Top 50 Countdown: No. 14 Georgia

Coach: Mark Richt | Staff
In 2006: 9-4, 4-4 SEC; Beat Virginia Tech 31-24 in Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 7. Defense: 3.
Key losses: OT Daniel Inman, C Nick Jones, TE Martrez Milner, DE Quentin Moses, DE Charles Johnson, WLB Tony Taylor, S Tra Battle, CB Paul Oliver, P Gordon Ely-Kelso.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: In Mark Richt's first season at Georgia without David Greene or D.J. Shockley, the offense struggled. The Bulldogs averaged fewer than 200 passing yards per game for the first time since 1990, and Georgia had its lowest scoring average (25.2 points) since 1998. True freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford had his growing pains at the beginning of the season, but he finished with a flourish. Georgia is looking for its first 1,000-yard running back since 2002, which could happen this year if one player receives most of the carries.

GEORGIA TOP 10
Matt Stafford came on at the end of last season.

1. QB Matthew Stafford
2. RB Kregg Lumpkin
3. FB Brannan Southerland
4. K Brandon Coutu
5. DT Jeff Owens
6.WR Mohamed Massaquoi
7. S Kelin Johnson
8. LB Brandon Miller
9. OT Chester Adams
10. LB Dannell Ellerbe
Best player: QB Matthew Stafford. We're basing this more on potential for Stafford, who was the No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2006 according to Rivals.com. Stafford finished last season with 13 interceptions and seven touchdowns, but improved as the year progressed. He threw only one interception in the final three games - wins over Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Most overrated: WR Mohamed Massaquoi. Massaquoi had a sophomore slump a la former Bulldog Fred Gibson. Massaquoi dropped off from 505 yards as a freshman to 366 last year. A better year from Stafford will help Massaquoi as well.

Most underrated: FB Brannan Southerland. Southerland could make a case for being one of the most underrated players in the country. He led Georgia in scoring last year with 10 total touchdowns (eight rushing, two receiving). He's also an excellent blocker.

Must step up: RB Kregg Lumpkin. Georgia hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Musa Smith in 2002, and this could be the year to change that. The constant rotation of running backs seems to be coming to an end, but Thomas Brown and redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno are pushing to be the feature back as well. Lumpkin was the only Georgia back to crack 100 carries last season, finishing with 162 attempts for 798 yards and six touchdowns.

Shoes to fill: Tight end. Georgia has built quite a tradition for tight ends in recent years. Now, the Bulldogs must replace Martrez Milner. Tripp Chandler improved his blocking during the spring, but could face a suspension after an arrest (underage possession of alcohol) during the offseason. Redshirt freshman NaDerris Ward has been limited by injuries since August.

Impact newcomer: OT Trinton Sturdivant. The true freshman enrolled in January and made an immediate impact. He started spring practice as a backup at right tackle and ended as the starter at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno will have to battle veterans Lumpkin and Brown for playing time.

Battle to watch: Offensive line. No position on the offense is as unsettled as the line. Georgia ends spring with two players on the left side who didn't play last year (Sturdivant and redshirt freshman guard Chris Davis). Tackle Vince Vance and guard Scott Haverkamp arrived from junior college to push for playing time. Returning starters Fernando Velasco (from guard to center) and Chester Adams (from guard to tackle) are also changing positions.

New in 2007: Mike Bobo is officially the offensive coordinator after the departure of Neil Callaway to coach UAB. Bobo got an early start by calling the plays for the final two games (both wins) of 2006. He'll bring with him a new philosophy in the running game. Instead of constantly substituting, Bobo will ride the hot hand. The Bulldogs replaced Callaway's spot on the staff by adding offensive line coach Stacy Searels from LSU.

Grade the units:
QB: B. The sophomore Stafford should step into his own this season. Joe Cox is a backup with experience.
RB: B. The goal is for Lumpkin, Brown or Moreno to emerge as a clear No. 1.
WR/TE: C. Four of the top five receivers return, but the Bulldogs still need more production out of this group.
OL: B. Georgia will start camp with two freshman starters on the left side (Sturdivant and Davis) and veterans at right tackle and center.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: In the SEC, only Florida has more starters to replace than Georgia. Making matters worse is the absence of potential All-SEC cornerback Paul Oliver, who entered the NFL's supplemental draft after being declared ineligible. Even without Oliver, the Bulldogs return two starters from a secondary that ranked fifth in the country. Several second-year players will be asked to take a bigger role this year. Sophomores Geno Atkins, Darius Dewberry and Asher Allen are all listed as starters going into the fall, while a few other sophomores and redshirt freshmen are listed as backups.

