Georgia hasn’t been ranked in The Associated Press preseason top 10 in back-to-back years since 1981-82.
The Bulldogs look poised to do just that.
Georgia opens the 2013 season at Clemson on Aug. 31 and returns nearly all of its offensive starters, including rising senior quarterback Aaron Murray.
Even with a defense suffering big losses — including two-time All-American Jarvis Jones and leading tackler Alec Ogletree — Georgia is being talked about as a team that can be among the elite again next season.
“We plan on being that, we hope to be that,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Thursday. “We’ve got to earn that. No one really knew for sure what was going to happen this past season. There were some big question marks if you remember a year ago — mostly offensively and offensive line probably moreso than any position. … So more questions will be asked on the defensive side of the ball this year. So those guys have got to do their thing and be able to come through.”
ESPN.com put the Bulldogs at No. 6 in an early top 25 poll. The Sporting News listed Georgia among 10 teams that can win the BCS national championship. In a tweet, ESPN College GameDay host Chris Fowler listed the Bulldogs among the top five teams next season.
Georgia finished 12-2 and ranked in the top five of both polls this year after starting the preseason at No. 6 in the AP.
The Bulldogs watched with the rest of the nation as Alabama pounded Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS national title game Monday night. Tight end Arthur Lynch tweeted during the game: “Nice to know the national championship was a month ago in Atlanta,” referring to Georgia’s 32-28 SEC title game loss.
Richt said of the BCS title game: “I didn’t watch every single play, every minute of the game, but I saw enough to see where it was going. I don’t know if it proves the strength of our league … but I think it gave more evidence of what we think is true that year-in and year-out, from the beginning of the season to all year long, the gauntlet of our league is rough and it prepares us for games like that.”
Alabama won its third national title in four years, but Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said the morning after winning his latest that “Georgia is five yards from being here.”
Georgia was focused on getting to Miami this year and Murray said he thinks the team will again have the national title in its sights in 2013.
“I think you’ve got to have huge goals,” said Murray, the first quarterback in SEC history to pass for 3,000 yards in three straight seasons. “I know we’re excited about the parts we have back. I know I’m very excited about the offense. It’s going to be a fun time with those guys. I know the defense is excited. We have a lot of young talent that’s coming back next year and some guys that are excited for their opportunity get out there and show everyone what they have.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark on defense will be at nose guard, a critical position in the 3-4 defense.
Kwame Geathers would have filled that spot, but the junior declared for the NFL.
“It’s more opportunity for the next guy,” Richt said. “That’s why we’re recruiting D-linemen like we are. We knew there was a possibility of having this type of attrition. … The ones that are coming in new have a chance to find some playing time that Kwame would have had.”
Junior college transfer Chris Mayes, junior Mike Thornton and redshirt freshman Jonathan Taylor are the top candidates at nose guard. Taylor could also play end.
“I think we’re going to have enough beef in there to get it done and enough ability,” Richt said
Georgia certainly isn’t short of scholarship players at quarterback. There are now five with Murray back for a final season and Mason coming off a redshirt year.
Mason would have replaced Murray as the starter if he went to the NFL, but Richt isn’t ready to say there’s a plan to get both in the game next season.
“I’m not sitting here saying we’re going to do anything like that,” he said.
Mason is the clear No. 2 quarterback. The others scholarship quarterbacks are redshirt sophomore Chistian LeMay, redshirt freshman Faton Bauta and freshman early enrollee Brice Ramsey.
“Hutson’s to the point where he certainly knows what to do,” Richt said. “He’s ready for the next step, which is playing time. What that looks like, I don’t know. The other guys, they’ve still got things to learn and perfect and get to the point where they’re ready to go.”
Notes: The first week of college for Georgia’s 13 early enrollees ends today. “They’re almost a class unto themselves,” Richt said. “It’s a really large number of midyear guys.” They will begin “mandatory” weightlifting sessions on Monday.
Mat drills workouts for the team start on Feb. 4. … Richt said he did not know if new defensive line coach Chris Wilson, the former Mississippi State defensive coordinator, would have any additional titles at Georgia. “I don’t know if there’s anything coming down the road or not,” he said. Richt called Wilson “a really, really good one.” … Richt said again he wasn’t sure if a coach with end up with the recruiting coordinator title that former assistant Rodney Garner had. … Richt said his Jon, the former Prince Avenue Christian quarterback who played at Mars Hill (N.C.) College, will take part in the Raycom All-Star Classic on Jan. 19 in Mobile for senior NFL hopefuls. “Does he have a shot?” Richt said. “You’re darn right he’s got a shot. If you’re in a game like that, you got a shot. You’ll get seen. We’ll see if somebody likes him.”