Redshirt junior quarterback Aaron Murray shattered Georgia’s single-season record for touchdown passes last season with 35, but his place in Bulldogs history would be enhanced by an SEC championship. David Greene and D.J. Shockley are the only quarterbacks in the Mark Richt era to lead the Bulldogs to a league title, and Murray last season became the first Georgia quarterback since Shockley to get the program into the league title tilt. Murray could have a decision to make after this season whether to leave early for the NFL, and that definitely will be the case for redshirt junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, an All-American last season. And what about defensive coordinator Todd Grantham? Georgia rewarded him this summer with a raise and a contract extension, but could a banner year result in him getting college head-coaching offers or more lucrative offers in the NFL?
In the polls
The Bulldogs were picked at SEC media days to repeat their East Division title of a year ago, and they were ranked No. 6 in the USA Today preseason poll as voted on by the coaches. Georgia has not been ranked this high to start a season since 2008, when the Bulldogs were No. 1 for all of one week before being passed by Southern California. That UGA team wound up with a 10-3 record and a Capital One Bowl championship, having been hammered by Alabama and Florida during the regular season as well as being upset by Georgia Tech. There would be 8-5 and 6-7 seasons that followed those ’08 Bulldogs, but last year’s 10-win team and the returning talent have coaches and media in agreement that this is a top-10 program again.
Swing vote of confidence
Georgia has the potential to be favored in every game this season, but the Bulldogs could be derailed as soon as the second weekend.
The SEC rewarded newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M with home league openers on Sept. 8 and made Georgia and Florida as the marquee opponents. The Tigers won their final four games last season to finish 8-5, and they have a dynamic offense led by dual-threat quarterback James Franklin, who accounted for 3,846 yards of total offense last season in his first year as a starter.
Missouri signed heralded 6-foot-6, 220-pound receiver Dorial Green-Beckham in February, and the Bulldogs will have to counter him without the services of top cornerback Sanders Commings, who is serving a two-game suspension.
Freshmen already have made an impact in Georgia’s kicking game, with Marshall Morgan taking over the place-kicking role from Blair Walsh and Collin Barber becoming the successor at punter to Drew Butler. Where the newcomers could provide a potentially larger dent is at tailback, where Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley have been in the mix along with redshirt sophomore Ken Malcome and redshirt senior Richard Samuel. Marshall and Gurley were top-50 national prospects out of North Carolina and like most freshmen tailbacks displayed a better ability to run than pass-protect in preseason camp.
Georgia’s biggest concerns are in the kicking game — what if both Morgan and Barber struggle? — and on the offensive line. The Bulldogs have some talent up front, but it is very young. David Andrews, the likely starting center, and Watts Dantzler, who could get playing time at right guard and right tackle, are sophomores who played very sparingly last year but now must match up against stout defenses such as South Carolina and Florida. Of course, facing Georgia’s defense on a daily basis this month could speed up the maturity of the offensive line, which also has true freshman John Theus at right tackle.
Theus arrived this summer as a top-five tackle prospect nationally, and he immediately started holding his own against the likes of senior defensive end Cornelius Washington in practice. The 6-6, 309-pounder was the first freshman Mark Richt guaranteed would play this season, and he was getting most of the first-team reps after the first week of practice. Marshall and Gurley have the potential of grabbing more headlines should one or both eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game this season, but Theus heads into the year being the team’s most likely candidate to earn all-freshman honors.