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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Fan talk: What’s needed for the Dawgs to finally win another national title?

bcs logo for 2014Let’s jump straight into some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …

David Rosenberg writes: I’m 43 and a 3rd generation Bulldog. I take pride in the fact that Georgia plays in what many consider to be one of the toughest conferences in football. However, I take no joy in bitter rivals like Auburn or Florida winning national titles; or even having the opportunity to play for one. Do I have respect for their accomplishments? Sure. Do I relish the idea that the “SEC” has a team in the game?  If it is not Georgia? No! Georgia last played for a national title 30-plus years ago. The loss to Alabama in the SEC title game in 2012 crippled their best shot at a title. The 2013 Dawgs beat South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee, Florida, and Tech! Now, if someone would have told me those wins would be on our schedule before the season started, you would have thought Georgia would be headed to Pasadena. But again, it is not to be. The season is not over and Richt and Grantham look like they will be …

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Dawgs must shake ‘been there, done that’ mindset against Cornhuskers

gator bowl logoA Georgia team that has suffered through extremely slow starts in its past couple of games now must get ready for yet another Florida bowl game against the same team they played on New Year’s Day last year.

They’ll be going up against a Nebraska team that also might not be thrilled with its bowl assignment, but which would like to avenge last year’s loss and end a three-bowl losing streak.

Will that make the Cornhuskers the more motivated team in Jacksonville?

True, the Bulldogs are now all talking the talk like the coaches want about respecting Nebraska and being excited about playing in any bowl game, but you’ve got to wonder how many of them are really thinking like receiver Michael Bennett initially did when he learned of UGA’s bowl opponent and tweeted: “Nebraska again? You kidding me?”

Michael Bennett initially wasn't too rah-rah about a rematch with Nebraska. (Associated Press)

Michael Bennett initially wasn't too rah-rah about a rematch with Nebraska. (Associated Press)

Bennett subsequently pulled that tweet down and now is on the bus, noting that he didn’t …

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Not a lot of fan happy talk when it comes to Todd Grantham’s defense

A lot of UGA fans aren't happy about the way Todd Grantham is running the defense. (Curtis Compton / AJC)

A lot of UGA fans aren't happy about the way Todd Grantham is running the defense. (Curtis Compton / AJC)

Let’s get straight to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail, which was dominated by concern over the state of Georgia’s defense and the future of coordinator Todd Grantham. Here’s just a representative sampling. …

Cohen Moore writes: Hey Bill! I’m a current Grady [College] student at UGA and next football season will be my final one in Athens. I just wanted to say that after watching Georgia play this season, the lone reason we have four losses is our defense. I blamed injuries for a while. But even with all those injuries, we still put up 30-something points a game. If a defense can’t keep opponents under 30, that’s a huge problem. I tend to be optimistic every season, so I think that if UGA can SIGNIFICANTLY improve the defense (which I think will happen), then next year should be nothing short of a BCS bowl. I would love for Richt to stay for the long haul and get …

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Should Bulldog Nation consider 2013 season a success?

Chris Conley plants the school colors on Grant Field. (Johnny Crawford / AJC)

Chris Conley plants the school colors on Grant Field. (Johnny Crawford / AJC)

I know there are lots of UGA fans out there who look at the Dogs’ just-completed 8-4 record and fume about another year without Mark Richt bringing an SEC championship or that elusive national title to Athens.

A season that, at the end of September, looked so promising with a Top 5 placement, huge wins over a pair of Top 10 teams and BCS championship chatter ended up so-so by UGA standards — in large part due to an unusually large number of injuries to key offensive players that put the kibosh on Georgia’s plan to outscore everyone while an inexperienced defense learned the ropes.

It definitely was a schizophrenic kind of year. On the one hand, no season that includes a loss to Vanderbilt (even the new, improved James Franklin brand of Commodores football) and doesn’t include a trip to the SEC Championship Game is going to sit well with most of Bulldog Nation. While Richt hasn’t made a habit of …

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Key to beating Tech in overtime: Give it to ‘Big Boy’

When in doubt, put the ball in the hands of Todd Gurley. (Jason Getz / AJC)

When in doubt, put the ball in the hands of Todd Gurley. (Jason Getz / AJC)

A Dawg fan’s confession: During that nightmarish first half of Saturday’s game at Grant Field, in which Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 20-0 lead and it seemed nothing could go right for Georgia, I thought we were looking at a potential blowout. I mean, a Tech team that makes its living running the ball in the triple option was just plain embarrassing the Dogs’ suspect defensive secondary through the air!

But as tough as it was to watch the Jackets having their way with the Dogs early on, I wouldn’t take anything for the way it ended, with Georgia and its rookie substitute quarterback storming back to once again break the Jackets’ hearts, this one in double overtime.

Spotting Tech three scores and still winning — it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

As Hutson Mason noted after the game, the first 28 minutes weren’t pretty. The worst part definitely was the play of the Georgia …

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