New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who coached in the last three BCS title games, has to turn around a unit that gave up the most yards per play (5.4) of the Mark Richt era. The Bulldogs also allowed 29.0 points per game, 10th in the SEC. There was a different vibe around the D this spring, with many players talking of a culture change since Pruitt's arrival.
The secondary is a source of concern. Richt dismissed cornerback Josh Harvey-Clemons and safety Tray Matthews for behavioral issues, and cornerback Shaq Wiggins transferred. Senior corner Damian Swann is now the leader of a backfield that must be better if Georgia is to contend for a playoff spot. The good news is that the secondary will back up the SEC's best group of linebackers, including All-SEC pick Ramik Wilson (133 tackles, four sacks) and Jordan Jenkins.
The offense has a giant question mark at quarterback, now that the SEC's alltime leading passer, Aaron Murray, is gone. But new starter Hutson Mason, a senior, knows coordinator Mike Bobo's offense. Receiver Michael Bennett (538 yards, four TDs) will be a top target, though the Dawgs will lean on tailback Todd Gurley (989 rushing yards, 10 TDs), a Heisman contender.
Senior center David Andrews has started 27 games in his career and is one of only two returning starters on the Bulldogs' offensive line. His chemistry with new starting QB Hutson Mason could make or break this offense. The 6'2", 294-pound Andrews will have to be a leader on a line that will pave the road for Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and the rest of Georgia's deep stable of backs. If the O-line doesn't jell quickly, the Dawgs will be in trouble.
A road meeting with South Carolina in Week 2 is the key to the Bulldogs' quest for the SEC East title. If they dispose of the Gamecocks, they could well finish the season unbeaten, with a trip to Missouri on Oct. 11 and a home date with Auburn on Nov. 15 looming as the biggest potential stumbling blocks.
SI POWER RANKINGS / By Rotowire.com
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SPECIAL TEAMS 82%
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
Hutson Mason's got some game reps under his belt, and that's an advantage. It's not like he's stepping into a role where he's playing for the first time. The depth in their backfield is phenomenal. That helps for Mason's transition, because you're not going to have to lean on his arm to win ball games. Having a strong run game can only open up throwing lanes for the quarterback—and the strength of their offense will be their running. I think our tempo helped us against their defense last year, and we were able to wear them down a little bit. They had a couple of young guys filling in reserve roles since they had some injuries. We were able to isolate those guys. But for whatever struggles they had last year on defense, they return eight starters. At linebacker they have [Ramik] Wilson, who's an All-SEC player. Their linebackers are their strength, but up front, with Sterling Bailey and Chris Mayes, they can get after you too. I've heard Jeremy Pruitt's come in and really made an impact on the overall culture. With their effort and tempo in practice, he's brought a new energy level.
GREG MCWILLIAMS/ICON SMI (WILSON)
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES (ANDREWS)