Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs

John David Mercer, USA TODAY SPORTS

The Georgia Bulldogs check in at No. 3 in the Rant Sports Top 100 College Football Rankings, hoping to take the next step this season after coming so close last year.

Georgia was within five yards of playing in the BCS National Championship Game last season, coming up just short in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Head Coach Mark Richt and his squad would love to have another shot at the Tide this season.

Richt will have one of the best offensive attacks that he has ever had in Athens. However, there are questions on the other side of the ball.

Offense

Everything on offense runs through senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who spurned the NFL Draft to return to Athens for his final season. Murray already holds many of Georgia’s passing records, and he should break the remaining marks this season, including most passing yards in a career. Last year, Murray became the first SEC quarterback to ever pass for 3,000 yards in his first three seasons.

Murray has a number of quality receivers to throw to, including junior Malcolm Mitchell. Last season, Mitchell caught 40 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns. Michael Bennett figures to be the other starting receiver after catching 24 passes for 345 yards and four scores last year. Tight end Arthur Lynch, one of the best in the SEC, also returns for the Bulldogs.

In the backfield, Georgia has one of the nation’s best one-two punches. Sophomores Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall both return after strong freshman seasons. Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, while Marshall had 759 yards on the ground and eight scores.

Georgia returns all five starters on the offensive line, which should help to boost the offensive attack. This group did allow Murray to be sacked 27 times last season, but that experience, along with the continuity, should help them this season.

Defense

The biggest question mark about the Bulldogs is the defense. Gone from last year are seven starters, which means lots of new faces will be expected to contribute on the field for Georgia this season.

The linebackers figure to be the best unit on defense for Georgia in 2013. Inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera is the leading returning tackler from last season, while outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who is just a sophomore, figures to be a breakout star for Georgia this season.

Defensive end Garrison Smith is the only returning defensive lineman for the Bulldogs. Smith could find himself in opponents’ backfields quite often in 2013. Nose guard Mike Thornton and defensive end Sterling Bailey should be the other two starters.

Cornerback Damian Swann is the only returner among defensive backs for Georgia. Swann led the team with four interceptions last season, and his experience will be key with a young group of defensive backs. Sophomore Sheldon Dawson should start at the other corner position, while Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews figure to be the starters at the safety positions.

Schedule

If Georgia can survive the first two weeks of the season, they could be on their way to competing for not only the SEC title, but the BCS National Championship as well.

Georgia opens on the road in Death Valley against the Clemson Tigers. The next week, Georgia returns home to face the South Carolina Gamecocks.

After a week off, Georgia hosts North Texas, then welcomes the LSU Tigers. The next three games are at the Tennessee Volunteers, at home against the Missouri Tigers and on the road at the Vanderbilt Commodores.

After another week off, Georgia faces the Florida Gators in Jacksonville, in a game that will have something to say about who wins the SEC East.

Georgia’s closing four games should be among their easiest. The Bulldogs host Appalachian State, visit the Auburn Tigers, host the Kentucky Wildcats, then visit their arch rivals, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The first month of the season could determine Georgia’s fate. If they can survive the Clemson-South Carolina-LSU triumvirate and make it to October, this could be a team that is in the mix among national championship contenders.

Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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