The case for
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray recalls the precise moment he decided to return for his senior season. "Just minutes after we lost the SEC championship game," he says. "I was still on the field." Trailing Alabama 32--28, Murray had led the Bulldogs from their 15-yard line to the Crimson Tide's eight in a furious 59 seconds, but the game ended when his tipped throw was caught by Chris Conley, who fell at the five. This fall Murray will lead one of the nation's most explosive offenses, with 10 starters back from a unit that gained an FBS-best 7.09 yards per play last year. Combined with a young defense loaded with four- and five-star recruits, coach Mark Richt arguably has his most talented team. "We actually left points out there on the field against Alabama," says the 6'1", 208-pound Murray, who holds the Georgia record for career TD passes (95). "Coming so close has definitely been motivation for us."
The case against
As productive as the offense was last season, the line still surrendered 27 sacks, and Murray struggled with his accuracy when forced to scramble. On defense the Bulldogs must replace eight starters, including two on the defensive line and both safeties. Since 2008, Richt is 3--16 against SEC teams that have finished the season ranked in the AP's Top 25.
How long did it take you to get over losing the SEC championship game to Alabama?
I watched the game right after it was played, but I haven't seen it since. I didn't dwell on it at the time because we had a bowl game to prepare for. But I think about it more now. I reflect on it. It's tough to be so close, but that's football, man. It doesn't always go your way.
How surprised were you by running back Todd Gurley, who became the second true freshman at Georgia to run for more than 1,000 yards?
When we recruited Todd, we knew he was good, but we didn't know he was this good. As soon as he got on campus, he showed us in scrimmage situations that he was ready to compete at a high level. He still has things he needs to improve on, like pass protection, catching the ball and running routes, but he's got a chance to be very, very good this season.
Would you like another shot at Alabama?
Our goal is to win the SEC East, get to Atlanta [site of the SEC championship game] and then go from there.
Player to Watch
SophomoreJames DeLoachshould replace first-round pick Jarvis Jones at OLB on the strong side. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham may even put the 6'3", 270-pound biology major at end when he switches out of the 3--4 to a nickel package with four defensive linemen.
BILL FRAKES/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
BILL FRAKES/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Aaron Murray
Pass: 3,340 yards, 34 TDs
Run: 15 yards, 1 TD
RB Todd Gurley
Run: 1,280 yards, 17 TDs
Rec.: 80 yards, 1 TD
WR Malcolm Mitchell
Rec.: 710 yards, 8 TDs
Run: 26 yards, 0 TDs
Can you say SEC? The Bulldogs have one of the country's toughest early-season schedules: They play at Clemson (Aug. 31), then host South Carolina (Sept. 7) and LSU (Sept. 28). Things get easier after that, but dangerous games still loom, especially the annual date with Florida in Jacksonville (Nov. 2).
SI Power Rating
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