With the beginning of the dog days of summer, we’re less than two months from the opening night of college football when South Carolina takes on Vanderbilt and Texas A&M makes its SEC debut. Two days later, Georgia takes on the University of Buffalo between the hedges in an opener where the Dawgs are back on the radar screen as a championship contender. With a large group of returning starters on defense and at the skilled positions, here are a quick set of five questions entering the pre-season:
Will the offensive line be able to mature in Will Friend’s 2nd season?
Coach Friend has his work cut out for him entering preseason practice in August. He has to replace three linemen who were selected in the NFL Draft this past April including two four-year players in Ben Jones & Cordy Glenn. I expect we are going to see a lot of change in the depth chart between the opening of fall practice and the Buffalo game given the summer development of younger players like Watts Dantzler and the arrival of John Theus. At this point, I’m nervous that the only spot that appears to be nailed down is Kenarious Gates at left tackle. At the end of the day, this team will go only as far as the offensive line enables them to go. Needless to say, Coach Friend will have earned his salary this fall if Georgia appears in the Dome again in December.
Who will step into the empty shoes on the newly departed Isaiah Crowell?
Without getting into the details of the dismissal of Crowell, the SEC Freshman of the Year, I think this question is closely tied to question #1 above. If the offensive line plays well, I’m not sure it matters who plays tailback to make Georgia’s pro-style offense go. If it doesn’t, it will be necessary to find a running back who can create a hole where one doesn’t exist in the style of Knowshon Moreno. The answer to this question depends on whether Keith Marshall or Todd Gurley can pick up pass protection quickly. If so, expect the young, talented North Carolina freshman duo to play a lot due to their game breaking ability. If not, we’ll see a lot of Boo Malcome and Richard Samuel at least early in the season. Malcome will probably be given every opportunity to take the job in the fall and hold off the freshmen.
Will this defense play like “Junkyard Dawgs”?
The front 7 led by All-American Jarvis Jones and anchored by “Motel 6” Jenkins and Kwame Geathers could be the best up front since the Brian Van Gorder defenses of 2002/2003. Todd Grantham has a great set of experienced linebackers that will have the ability to control games. This defense will be difficult to move the ball against on the ground and should generate a pass rush that will protect the secondary. The big question on the defense is whether the secondary will be able to hang on in Columbia in Missouri’s SEC debut due to multiple suspensions. If the defense plays well against Missouri, this defense could be right with Alabama and LSU at the end of the year.
Will special teams go from a liability to strength in 2012?
After the offensive line, I worry about special teams more than any other area. We’ll be breaking in two true freshmen as kicking specialists. With the roster attrition seen in the offseason, I don’t think Richt can risk sending a lot of starters out to cover kicks, so we’re going to rely heavily on young players who probably have not covered many kicks since early in high school. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of special teams breakdowns early in the season. If special teams just moves to neutral this year, we will win at least 1 or 2 more games than last year and win other games more easily.
Can Georgia take advantage of the schedule and make a run to Atlanta and beyond?
I’m tired of the talk about the “softness” of the schedule. Sure, Georgia misses Alabama, LSU & Arkansas from the West but will play one of those three in Atlanta if the Dawgs win the East. Georgia plays all three of its toughest division games away from Athens in Columbia (MO), Columbia (SC), and Jacksonville. Throw in a trip to the Plains and a season-ending rivalry game with the NATS, and you realize the schedule is no picnic. If Georgia wins the SEC with a record of 13-0 or 12-1, pencil in a trip to Miami to face the SECCG loser/USC/Oklahoma/Oregon for all of the marbles.
“Friends, it’s time once again to let the Big Dawg eat …”
Those are my thoughts. I would like to read your comments below.