he deserved to start? Honestly… I just never saw him get in there and make things happen under center (backing up Cox or Stafford). In my opinion (totally uninformed), Stafford was the big entitlement guy, and UGA was a stepping stone for him. Then again, despite struggling early, he was just a better QB than Cox, Joe T or Gray. There was a definite attitude problem with that group that came through. It just seems like there was some kind of infighting and not a lot of team unity. The #1 thing totally went to their heads. Then again, about 20 of them ended up on injured reserve.

It is a complex thing… these morale issues. Clearly, though, UGA could not have had another bummer year last year at the hands of an inexperienced upper classman, only to turn it over this year to another inexperienced player. Best to go with the Freshman that you see starting in the future anyway. I don’t know if that is entitlement. What I do know is, whether or not he “padded” his stats as you claim, the kid played like he wanted to win. That is a much needed attitude amongst the dawgs lately.

schmeckdawg

February 15th, 2011
12:32 pm

George/Jerry: You are a hoot!