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Bill King

Junkyard Mail: Bulldogs fans’ 2014 football expectations mostly optimistic

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John Theus, Todd Gurley and Hutson Mason are all key components in the Georgia offense's 2014 prospects. (John Kelley / UGA)

John Theus, Todd Gurley and Hutson Mason are all key components in the Georgia offense’s 2014 prospects. (John Kelley / UGA)

This week saw 11 members of Mark Richt’s 2014 Georgia football team named to the Athlon Sports Preseason All-SEC Team: Tailback Todd Gurley, inside linebacker Ramik Wilson and placekicker Marshall Morgan were named to the first team, while flanker Malcolm Mitchell, center David Andrews and outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins were second-team picks. Tackle John Theus and cornerback Damian Swann were picked for the third team, and defensive end Ray Drew and inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera were named to the fourth team. Gurley, Wilson and Floyd also were named to Phil Steele’s Preseason All-America Team this week.

Meanwhile, the Dogs were on something of a recruiting tear this week, beating out Bama for a verbal commitment from four-star tight end Jackson Harris of Columbia, Tenn. That followed Georgia landing commitments from defensive back Deandre Baker, outside linebacker Gary McCrae and linebacker Juwan Taylor earlier in the month. And with the Mark Richt Camp taking place Saturday, more commitments could follow.

Also, wide receiver Charlie Hegedus, who played at Lassiter High and spent two seasons at North Carolina State, announced he was joining the Dogs as a walk-on. He’ll be eligible to play immediately.

All in all, good week for the program. So I thought it was a good time to take the temperature of the Bulldog Nation on the coming season. On Facebook and Twitter, I asked followers of the Blawg this question: What are your expectations for UGA football in 2014?

Responses I got are included in this week’s Junkyard Mail. …

We start out on a very positive note. Jessy Fowler writes: Expect: 3,000 yards for [Hutson] Mason, 1,200 yards for [Todd] Gurley, improvement on defense, beat Florida and Tech, win the East, lose the SEC Championship Game, win the Capital One Bowl. Desire: win the SECCG, secure playoff berth, win the first ever College Football Playoff. Not too much to ask either way, right? GO DAWGS!

Dillon Brinson writes: Love your Blawgs, Bill. I think most fans would agree that barring another season of injuries to key players the Dawgs should at least make it to the SEC Championship game. It seems reasonable given the talent we have on offense and assuming Coach [Jeremy] Pruitt can turn the defense around. Beyond that point is anyone’s guess.

Hal Marshall writes: I expect the Dogs to bounce back to about where they stood in 2011 and 2012, meaning I see an 11-1 or 10-2 record and making it to the Georgia Dome as the Eastern champion. Not ready to go all the way and predict a conference championship. But, Bill, if Georgia did go 11-1 and was the loser of the SEC Championship Game, do you think that would be good enough to make the playoff?

Sally Jackson writes: My expectations for my Dawgs this season are the same as every season: 12-0, baby! Remember, you asked for expectations, not predictions. And I always expect Georgia to be able to beat anyone and everyone on the schedule. Now, if I had to predict a season record at this point, I think I’d go 11-1. I really think the only games in question are South Carolina and Auburn, and I believe we’ll split those. Go Dawgs!

And Asheville Dawg kept it succinct, simply writing: Bill, I see and expect another 10-win season. Good enough to win the East!

Sally, sounds like you’re almost as optimistic as my brother Jon, who not only always expects the Dogs to go undefeated, but makes that his official prediction as well. Jessy, I don’t know if 3,000 yards throwing is an overly optimistic expectation for Mason or not, but I will say that if he does match Aaron Murray in that regard I think Georgia will be in very good shape. Like Dillon says, barring injury, I think a big season for Gurley is a pretty safe expectation. And, Hal, I’d say the answer to your playoff question would depend on how many other one-loss major-conference teams there are (and who they are). But, especially if the loss in the championship game was a close one (as in 2012), I’d say a Georgia team with one regular season loss and a championship game loss would at least be in the conversation.

