Posted: Wednesday, August 22nd 2012 at 11:26pm
Opinion: Dogs face tough questions -- but so does much of the SEC
By Morgan Lee Editor
It is a time of unbridled optimism, unblemished records and unswerving hope. It is the college football preseason.
Beware, however, as it’s quickly slipping away.
Beginning with next Thursday’s South Carolina-Vanderbilt showdown, the real thing will be underway. And, for some, all that bright-eyed expectancy will come crashing down with a realistic thud.
Will that be the case for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2012 -- as it has been for much of the past half-decade? Or will the Dogs finally soar back to the heady heights of 2002-05, when much of the SEC yielded to a Red and Black swarm?
Last season proved a maddening mix of both high and low, as the Dogs skidded out of the starting gate 0-2 only to win 10 straight -- in the process beating arch-rivals Tennessee, Florida and Auburn for the first time since 1982. The high-water mark came somewhere in the first half of the SEC Championship game, as Georgia showed it had the fire to play with then-No. 1 LSU -- until the second half revealed the Dogs lacked the depth or overall talent required to hang with the Tigers.
Has Georgia learned from those lessons? Are the Bulldogs in a better position in 2012?
Funny enough the answers to both questions could be “no,” and it still might not matter. Thanks to the vagaries of scheduling and the ebb and flow of programs within the SEC, the Bulldogs find themselves staring at a very accommodating slate that could see Georgia succeed through the regular season (the Dogs avoid current SEC behemoths Alabama, LSU and Arkansas), only to fall short in Atlanta again.
That said, Georgia’s schedule is no cakewalk and to even ensure another shot at SEC glory, the Bulldogs will want to improve over last year’s squad -- which featured plenty of holes that Mark Richt will have labored to repair.
Certainly there are plenty of strengths on Georgia’s roster, including:
-- A defense that returns 10 starters off a unit that ranked fifth nationally in total defense.
-- A junior quarterback in Aaron Murray that tossed 35 touchdowns as a sophomore.
But there are also plenty of questions in Athens -- some of which concern those perceived strengths:
-- How will an offensive line that must depend on several new faces gel?
-- How will the running back corps react after the loss of talented (if undependable) starter Isaiah Crowell?
-- Can the receiving corps step up if 2011 spark and the team’s second-leading pass catcher Malcolm Mitchell makes defense more of his territory (he will be playing corner back as well as taking snaps at receiver in 2012)?
-- Can Murray avoid some of the costly turnovers that haunted Georgia in its four losses in 2011?
-- Can Georgia’s special teams avoid the disaster that was 2011 -- especially with freshmen expected to take over placekicking and punting duties?
-- And will the limited numbers of recruited scholarship players in Athens (currently at 69 due to various means of attrition -- injury, dismissal, etc.) cost the Bulldogs in close contests?
These are questions that only time can answer, but they are enough to give Dogs fans pause -- even if this is the preseason.
Certainly the Bulldogs’ returning players should be a year wiser and, more than likely better. But will that be enough to push Georgia over the top?
Perhaps not in the grand scheme of the SEC, but the Bulldogs have just as many, if not more, strengths than their SEC East rivals (and relatively equal the amount of questions), and that should be see them back to Atlanta come December.
Georgia has the ability and talent available to win every game on its schedule (provided it avoids the injury bug), yet the Bulldogs also face the kind of issues that could sabotage a number of contests -- as do 11 of the 14 teams now in the conference (that still feels weird to write).
In short, it should be an interesting season in Athens and throughout the SEC. Keep those happy thoughts handy because few programs will go unblemished in 2012.
-- Morgan Lee is sports editor for Access North Georgia.com
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