Some of the earliest predictions on college football’s preseason Top 25 have Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs in or just outside the Top 10, which is lower than last season’s Top 5 preseason poll position but a lot better than the Dogs finished the season — unranked.
The highest credible ranking I’ve seen so far comes from Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com, who has Georgia at No. 10. Hinnen’s reasoning: “Aaron Murray’s gone, but Todd Gurley isn’t, and the Bulldogs seem to play their best defense when expectations are lower. (Having up to 10 returning starters on that side of the ball should help, too.) If the Bulldogs’ collection of injured receivers can return to full strength in 2014, this is still the likely SEC East favorite.”
ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach puts the Dogs just a notch lower, at No. 11. Says Schlabach: “Nothing seemed to go right for the Bulldogs in the second half of the 2013 season, from myriad injuries to the final minutes of a crushing 43-38 loss to Auburn to a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. But if there’s a silver lining in UGA’s disappointing 8-5 campaign, it’s that a lot of injured players are coming back in 2014. The Bulldogs will have to replace record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, but rising senior Hutson Mason performed pretty well in two starts after Murray suffered a season-ending knee injury. Georgia might bring back six starters on offense, along with top receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall, who suffered season-ending injuries. The Bulldogs will have to replace three starting offensive linemen. UGA might have back 10 starters from its underperforming defense, which started six freshmen and sophomores in 2013. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will be under fire to fix UGA’s problems on that side of the ball. The Bulldogs open the season against Clemson at home and don’t play Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M during SEC play.”
And Athlon Sports pegs Georgia at No. 12 in its early ranking, saying: “The SEC East is the early favorite as the biggest mystery in 2014. Who knows what to expect from Florida, and Missouri and South Carolina both have key pieces to replace. The Bulldogs return a good chunk of their depth chart next year, and Hutson Mason has a two-game showcase to make his case for the starting quarterback spot. Mason won’t have to do it alone, as running back Todd Gurley is one of the best in the nation, and Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell are a talented trio in the receiving corps. The biggest concern for coach Mark Richt is the defense, which allowed 29.4 points a game in 2013. Will another full offseason help some of the young talent on the Georgia roster? Linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd could be two of the best pass rushers in the SEC next year, while the secondary returns safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and cornerbacks Damian Swann and Shaq Wiggins.”
I have to admit that’s almost enough to lift some of my post-Gator Bowl pessimism about the Dogs’ 2014 prospects. And Gurley alone is a big plus in the Dogs’ favor. But, as I wrote last week, there are quite a few lingering problems that need to be addressed in order for Georgia to get into the College Football Playoff conversation — which at the very least means winning the SEC East.
So what do you think? Are these early rankings overly optimistic, or do you see the 2014 Bulldogs as a legitimate Top 10 to Top 15 team?
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