Reasons Georgia should/won’t make the College Football Playoff

college football playoff logoBetween the disappointing ending to a once-promising season and the offseason juice provided by an exciting hire on the defensive side of the ball, you can’t blame fans of the Georgia Bulldogs for bouncing back and forth in a sort of manic depressive state so far this winter.

Optimism, pessimism — the Bulldog Nation has reasons for both. For example …

Three reasons Georgia should make the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff:

1. A complete season of a healthy Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley. Even with the loss of SEC record-meister Aaron Murray, the Dogs’ talent at the offensive skill positions is kind of mind-boggling. Despite all the injuries that kept many of them out for multiple games or the remainder of the season in 2013, Georgia had one of the most dangerous and prolific offenses in the country. If all those guys somehow manage to stay healthy in 2014, look out!

A healthy Todd Gurley makes Georgia hard to stop. (Associated Press)

A healthy Todd Gurley makes Georgia hard to stop. …

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Fan talk: Suspensions, coaching changes, a raise for Mike Bobo and more!

Josh Harvey-Clemons reportedly will miss the first three games of the 2014 season. (University of Georgia)

Josh Harvey-Clemons reportedly will miss the first three games of the 2014 season. (University of Georgia)

It’s been a busy week in Athens, starting out with the whirlwind departure of Todd Grantham and rapid arrival of his replacement, Jeremy Pruitt. Then there was the loss of the rest of the defensive staff (after a bit of last-minute wavering on the part of defensive line coach Chris Wilson), resulting in some grad assistants having to hit the road as recruiters along with Pruitt, and the revelation that Josh Harvey-Clemons will miss the first three games of next season.

Let’s see what readers have to say about all that in the Junkyard Mail. …

Jim P. writes: Bill, It’s only January and we already have Justin Scott-Wesley and Josh Harvey-Clemons suspended for games in 2014 (please correct me if I’ve missed others). Who knows if the kid driving with the suspended license (Shaq Wiggins) will miss any games? It might be time for Hutson Mason and other soon-to-be seniors to call …

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Mark Richt needs to send Bobby Petrino a thank-you note!

Jeremy Pruitt had a stellar year as defensive coordinator at Florida State. (Associated Press)

Jeremy Pruitt had a stellar year as defensive coordinator at Florida State. (Associated Press)

What a difference a day and a half can make.

Mark Richt entered the offseason presiding over a program that had failed to live up to its early-season promise, stumbling to an 8-5 record in part because of an inexperienced defense that didn’t seem to get any better as the season progressed. Despite strong sentiment among fans and boosters for a shakeup on the defensive staff, Richt said he didn’t anticipate any changes, touting the benefits of “continuity” — an idea that didn’t exactly sit well with much of the Bulldog Nation.

Then, suddenly, Richt’s program didn’t even have continuity, as two of Georgia’s more embattled assistants left. First, defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos quit for “personal” reasons, and then defensive coordinator Todd Grantham jumped ship Sunday to join Bobby Petrino at Louisville. With the dead time in college football recruiting about to end, the Dogs …

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At least we won’t have any Grantham-on-the-hot-seat talk next season!

Todd Grantham is on his way to Louisville. (AJC file)

Todd Grantham is on his way to Louisville. (AJC file)

You’ve probably seen that UGA has confirmed reports that Todd Grantham is leaving to take the defensive coordinator’s job under Bobby Petrino at Louisville. The words “getting while the getting’s good” immediately come to mind.

Lots of speculation on possible replacements, with former Texas DC Manny Diaz mentioned by a lot of folks. I just hope the search doesn’t drag out like it did when Grantham was hired. With signing day for recruits less than a month away, having someone already on board would be a big plus.

And at least other schools won’t be able to continue telling recruits, “Well, you know Grantham’s likely to be gone next year anyway.”

So, feel free to celebrate, vent, speculate, whatever …

Got something you want to discuss concerning the Dawgs? Or a question you want the Junkyard Blawg to tackle? Email me at  …

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Fan talk: Coaching changes, special teams, quarterback leadership, basketball Dawgs and more!

Secondary coach Scott Lakatos' departure appears to be of his own doing. (University of Georgia)

Secondary coach Scott Lakatos' departure appears to be of his own doing. (University of Georgia)

Let’s get straight to some Junkyard Mail. …

Terry D. writes: Bill, I couldn’t help but notice Scott Lakatos, who oversaw our miserable secondary, announced his departure from the UGA staff the very same day Greg McGarity was having his annual sit-down/evaluation with Mark Richt. I know Richt previously had said he didn’t anticipate any staff changes — continuity rules! — but the timing here is awfully curious. What do you think, coincidence, or did Greg put pressure on the head coach to make a change?

