Fort Lauderdale -- The cream of football journalism had gathered for a media party at our hotel overlooking the ocean — the Atlantic, I believe it is — when esteemed former colleague Mark Schlabach, lately of ESPN, rushed over and said, “Aaron Murray’s staying.” And we managed to tear ourselves away from our paella to ponder where this puts the Georgia Bulldogs headed in the 2013 season. (Never mind that the 2012 campaign has one game to go.)
Pretty darn high, we decided. (I know exactly where Mr. Schlabach has the Bulldogs in his not-yet-published Top 25 for 2013, but I’ll let him do those honors.) I’d say Georgia has again become the favorite to win the SEC East, and I’d say — this is just me — this again puts the Bulldogs at/near the top five.
Figure Alabama will be preseason No. 1. Figure Notre Dame will be up there, too, and Texas A&M. (I sat in on a press conference for award winners later this afternoon, and someone asked the Heisman holder Johnny Manziel if he thought the Aggies would be ranked No. 1 in August. He smiled and said, “I feel like we’ve got a lot of tools coming back.”) And Oregon, now assuming Chip Kelly stays, will be good again, and Stanford and Ohio State and Louisville and Clemson, too. Plus the three best teams in the SEC East, which makes a Top 11, does it not?
But I’d told Noah Coslov of CineSport earlier Sunday that I thought the East would be a three-way tussle involving Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, and that the Gamecocks would hold the edge if Murray left for the NFL. But apparently he’s staying, and he’s a very good college quarterback, and you’d have to think Georgia is again the East’s top dog, pun somewhat intended.
I know, I know. The Bulldogs have to replace nearly their entire defense, and that won’t be easy. But all those banner recruiting classes have created depth, and the offense should be among the very best in the land. The schedule is tough early — Georgia opens at Clemson and must play South Carolina and LSU in September — but if the Bulldogs are going to stay relevant they’re going to have to prove they can handle a more taxing regimen.
I’m not going to go so far as to say Georgia punched its ticket to the 2014 BCS title game one night before the 2013 edition is played. (Crazy as I am, I’m not that crazy.) Still, Murray’s announcement should put the Bulldogs back in the ol’ hunt. They were five yards and five points short of being here. Maybe they’ll find those five yards and five points next time.
(For the record, this marks the second time I’ve ducked away from a BCS media party to react to breaking news. The first was in January 2007, and we were in Scottsdale, Ariz., when word circulated that the Falcons had hired Bobby Petrino. I rushed back to the room and proclaimed it a splendid move. I slightly missed that one.)
By Mark Bradley