A week ago, in the wake of the SEC’s 2012 schedule being announced, optimism was running wild in the Bulldog Nation.
This week, after watching the Dogs again collapse in the second half amid continued problems with special teams play and establishing a running game, many Georgia fans are tempering their optimism.
The Dogs still may start out next season as a Top 10 team based on a load of returning talent and an even more favorable schedule than this year’s, but there will be some big challenges, especially if the team is hit with major losses to the NFL. Orson Charles going pro would hurt, but the chance of the defense possibly losing two or three underclassmen is more worrisome.
Meanwhile, the offensive line, which was good enough against middling teams this season but gave up 33 sacks and faltered against the four best defenses Georgia faced, will lose three senior starters and will have little returning experience.
The Dogs will have to replace both their placekicker and their punter and still haven’t solved the problem of spotty special teams play overall.
Record-setting QB Aaron Murray will return but has some ball security problems to deal with (his turnovers when pressured or scrambling played a major role in three of the Dogs’ four losses), and Georgia could lose what little backup experience it has at the position if Hutson Mason decides to transfer.
And then there’s the running game, which went from inconsistent to pathetic late in the season as Isaiah Crowell found myriad ways to stay off the field. The bright spot there in 2012 is the arrival of Keith Marshall and probably at least one other freshman tailback, but we learned this season that signing a five-star recruit at that position is no guarantee of long-term success.
So, yes, Georgia reeled off 10 wins in a row this season and took the SEC East but as Mark Richt said, “our guys had a good year, not a great year,” losing to the four teams they played that ended up ranked in the Top 20 while getting their wins against teams that finished the season unranked.
All of which raises this question: Were the 2011 Dogs that much better than the 2010 team that finished 6-7, or was the SEC East title more a function of scheduling?
I think the answer is a qualified yes, the Dogs were much improved — mainly on defense. But they remained, as Richt noted, far from a great team. There’s no denying that a schedule that didn’t include the toughest teams from the SEC West probably was the biggest factor in Georgia’s 2011 turnaround.
They’ll get that break again next season. But it’s going to take more than that for Richt and company to improve on a 10-4 record.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg