Georgia Football: Can the Bulldogs Win the SEC Title in 2012?

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Malcolm Mitchell will be one of Georgia's key players this season.

<p> Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?</p>

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 8 Georgia. The Bulldogs are the defending SEC East champions and return quarterback Aaron Murray and one of the conference's best defenses. However, Georgia must replace a couple of key players on the offensive line, along with navigating suspensions in the secondary.

Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Optimism sure runs high in May. I believe I’ve talked myself into at least five teams with a chance to win the SEC if everything breaks right. Deep down, I know it’s going to be LSU, Alabama or possibly South Carolina. So here’s the case for Georgia anyway: The defense led by Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo will be nasty, but I’d like to see how Georgia holds up against teams like Florida and Tennessee playing a little closer to form on the offensive side of the ball. Georgia even faced Vanderbilt before the Commodores fully committed to quarterback Jordan Rodgers. On offense, Aaron Murray could be the SEC’s top quarterback if he can cut down on his 14 picks. Despite Isaiah Crowell’s issues last season, he still managed to rush for 850 yards as a freshman. And of course, you have to love that schedule. The SEC West offers up Ole Miss and Auburn. Georgia took advantage of the lucky schedule last year, using wins over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn to clinch the East while South Carolina went undefeated against the division. If Georgia can win the East, sure, I’ll give the Bulldogs a shot to defeat the West champion in Atlanta, despite what LSU did to Georgia in the second half of last year’s SEC title game. Here’s the case against Georgia: South Carolina may be the better team, and the Gamecocks face Georgia in Columbia. The Bulldogs’ SEC opener at Missouri for the Tigers’ first game as a member of the new league is worrisome, too. James Franklin, the quarterback not the coach, can throw the ball around, and he’ll do it against secondary hindered by suspensions, including Rambo. By Oct. 6, Georgia could be facing two losses – Missouri and South Carolina on the road. That might be enough to take a good Georgia team out of the race.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The SEC East in 2012 feels nearly as wide open as it has been the last years. I fully expect South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to be improved from a year ago. The league has added Missouri (and for some, Texas A&M) to the schedules in the East. And Vanderbilt should be as good — at least, on offense. The new landscape in the SEC East makes it only that much more tenuous a hold on the division for the Georgia Bulldogs. Especially, considering the losses along the offensive line and the pending suspensions on defense. So CAN the Dawgs win the East? Most assuredly. But WILL they?

Let's start with the good. This team claims arguably the top quarterback in the league in Aaron Murray, who lapped the SEC field statistically (with the exception of Tyler Wilson) a year ago. They have a deep and electric skill corps that boasts elite talents at running back and wide receiver. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has one of the nation's stingiest defensive units and arguably the top front seven in the East — a bold statement considering the talent at South Carolina and Florida up front. The Dawgs also get some fortuitous scheduling as LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are notably absent from the slate (again) this year. Meanwhile, chief contender South Carolina visits LSU and hosts the Hogs. Last but certainly not least, Georgia is the defending champion. There is little that can take the place of championship experience.

Now, for the bad. The offensive line is a mess. There is plenty of talent, but this group has to gel quickly after its top three blockers moved on from Athens. Running the football and protecting Murray against some of the nation's top D-Lines could prove to be difficult this fall. This team must also deal with a big chunk of the early schedule — which includes a key road trip to Mizzou in Week 2 — without most of its talented defenders. Many of the suspended names — Ogletree, Rambo, Smith, etc — should be around for the heart of the SEC schedule, but there is little depth in the defensive backfield. Should anything else go wrong, on or off the field, it could spell doom for the Dawgs back-seven. Georgia is also the 'hunted' now as the defending champs and will need to face heightened expectations the likes haven't existed in Athens since 2007. And frankly, I believe that, by a razor's edge, South Carolina is the better overall football team.

