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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Georgia Bulldogs

2009 Record: 8-5 (4-4 in SEC)
2009 Bowl: Independence Bowl (beat Texas A&M 44-20)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked (received 7 points placing them 33rd)
Head Coach: Mark Richt (90-27 at UGA, 50-22 in the SEC)
Non-Conference Schedule: Louisiana (9/4), at Colorado (10/2), Idaho State (11/6), Georgia Tech (11/27)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 28.9 points per game (7th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 161 (7th in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 201 (7th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 362 (8th in SEC)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 25.9 points per game (10th in SEC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 126 (3rd in SEC)
Passing Yards/Game: 213 (9th in SEC)
Total Yards/Game: 339 (7th in SEC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -1.23 per game (last in SEC, 118th in Nation)
Penalties: 67 yards per game (last in SEC, 106th in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 10
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Logan Gray, Jr (5 of 12 for 31 yds, 2 INT)
Rushing: RB Washaun Ealey, Soph (125 carries for 728 yds, 3 TD, 5.7 ypc, 79 ypg)
Rushing: RB Caleb King, Jr (114 carries for 616 yds, 7 TD, 5.2 ypc, 59 ypg
Receiving: WR AJ Green, Jr (53 rec, 808 yds, 6 TD, 5.3 rec/game, 15.2 ypc, 80.8 ypg)
Tackles: LB Marcus Dowtin, Jr (57); CB Brandon Boykin, Jr (54)
Sacks: DE/OLB Justin Houston, Jr (7.5)
Interceptions: CB Brandon Boykin, Jr (3)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #15
Lindy's: #21
Mark Schlabach: #23
Phil Steele- #19
Rivals: Not Ranked
Scout- #20
Sports Illustrated: #22
Sporting News: #27

2010 Pre-Season SEC East Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2
Phil Steele: #2 (tied with South Carolina)

2010 Bowl Prediction
Athlon Sports: Capital One Bowl (vs. Wisconsin)
Phil Steele: Outback Bowl (vs. Wisconsin)

Mark Richt has the best winning percentage of any coach in the history of Georgia football (well if you don't count Robert Winston going 5-1 in 1894). Richt has coached Georgia for 9 seasons and has won double digit games in 6 of those, finished in the Top 5 twice and in the top 10 five times. However, Richt finds himself the center of many "hot seat" questions. Georgia had a tough year in 2009 as they finished 8-5 and it was the worst record that Richt has had at the University of Georgia. Richt fired defensive coordinator Willie Martinez prior to the bowl win over Texas A&M. Richt has replaced him with Dallas Cowboys DL coach Todd Grantham (Grantham has coached under Frank Beamer, Nick Saban and Romeo Crennel). Grantham then added Vanderbilt LB coach Warren Belin and UConn DB coach Scott Lakatos to complete his staff. Grantham has shifted to a 3-4 defense that he describes as "we want to be agressive. We want to attack. We want to be relentless in our pursuit of the ball." Being a UGA fan and alum I have already taken a stab at the Q&A that I usually post in the pre-season previews (you can find it here). I wanted to get a different perspective of the 2010 Georgia Bulldogs so I enlisted Greg Poole of the Leather Helmet Blog to answer some different questions for us about the Dawgs.

Georgia returns 10 offensive starters and the most starts on the Offensive Line in college football. What do you think Georgia needs to do differently than they did last year in order to be successful?

Nothing! The Dawgs needs to start 2010 where they left off in 2009. That is, they must go back to the foundations of Georgia football. By the end of last season Georgia was comfortable and confident as a running team. All the pieces of that running game are back and reinforced. UGA can be a team that runs the football and stays with the run when things get tough. Consistent rushing success will get the passing game going. Few teams will be able to both stop the run and cover Georgia's talented receivers.
The offense is as experienced as Georgia has fielded in years. The only question mark is at quarterback. Aaron Murray will have been on campus for 20 months when the season starts. He is smart and able. Yes, there will be mistakes but QB play will not lose games this year. Offense has not been the problem at Georgia.

Todd Grantham was brought in to replace Willie Martinez and has brought with him a 3-4 defense and two new defensive coaches in Warren Belin and Scott Lakatos. Which players do you feel will benefit most from the change and how long do you think it will take before Georgia is comfortable playing in this new defense?

Unlike many Georgia observers, I see this defense coming along relatively quickly. The problem is that South Carolina and Arkansas are games 2 and 3 (I look for UGA to be 2-1 after Arkansas but if they are 3-0 the SEC could get very interesting).

