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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 10. Georgia Bulldogs

Todd Gurley
10. Georgia Bulldogs 

Coach: Mark Richt (14th year)
2013-2014 Record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC)

August 30th vs. Clemson
September 13th @ South Carolina
September 20th vs. Troy
September 27th vs. Tennessee
October 4th vs. Vanderbilt
October 11th @ Missouri
October 18th vs. Arkansas (in Little Rock)
November 1st vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
November 8th @ Kentucky
November 15th vs. Auburn
November 22nd vs. Charleston Southern
November 29th vs. Georgia Tech

Considering the insane amount of injuries and roster turnover Georgia suffered last year going 8-5 and posting a winning mark in the brutal SEC was pretty amazing. At different points in the season, the Bulldogs lost talented receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell, backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley and their star quarterback Aaron Murray. Much of those injured players are back and coach Mark Richt has a vast collection of offensive weapons to surround Hutson Mason, who will replace Murray at QB. Last year's slight stumble should give this team motivation, and they could be very dangerous in 2014-2015.

Backfield: Losing four-year starters at quarterback is terrible but Mason's experience and understanding of the Georgia system should help soften the blow of losing Murray. Mason saw some action late in 2013 and played pretty well. Mason doesn't have an arm that will absolutely blow you away but he can make the big throws and is great under pressure. In relief of Murray, Mason threw for 968 yards along with 5 touchdowns and three picks last season. He shouldn't have to throw too much; the strength of this Georgia team is probably their backs. Junior Todd Gurley returns after a great follow-up to a surprisingly strong freshman campaign. Although he did have some injury issues, Gurley still ran for 989 yards and 10 scores. When he is healthy and going strong, there is no better running back in the nation, not even close. He has the speed to absolutely wreck in open field but he can still run right through you. If he puts his head down, he certainly looks a lot like Adrian Peterson (although he still has a long way to go to reach that pedestal). The good news it that he doesn't have to be a complete workhorse, junior Keith Marshall can take pressure off of him. Marshall is also such a tough runner to stop because he can beat you in so many different ways. He might not be as powerful as Gurley, but he can still be a force between the tackles. If he comes back from ACL surgery 100%, Richt has two All-American caliber backs. Junior fullback Merritt Hall is an exceptional blocker who will find ways to contribute offensively. Richt also ensured future studs in the backfield by signing two great backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.

Receivers: The amount of options Mason will have to throw too this year is absolutely mind-boggling. Not only will he have Gurley, Marshall and Hall able to catch passes out of the backfield, he has a ton of talent at receiver and tight end. Malcolm Mitchell was one of Murray's favorite targets over the years and the junior has elite speed and hands. Justin Scott-Wesley is a big, physical receiver who can become a beast in the intermediate passing game. He still has the speed to burn defenders but expect that job to be manned more by Mitchell, Chris Conley and others. A senior, Conley has the chance to still be very effective although his targets may decrease with the increased health of Scott-Wesley and Mitchell. He is quick and elusive and although he does have room for improvement, he is a solid receiving option. Another one of Murray's favorite targets while at Georgia was Michael Bennett. Although Bennett was injured in 2012 he proved to be very reliable and useful last year. When you look at Bennett you might mistake him as a tight end but when he beats defenders and flashes his great hands you will know he is a receiver. Add in junior Jay Rome at tight end, who replaces steady veteran Arthur Lynch, and dangerous four-star recruit Shakenneth Williams and you have yourselves an extremely impressive group of weapons. The key will of course be health and whether Mitchell and Scott-Wesley can also come from ACL surgery and still be as effective as they were before.

Offensive Line: This could possibly be something that could hold the Bulldogs back this season. A unit that was extremely inconsistent in 2013, Georgia loses three starters from their line. The good news is that senior David Andrews has been a consistent performer throughout his tenure with the 'Dawgs, and he returns to anchor the O-Line. Andrews is the team's center and should immediately show a great connection with Mason, another long time Bulldog. Junior John Theus will be asked to play left tackle this year and protect Mason's blindside after being a guard throughout his time in Athens. A great run blocker, Theus must prove to be a better pass protector, extremely important considering he will be a tackle in 2014. Senior Kolton Houston could possibly see some action at left tackle but right tackle seems to suit him better. A reserve the past few years, Houston has the ability to become a force because of excellent size and experience. Help does arrive for Georgia as a pair of offensive tackles ready to make an impact join the team's roster. Dyshon Sims and Jake Edwards are two players Richt managed to keep in-state who could really help. Although they might not start, any unit could always use more depth. The best news for this line? They practice against the Georgia defense, which has a number of dangerous pass rushers, preparing them for the rigor of SEC football. Also, Gurley and others are pretty good blockers and should certainly help protect Mason and others, important for staving off injuries, of course.