WIth such heavy scheduling disparity, it is hard to count more losses for UGA than for South Carolina. And while the Dawgs likely won't have to go into Columbia and win to repeat as division champs, it might have to win every other game. For now, I am picking the Georgia Bulldogs to win the East — almost by default — but their grasp upon the SEC East crown is slippery at best.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think the gap between the top of the SEC East and West Divisions has closed, but still think Georgia will have a tough time knocking off Alabama or LSU in Atlanta this season.  

The Bulldogs return one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, who is primed for his best season after setting a school record with 35 touchdown tosses last year. Murray will be throwing to a deep group of receivers, but the offense will need to find a replacement for tight end Orson Charles. The rushing attack should be better this year, as Isaiah Crowell is healthy, and freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley arrive to inject some depth and talent into the backfield. The biggest question mark will be an offensive line that has to replace stalwarts Cordy Glenn (left tackle) and Ben Jones (center). Three starters are back, but losing an All-SEC left tackle and center won’t be easy to replace.

Nine starters are back on defense, and this unit should rank near the top of the SEC. The linebacking corps could be the nation's best, especially with the return of All-American Jarvis Jones. However, the secondary could be an issue early in the year – especially against Missouri on Sept. 8 – as starters Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings are suspended. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell spent the spring practicing at cornerback and will have to play on both sides of the ball at least through the first four games of the season.

Georgia’s schedule is very favorable, which should allow it to edge South Carolina for the SEC East title. The Bulldogs do not have to play LSU, Alabama and Arkansas, but must matchup against Missouri, Auburn and South Carolina on the road. If Georgia can successfully fill the voids on the offensive line, this team will have a chance to beat Alabama or LSU in the SEC title game. Helping the Bulldogs' case to win the SEC is the line will have 12 games to jell before the conference title game. However, while the gap has closed, the power of the SEC is still tilted in favor of the West. 

Mark Ross
I think Georgia is just as capable of winning the SEC this year as any team coming from the West. The Bulldogs should be pretty strong on offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray, it's just a matter of figuring out a crowded backfield and seeing if an inexperienced offensive line can come together.

The defense also should be fairly stout, provided their best players stay on the field. Three starters in the secondary, most notably All-American safety Baccari Rambo, along with a starting linebacker, already have been suspended for at least one game this fall. Georgia should be fine without these guys for the short term, but the team can't afford many personnel losses of this type if it wants to contend for the conference title.

As far as the SEC East goes, Georgia's toughest opposition should come from South Carolina. If the Bulldogs can go to Columbia on Oct. 6 and take care of business, the path to the division crown and a spot in the SEC Championship Game should be pretty clear, especially since the Bulldogs don't have to play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the West.

Speaking of those three, should Georgia win the SEC East, then chances are the Bulldogs will play one of those three for the SEC title on Dec. 1 in Atlanta. These three have question marks of their own — Alabama lost a lot on offense (Trent Richardson) and defense (just four starters return), Arkansas has had to deal with former head coach Bobby Petrino's unexpected dismissal, and LSU will have a new quarterback among a total of 11 new starters on both sides of the ball — so it could come down to which team has the most answers come that Saturday in December.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Bulldogs can definitely win a league title with the tried-and-true formula of a stingy defense and top quarterback, but I do believe there is still a gap between UGA and the top two teams in the Western division — LSU and Alabama. The Dawgs defense can play with anyone, and there is a ton of skill on offense because Mark Richt and staff have recruited so well. The difference between the Bulldogs and the Tigers and Tide this season looks like the offensive line. UGA lost three starters in NFL draftees Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson, and the unit’s development this year will hold the key to the season.

Todd Grantham’s bunch ranked fifth nationally in total defense in 2011, and this year’s group — led by the best linebackers unit in the country — could be even better. The defense should keep Georgia in every game. Aaron Murray tossed 35 touchdowns a year ago, but he still tends to have some lapses in play against tougher opponents. The junior quarterback will have plenty of weapons with promising runner Isaiah Crowell and a solid set of receivers. The Bulldogs have an easier league schedule than fellow East favorite South Carolina, so a repeat trip to Atlanta in December is likely. UGA has the defense and overall roster to win the nation’s toughest league, but I’ll say the favorite still lies in the West.

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