RantSports College Football Rankings: No. 21 Georgia Bulldogs





The Georgia Bulldogs enter a new era in 2014, one without four-year starting quarterback Aaron Murray, who has moved on to the NFL.

But don’t think that the cupboard is bare in Athens. Head coach Mark Richt returns for his 14th season as the Bulldogs’ head man, and he has a solid team that could contend for an SEC title.

Georgia returns 16 starters overall, so there is experience on the squad. And Richt has confidence that this team can stay in contention all season long.

Offense

Replacing Murray is job number one. The heir apparent is senior Hutson Mason, who actually completed the 2013 season behind center after Murray went down with a knee injury. Mason’s time in Athens has been backing up Murray, but now, Mason will get his shot to be the starter. Last season, Mason passed for 968 yards and five touchdowns.

Should Mason falter, redshirt sophomore Faton Bauta would get the call behind center. Expect to see Bauta play some, anyway, because he could be the starter next season.

Georgia has one of the best running back combinations in the country. Leading the way is All-American Todd Gurley, who some are touting as a Heisman Trophy candidate this season. Last season, Gurley played in 10 games and rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns. His numbers should be even better this season.

Gurley’s running mate is Keith Marshall, who is coming back after a nasty knee injury last season. Marshall was limited to just five games, and he rushed for 246 yards and a score.

Brendan Douglas could also see time in the backfield.

At wide receiver, Georgia will rely on Chris Conley and Michael Bennett to carry the load. Conley led the team with 45 catches last season for 651 yards and four touchdowns. Bennett had 41 receptions for 538 yards and four scores.

Malcolm Mitchell, who missed last season with a knee injury, should return, although he did have a procedure on the same knee last week. If Mitchell is healthy, it will be a big boost to the offense. Justin Scott-Wesley, who is also coming off of an injury, and Reggie Davis should also be contributors.

David Andrews and John Theus will anchor an offensive line that must replace three starters.

Defense

The Bulldogs’ defense will be under the direction of Jeremy Pruitt, former defensive coordinator for the Florida State Seminoles. Pruitt has plenty of talent to work with, as eight starters return.

On the defensive line, Sterling Bailey should be improved this season. Josh Dawson, Ray Drew and Chris Mayes also figure to be in the D-Line rotation.

At linebacker, Jordan Jenkins and Ramik Wilson lead the way. Wilson led the team with 133 tackles last season. Jenkins led the team with 12 tackles for loss.

Leonard Floyd, who led the team with six and a half sacks in 2013, is the other starter at linebacker.

In the secondary, Damian Swann will lead the charge. He is joined by Aaron Davis, Corey Moore and former tailback J.J. Green, who is now playing safety.

Schedule

Richt has never shied away from playing tough opponents, despite the fact that his conference schedule is always among the toughest in the nation. This year is no different. Georgia opens at home against the Clemson Tigers on August 30.

The following game may be the most important game on the schedule. If Georgia is to compete for the SEC Eastern Division title, a win on the road against the South Carolina Gamecocks would be huge.

After the South Carolina contest, Georgia returns home to face Troy, followed by SEC games against the Tennessee Volunteers and the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Georgia then faces four straight games away from home. The first is at the Missouri Tigers, followed by a trip to Fayetteville to face the Arkansas Razorbacks.

After a week off, Georgia faces the Florida Gators in the annual rivalry game in Jacksonville. The next week, Georgia travels to Lexington to face the Kentucky Wildcats.

The Bulldogs have their final three games in Athens. On November 15, Georgia welcomes the defending SEC champions, the Auburn Tigers. The following week, Georgia hosts FCS foe Charleston Southern, before closing the season with the annual rivalry game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The schedule is challenging, but not overwhelming. Two of the three toughest games are on the road (at South Carolina and at Missouri), but Georgia does get Auburn at home. If the Bulldogs can stay healthy, they should be in the SEC race until the end.

Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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