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July 20, 2012
Opponent Preview: Georgia
Returning Starters: 16: Offense (7), Defense (9)
Key departures: CB Brandon Boykin (prolific two-way player, 4th round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles), TE Orson Charles (second on the team in receptions, Cincinnati Bengals 4th round pick), OT Cordy Glenn (Buffalo Bills second round selection), C Ben Jones (four-year starter, Houston Texas fourth round pick), DE DeAngelo Tyson (7th round pick by the Baltimore Ravens), P Drew Butler (former two-time All-American), K Blair Walsh (Minnesota Vikings sixth round pick), RB Isaiah Crowell (SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year, kicked off team after recent arrest on gun charges)
Player to watch offense: Running back Ken Malcome - After Mark Richt booted Crowell from the team on June 29, Malcome inherited UGA's de facto - starting tailback job. However, after "Boo" had a dynamite spring, many Georgia reporters had already written Malcome was in line to start anyways. The former 4-star recruit had a rocky freshman campaign in 2011, but late in the season when the Bulldogs struggled with injuries and lack of depth, he answered the call. Malcome, a tough, inside grinder, actually quit the team before Georgia played Mississippi State midway through the year. After a change of heart, he returned to the Bulldogs and ended up playing a large role in their late season sprint -- starting two of their last three games. Malcome was the Dawgs' most efficient rusher against LSU in the SEC Championship and led UGA in yards against Michigan State before exiting the Outback Bowl with a concussion. While Malcome doesn't possess the all-around skill set Crowell has, his new found attitude and intent on being UGA's power-back could re-energize Georgia's up-and-down running game. Malcome will share the load with ballyhooed freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
Player to watch defense: Linebacker Jarvis Jones - No SEC player wrecked more havoc off the edge than the former Southern California transfer. Jones led the conference in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (19.5). Although eligible for the NFL Draft -- and projected as a top 15-20 pick -- Jones wanted to return to Georgia in 2012 to improve his footwork, physicality and his edge quickness. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham creates match-up nightmares for opposing offenses by lining up Jones all over the field. With the Bulldogs returning nearly the entire front-seven, Jones could again post monster statistics in 2012.
2012 Outlook: Shock and awe; Few teams in the nation rival Georgia's schedule and deep talent. With 20-of-22 defensive players returning from a top-5 defense, the Bulldogs are legitimate National Title contenders. The issue has always been whether the expectations and pressure are too much for UGA. Will the Bulldogs finally shock the college football landscape or will they be in awe when playing other great teams? Aaron Murray is a seasoned SEC quarterback and led the league in touchdowns (35) in 2011. Even with the loss of Crowell, Malcome, Richard Samuel and the freshmen duo still give the Bulldogs depth at running back. But there are questions along the offensive line with three new starters. Georgia will have to deal with several defensive suspensions early in the season, but if the Bulldogs can manage away trips to Mizzou and South Carolina, they could be undefeated when they roll into Jacksonville to square off against the Gators. In all likelihood the Bulldogs will falter at some point in the season, but they still seems to be the team to beat in the East to reach Atlanta in 2012.
Level of Difficultly for the Gators (*based on ranking schedule 1-12, one being the hardest): 2 ... Florida hasn't lost back-to-back games against UGA since 1988-89, but this could be the best Bulldogs team the Gators have faced since 2007. Last season Georgia won a close game with two fourth-down touchdowns and a strong second half after the Gators managed just one first down after halftime. Neither team has a bye week before the contest, as the Gators host South Carolina the week before while UGA travels to Kentucky. Florida's deep secondary has a history of frustrating and confusing Murray -- in two meetings against UF the All-SEC quarterback has thrown five touchdowns and four interceptions with a completion percentage under 50 percent. Something else to watch: Florida couldn't stop Georgia's inside trap attack in the second half last season. Both teams will come to Jacksonville with aggressive, swarming defenses, so this season's match-up could be a survival of the fittest.
Gators' chances of winning: 40%