Best player: DT Jeff Owens. Owens is one of the few sure things on the Georgia defense. The junior anchors the defensive line after recording 19 quarterback pressures in 2006.

Georgia Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Oklahoma State
Sept. 8 South Carolina
Sept. 15 Western Carolina
Sept. 22 at Alabama
Sept. 29 Ole Miss
Oct. 6 at Tennessee
Oct. 13 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27 vs. Florida
Nov. 3 Troy
Nov. 10 Auburn
Nov. 17 Kentucky
Nov. 24 at Georgia Tech
Most overrated: DT Kade Weston. Weston has loads of potential but has struggled to make an impact at Georgia. He started six games last year but lost his job in the spring to sophomore Geno Atkins.

Most underrated: S Kelin Johnson. Georgia has a tradition of producing hard-hitting safeties, and Johnson fits that mold. He had only two interceptions last year, but he helped seal Georgia's win over Virginia Tech with a late interception.

Must step up: LB Brandon Miller. Miller has been an off-and-on starter over the last three years at outside linebacker. This year, Georgia is counting on the senior to move to the middle and be a veteran presence among the linebackers. He has potential, but it's Miller's time to prove he can be an effective linebacker.

Shoes to fill: Defensive end. Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson were the two linemen from last year's defense that were selected in the NFL Draft. Former linebacker Marcus Howard and Roderick Battle are on top of the depth chart now, but junior college transfer Jarius Wynn should vie for playing time.

Impact newcomer: S Reshad Jones. The top safety prospect and the No. 1 player in Georgia in the class of 2006 redshirted last year. He is poised to make an impact this season. Jones had an excellent spring, which he capped with an interception and a bone-crushing hit in the G-Day game.

Position battle: Cornerback. Oliver's departure has left Georgia looking for a new cornerback, and there are plenty of options. Three players are vying for two spots. Bryan Evans performed well in his four starts last season, all coming in the final six games. Sophomores Asher Allen and Prince Miller are also in the competition. Senior Thomas Flowers returns from a foot injury.

Grade the units:
DL: B. Owens is the only returning starter in the front seven. After losing Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson, Georgia is looking for new, productive ends.
LB: C-plus. The top three could play each position (strongside, weakside or middle). There's not a lot of depth, but there is talent.
DB: B-plus. The sudden departure of Oliver hurts, but cornerback is the deepest position on the defense. Johnson has become a leader at safety.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: Georgia returns a Lou Groza Award candidate in kicker Brandon Coutu, but must replace four-year punter Gordon Ely-Kelso. Walk-on Brian Mimbs punted during the spring. However, Drew Butler - son of former Georgia All-American kicker Kevin Butler - figures to take over punting duties when he arrives in the fall. Georgia ranked seventh in the nation in punt returns last year.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
Georgia has won the SEC East in three of the last five seasons and could do so again in 2007. Stafford is an up-and-coming star in the SEC, and the run game has potential to improve. The defense, though, could have its fair share of growing pains with eight starters to replace. Georgia could return to Atlanta this year either for the SEC Championship Game or the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Which trip the Bulldogs take will depend on the development of Stafford and how the defense comes together.
Best player: K Brandon Coutu. Coutu missed all but one kick in an injury-shortened season last year. He made all 17 of his extra points and 10 of 11 field goals, with the one miss coming from 53 yards.

Grade the units:
K: A. Coutu gives Georgia an edge in every game coming down to a field goal.
P: C. Drew Butler will likely carry on the family legacy at Georgia.
KR: B. Asher Allen and Thomas Brown were the primary returners in a group that ranked fifth in the SEC.
PR: A. Thomas Flowers, Allen and others will keep the pressure on Mikey Henderson, who returned two punts for touchdowns last year.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Richt's 4-4 record in the SEC was his worst during his tenure at Georgia. The Bulldogs also became the first team since South Carolina's winless team in 1999 to lose to both Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season. Still, the Bulldogs rebounded nicely by winning their final three games over Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Mike Bobo was elevated to offensive coordinator after Neil Callaway accepted the head coaching position at UAB, but Bobo was already the playcaller for the final two games of 2006. The only other change on the coaching staff was the addition of Stacy Searels from LSU to coach the offensive line.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: A-minus. Richt somehow gets overlooked in a conference that includes so many coaching heavyweights.
Offense: B. Partly because of experience and partly because of Bobo, Stafford was much improved at the end of last season. Bobo is a first-time coordinator.
Defense: A. Coordinator Willie Martinez guided a team that was eighth in the nation in points per game. Line coach Rodney Garner is an ace recruiter and sends players to the NFL.

Special teams: B. Georgia coaches split special-teams duties. The Bulldogs have been blessed with top-notch kickers in recent years.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 13.


 

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