Will the Georgia Bulldogs Contend for the SEC East Title in 2014?
by Brent Larson
Few teams were struck by the injury bug worse than the 2013 Georgia Bulldogs, as a number of key players missed time with injuries throughout the year, and a year that started with a lot of promise ended with a disappointing 8-5 record. However, the Dawgs return more than enough talent to contend for the top spot in the ultra-competitive SEC East. With a little better injury luck and some quick development on the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs should be right in the thick of the race for College Football tickets.
The Georgia offense is expected to go as far as Todd Gurley can carry it. Despite missing three games in the middle of the season due to injury, Gurley still managed to rack up 989 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground, averaging an impressive 6.0 yards per carry. Once again fully healthy, Gurley should once again be among the favorites to lead the conference in rushing. Running mate Keith Marshall, who missed most of the previous season with a torn ACL, should be ready to contribute by the fall as well, giving the Bulldogs perhaps the most talented running back duo in the country.
Apr 12, 2014; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (3) runs for a touchdown during the first half of the Georgia Spring Game at Sanford Stadium. Red defeated Black 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports.
For the first time since 2009, the Bulldogs will start a season without Aaron Murray at starting quarterback. Senior Hutson Mason, who patiently waited for the starting job to open up, actually made two starts late last season after Murray went down with a torn ACL and competed fairly well. Mason has a talented crew of receivers to work with, highlighted by Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell. While it is unfair to expect the level of production that Murray gave UGA over the last four seasons, a good year from Mason could be the deciding factor in Georgia’s race to get a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The strength of the Georgia defense, led by new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, will be the linebacking corps. Senior ILBs Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, who each racked up over 100 tackles a season ago, return in the middle, while OLB Jordan Jenkins notched 12 tackles for loss and five sacks off the edge. The secondary figures to be a work in progress, but does benefit from the return of senior CB Damian Swann. Sophomore Tray Matthews, one of the top safety recruits in the country last year, should take a big step in his development after seeing significant playing time as a true freshman. If the Bulldogs are going to contend for College Football Playoff tickets
, they are going to need the defensive backfield to grow up quickly.