Coincidence, I think. Yes, the secondary was the most disappointing area of this year’s team and it’s true that Georgia’s defensive backs showed little progress over the course of 13 games, at least a portion of which could be laid pretty fairly at Lakatos’ feet. But McGarity made it clear this week in his interview with the AJC’s Chip Towers that he doesn’t get into the hiring …

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Early 2014 rankings have Dawgs in or near the Top 10

Todd Gurley is a big reason early predictions have Georgia ranked fairly high for 2014. (Phil Sears / USA Today)

Todd Gurley is a big reason early predictions have Georgia ranked fairly high for 2014. (Phil Sears / USA Today)

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 …

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Dogs’ 2014 prospects: Playoff contenders or more of the same?

Todd Gurley will be back in 2014. But will he ever be at full-strength? (Associated Press)

Todd Gurley will be back in 2014. But will he ever be at full-strength? (Associated Press)

Immediately after the disappointing loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, Mark Richt and his coaches and players were anxious to look ahead to next season.

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins was typical of the Bulldog locker room chatter when he talked about the Dogs just needing to fix “the little things” in order to be back on track.

That put the team in sync with many fans, who back in midseason 2013 already were waxing optimistic about Georgia’s chances next season once all those injured star players are back healthy.

After all, assuming Malcolm Mitchell, Keith Marshall and Justin Scott-Wesley come back 100 percent to join Todd Gurley and Michael Bennett, Mike Bobo’s record-setting offense should be a mostly veteran unit loaded with talent. True, the quarterback who owns most of the SEC’s records, Aaron Murray, will be gone, but projected starter Hutson Mason has years in the program and got a …

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Dogs’ loss to Nebraska saw the same old problems plus a new one

Artie Lynch caught six passes from Hutson Mason Wednesday, but dropped two crucial balls. (Associated Press)

Artie Lynch caught six passes from Hutson Mason Wednesday, but dropped two crucial balls. (Associated Press)

Playing in the rain on a chopped up field before a half-empty stadium, Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs looked during Wednesday’s game against Nebraska like a rusty team that hadn’t played in a month, and whose players didn’t seem too enthused about facing the same bowl opponent as last year.

What resulted was a smorgasbord of recurring problems that have plagued the Dogs all season — clueless pass coverage by the secondary, another catastrophic mistake on special teams (fumbled punt!), turnovers that gave the opponent a short field and quickly resulted in touchdowns, and spotty pass protection from an inconsistent offensive line that allowed Nebraska to put strong pressure on struggling former backup quarterback Hutson Mason much of the day.

That dismal mix of circumstances was exacerbated by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s worst playcalling since the Vandy game. When …

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Quarterback play, Gurley likely to be key factors in Gator Bowl

GatorBowl 2014 helmetsTeams with 8-4 records that wind up in mid-tier bowls generally have a few nagging problems, and that’s certainly the case with Georgia and Nebraska, who meet again Wednesday in Jacksonville.

The Dogs’ defense has been a weakness all season long, especially the secondary. The Cornhuskers have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball. Both teams have had injury problems, and both have lost their productive starting quarterbacks, but the Bulldogs’ high-scoring, explosive offense, averaging 38.2 points a game, stuttered only briefly in the transition from Aaron Murray to Hutson Mason, while neither of Big Red’s two backup QBs really has gotten any real traction. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr., who missed the final regular season game with an ankle injury, is the likely starter for the Huskers. He’s good at running the option but has completed just 53 percent of his passes and has seven passing touchdowns and seven interceptions.

No matter who’s at QB, Nebraska’s …

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Fan talk: Playing it coy on suspensions isn’t helpful

Josh Harvey-Clemons' grandfather says his suspension is because of an academic problem. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Josh Harvey-Clemons' grandfather says his suspension is because of an academic problem. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Hope you had a good holiday week. The King family had a very nice Christmas, including lots of UGA-related gifts exchanged, ranging from shirts, a fleece jacket, basketball shorts and books to a Bulldog cutting board and coasters featuring the arch!

And, of course, between feasting and watching a John Wayne movie marathon we spent a little time talking Georgia football as Mark Richt’s team was making its way down to Jacksonville for Gator Bowl practice— amid news reports that, predictably, a couple of members would not be taking part in the game because of suspensions.

That’s never a good thing, no matter what sort of infraction was committed by defensive players Josh Harvey-Clemons and Sheldon Dawson, but the way Richt handled the situation this week, repeatedly refusing to answer any questions about the suspensions, allowed rumor and speculation to run rampant for a …

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