Defensive Line: New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will run a 3-4 look this year, giving Georgia's excellent outside linebackers plenty of opportunities. The line will still have to provide a pass rush and losing two starters does hurt. Junior Sterling Bailey was pretty productive a season ago, notching 34 tackles and one sack. Even with Ray Drew (6 sacks, 8 tackles for loss), Bailey could become the No. 1 pass rusher. He should have more focus on him but he will up to the challenge. The middle is a question mark as the Bulldogs really don't have much experience at that position with the departure of Garrison Smith. Drew could possibly see starting snaps on at the other defensive end slot but junior James DeLoach is the probable starter there. DeLoach has loads of potential and could become a very strong pass rusher. He has a good mix of size and speed and can really hit the quarterback. The addition of five-star Lorenzo Carter adds another dimension to this line. Carter will be in the hunt for a starting role but he might not get it with the veterans in this unit. He still should be a monster, if not now in the near future. Him and Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) are two of the more complete pass rushers in this year's recruiting class. Lamont Gaillard was a very important find further north in North Carolina. The defensive tackle has an impressive motor and the ferocity to be quite disruptive. Another incoming defensive end, Keyon Brown has the ability to be a pass rusher or help in run defense. A redshirt is a real possibility but expect to see him be a very key factor for the 'Dawgs in the future.
Jordan Jenkins

Linebackers: Overall, I do not know if there is a better unit in major college football this next season. Georgia returns all four starters to these linebacker corps, and all four are loaded with experience and superb instincts. In the middle, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera are the veterans who just play the game in a great way. They are very versatile and good tacklers and are players the young guys on this defense can definitely look up to. Combined, the two had 245 tackles (133 for Wilson, 112 for Herrera) and 16 tackles for loss. The outside features two monsters, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. Richt does an amazing job of finding these guys and coaching them up and both really improved throughout 2013. Jenkins is an aware, agile threat who is an excellent tackler, especially in the open field. Meanwhile, Floyd is big and intimidating and really get into the QB's face and mind and really hurt his rhythm. These two combined 100 tackles, and 11.5 sacks and just as important, had 45 quarterback pressures, showing even when they weren't sacking him, they were making him uncomfortable. These four are All-SEC talents and should even compete for higher honors. Even better news is that there is an abundance of depth in this unit and injuries have really not been an issue for any of these 'backers.

Secondary: Moving on from the great linebackers, this secondary could be a huge issue. It was just plain bad last year and was very inexperienced, and the pass defense ranked 60th in the entire nation. Then, two transfers departed, as Josh Harvey-Clemons ditched away to Louisville and Tray Matthews stayed in the conference, deciding to go to Auburn. Along with the loss of cornerback Shaq Wiggins, this secondary has some problems. Senior Damian Swann is one of the few recognizable faces inside this secondary. Swann had 57 tackles and eight pass deflections and while not amazingly athletic, finds ways to make his presence felt. Joining Swann will be a player who at least appears pretty comfortable in the system in redshirt freshman Aaron Davis. Davis is a knowledgeable defensive back who can make big plays. Swann, who had zero picks in 2013 and Davis will really have to create turnovers, Georgia rarely forced the other team into mistakes. Sophomore J.J. Green is one of the leading candidates to take over one of the spots vacated by Matthews and Harvey-Clemons. He is a little bit small and might not be a huge help in coverage but he is a hard-worker who should tackle in space and help out. The number one JUCO cornerback is Shattle Fenteng, who arrives from in-state Hutchinson Community College. Fenteng is versatile and could push for playing time. He could move Swann, who can play nickel back, away from that starting role at corner.

Special Teams:  There are few kickers in the nation better than junior Marshall Morgan, who was a machine in 2013 and nailed 22 of 24 field goal attempts. The All-SEC kicker seemed to get better the farther away he was, going 7/8 from 40 or more and recording a very impressive long of 56 yards. Punter is a question mark but there are players ready to step up.

Every time Georgia has a down year they seem to come back much stronger a year later. Although 2013 wasn't a very down season that history should repeat itself. The 'Dawgs have so many weapons offensively and Mason is ready to step in and lead this team. The schedule is no cakewalk with early action against Clemson and against South Carolina. If the secondary can find some difference makers, this team is the best in the SEC East. That is, if they can stay healthy and recover from the injury bug that hurt them so bad last season.

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