My outlook for this defense is based on two things:
A) Improvement is an easy target. For several years UGA's defense has been passive and, at times, woefully prepared.
B) Defense is attitude first and foremost and Coach Grantham's attacking style will cover some early schematic limitations. No more "bend but don't break." No more "read and react."

I am eager to see Justin Houston rushing the passer from outside linebacker. Additionally, all the DB's should be able to display their considerable athletic ability in the system. Bacarri Rambo, Jakar "Hitman" Hamilton (J.C. transfer), Brandon Boykin, Vance Cuff and Branden Smith all will benefit.

A.J. Green is interested in returning punts. Would you like to see him in that position or would you like to see someone else get that opportunity?

I would absolutely love to see A.J. returning punts but hope that I do not. Coach Richt has other choices that do not risk injury to the best wide receiver in the game. Let A.J. return a punt in the fourth quarter of the SECCG or BCS Championship Game when your up by 30 or down by 3. Seriously, if the return game were horrible I'd say to play him but it is not. Branden Smith and Carlton Thomas are excellent punt returners and Logan Gray is the worlds greatest fair catcher.

What team on the schedule do you want to beat the most?

F-l-o-r-i-d-a. This series has gotten out of hand. Georgia's lead in the series has been cut to 47-39-2. Gators are annoying, among other reasons, because most of their fans are not aware of their historical inferiority. If the Dawgs continue losing at the current rate reptiles will draw even in a decade.

We need to drain the swamps in Baja Georgia. Beating Florida must be at the top of Coach Richt's to-do list. A win against the Gators puts UGA in the SECCG and cements the best recruiting class in a generation, IMHO.

Who is the best player on Georgia that nobody talks about?

Other than O-linemen who are always under-appreciated - Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier the fullbacks. In Georgia offense they are deployed primarily as blockers. Thus, no respect but great responsibility.

What player (besides QB Aaron Murray) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Both lines have to play to their potential from day one and increase their performance as the season progresses. The O-line is experienced and should be one of the keys to success. The D-line, however, is a different story. DeAngelo Tyson, Abry Jones and Demarcus Dobbs are likely starters in the new 3-4. Just how quickly they become effective (remember South Carolin and Arkansas are games 2 & 3) as a unit will tell the tale. Key reserves (possible starters) on this unit are Brandon Wood, Kiante Tripp, Kwame Geathers and Derrick Lott.

Which newcomers besides Aaron Murray do you think will have an impact for Georgia this year?

Three come to mind immediately: Jakar Hamilton (J.C. transfer - 4 star), Alec Ogletree (true freshman - 5 star) and Kwame Geathers (redshirt freshman - 4 star). Hamilton transferred from Georgia Military and has impressed. Ogletree has the tools to get extensive playing time this year. Geathers comes from a football family. He has the size (6-6/310) to be a major force at nose in the 3-4. After reporting over-weight and out of shape last year, He is reported to have gotten himself ready to contend for a starting role.

Reuben Faloughi is a redshirt freshman who may begin to have an impact this year at outside linebacker. Faloughi came to UGA last year as a perferred walk-on and was awarded a scholarship after an excellent spring and a start in the G-Day game.

What are your thoughts on the "Mark Richt is on the hot seat" question?

Ridiculous. Coach Richt enjoys overwhelming support. The headlines about Richt on the hot seat are about creating page views through sensational headlines and not fact. That said, he is a football coach in the SEC. If his teams continue to show poorly against the elite of the conference the temperature of his seat will rise - quickly.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

9-3 will be a successful (if uninspiring) campaign but a 10 win season is achievable given the schedule. If the Dawgs achieve a 10 win season including a win in the Cocktail Party it will be a big turning point for the program. It could happen. Don't bet the mortgage payment!

Thanks to Greg for helping us out with the UGA preview. Make sure to visit his site, Leather Helmet Blog,  for UGA news and views and for SEC information. You can also follow him on twitter @ecdawg.

Previous SEC Previews
Auburn Tigers
Kentucky Wildcats
LSU Tigers
Mississippi Rebels
South Carolina Gamecocks
Vanderbilt Commodores

Next Preview: FIU Golden Panthers

Previous Pre-Season Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Tech Hokies
Big 12- Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma SoonersTexas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Purdue Boilermakers
C-USA- Houston Cougars,  SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Tulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
Independent- Navy Midshipmen
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
Sun Belt- North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies

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