Not everyone was as optimistic as the above folks, however. Ed Carlton writes: Bill, my expectations are tempered by all the personnel problems on defense and the fact that I heard somewhere even Jeremy Pruitt is predicting that because he doesn’t have all the talent on board yet that he needs, he won’t be able to match last year’s showing with FSU. Yeah, the Seminoles had a green secondary, but the talent level was considerably above Georgia’s. I’m afraid I see a 7-5 year in 2014. However, my expectations for 2015 are considerably higher!

Ed, you’re right about it being unlikely Pruitt will be able to do quite the job in his first year in Athens that he did at Florida State. The question is how much the secondary will be improved over what Todd Grantham had last season. If there is even a modicum of improvement and Mike Bobo’s offense stays healthy and performs up to expectations, I believe the Dogs should still be able to have a much better season than you’re expecting.

Mark Richt and Mike Bobo are likely to continue to balance the Dogs' running and passing attacks. (Dan Evans / UGA)

Mark Richt and Mike Bobo are likely to continue to balance the Dogs’ running and passing attacks. (Dan Evans / UGA)

Checking out some of the other mail, Larry W. Tucker writes: It’s early, but on paper we should be loaded at tailback. Do you think that Bobo might try more running plays using up tempo and keeping a fresh back in there at all times? I know he is big on balance, but you sure can’t argue with the results Auburn put up last year.

Larry, I don’t see Bobo trying to emulate Gus Malzahn’s mostly-run offensive approach when he’s got one of the nation’s most productive passing attacks, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield backed by Brendan Douglas, A.J. Turman and the two freshmen, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, he is likely to keep a fresh back in — unless Gurley is, as Richt said recently, really pounding it. Then they’ll let him pound away.

Lamar Westbrook writes: Hey Bill, when will it end? Every time I check lately, a Georgia player is in trouble or leaving for another school!! Also the school happens to be Louisville every time. If I am Richt, I would let them leave but there is no way I would let them go to Louisville! Correct me if I am wrong, but can Richt put stipulations to where they can’t go to?

Lamar, Richt could indeed put restrictions on where departing players can transfer, but he chooses not to do so. I don’t see him changing his stance on that, either.

And, switching sports, SSI Sammy writes: Bill, what do you think of the proposal that the Georgia and Georgia Tech basketball coaches have come up with to play every third year at Philips Arena in Atlanta? Sounds to me like a good way to goose interest in both of the state’s top college basketball programs!

Sammy, that’s certainly the idea. As Tech coach Brian Gregory told the AJC, “We want to get it where it’s a big game in the state. I think that’d be good for us, and it’d be good for college basketball in the state.” Of course, it’s not a new idea. The game was played at the old Omni from 1981 to 1994, but then moved back to on-campus because UGA officials thought the Atlanta location favored the Jackets, which it probably did. Still, as an every-third-year arrangement, I think it might be worth trying. Since the game is usually mid-week, it would certainly make it easier for UGA supporters in Atlanta to attend. Anyone think it’s a bad idea?

Filling up unused lower-level seats could help improve the atmosphere at Stegeman Coliseum. (UGA)

Filling up unused lower-level seats could help improve the atmosphere at Stegeman Coliseum. (UGA)

Meanwhile, another possible tweaking to UGA basketball games is under consideration and it’s an idea I heartily back. Apparently, UGA athletic director Greg McGarity was impressed with the level of crowd intensity at Georgia’s two NIT games this past season. Even though they were small crowds, because those games were general-admission, everyone sat close to the court and it made for a much more boisterous atmosphere. That’s in contrast with regular Georgia home games at the Steg, where many of the lower-level seats that are assigned to season-ticket holders remain empty — something that’s bothered me for years. I’ve always wondered why, at some point, they don’t let fans from the upper levels move down into those empty seats. And that’s exactly what McGarity and his staff are trying to work out, the Athens Banner-Herald reported, with their thinking being that, possibly at the 16-minute or 12-minute mark of the game, fans will be allowed to come down and fill empty lower-level seats. Sounds like a great idea!

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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