College football preview: Nos. 9-7

AP Photo/Rich Addicks, File

9. Georgia

2011 record: 10-4 (7-1 SEC), first in Eastern Division, Outback Bowl appearance

Key returners: QB Aaron Murray (Junior), WR Tavarres King (Senior), S Shawn Williams (Senior)

Georgia’s 2012 schedule

(MORE: See the Top 25)

The Georgia Bulldogs might have been considered overachievers by some in 2011, going all the way to the SEC Championship game, but the opponents in the SEC East will be tougher this season. The Dawgs will need to elevate their play to remain atop the pack.

Quarterback Aaron Murray ranked seventh among FBS players with 35 touchdown passes in 2011, and there’s no reason to doubt he’ll improve on that number this season. After all, he is the heartbeat of this offense, and if he can stay healthy, the Bulldogs can go far.

The dismissal of running back Isaiah Crowell in the offseason has differing amounts of importance for the squad, depending on which Georgia fan you ask. There are some who believe his abilities on the field were never realized, and perhaps he was going to finally have a breakout season. But there were plenty of people on the other side, relieved to see him go.

Keep an eye on the defense, which lost some leadership in the offseason with Brandon Boykin’s big-play tendency gone. Boykin was about the only thing this defense will be lacking in 2012 — aside from him, the other five of the unit’s top-six tacklers from 2011 are back.

Head coach Mark Richt is far from the hot seat (seriously, Georgia fans, you’ll never realize what you have until he’s gone), and the rest of the coaching staff certainly has plenty of shiny toys to move around and find success in 2012. The Dawgs have been ranked higher than No. 9 in most polls, but I’m starting them a little lower in the Breslanta Top 25 because I want to see them do a few things before I move them up. I’d like to see the way they handle a very decent Missouri bunch when they hit the road in Week 2, and how they fare against an improved South Carolina team on Oct. 6.

Next Page >> No. 8 Arkansas