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Georgia ready to make some noise in the SEC

SportsColumnFootballCollege FootballGeorgia BulldogsCollege SportsAaron Murray
Georgia is ready to make another run at the SEC East title
Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior, finally gets his time to shine as Georgia's starting quarterback

Acknowledging that college football's new four-team playoff could someday inch toward a larger basketball-style tournament, we continue our Super 16 countdown, with No. 9 Georgia:

Some readers may have noticed that "only" two of the first seven teams in our Super 16 countdown hail from the vaunted Southeastern Conference.

If that wasn't enough, team No. 16 (Notre Dame) made the countdown just days before news broke of alleged academic scandal that has "shocked and disappointed" the big man at the top.

We mean Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly, of course, although "Touchdown Jesus" probably isn't thrilled, either.

And while it's true the Super 16 may have wasted a valuable ranking position on a team north of the Mason-Dixon, the run on SEC schools is about to start.

Georgia, a program that fell a few feet short of the national title game two years ago before tripping over its 8-5 feet last year, is ready to make another run at the SEC East title.

We're calling last year's downturn a bad-luck blip that started in the first game, when receiver Malcolm Mitchell tore his anterior cruciate ligament while celebrating after a touchdown against Clemson.

Georgia's back end let Athens down, finishing T-78 nationally in scoring defense (29 points per game). It was all quarterback Aaron Murray could do to keep the Bulldogs from a full-blown disaster.

Our faith in Georgia is not based on Murray returning at quarterback, because he has no remaining eligibility.

"When you lose a guy like that it can be tough," said Georgia Coach Mark Richt.

There is Southern comfort in knowing the new quarterback, Hutson Mason, is a fifth-year senior who has waited patiently for his turn.

Mason took a redshirt year two seasons ago to create some separation from Murray. The calculation was that Murray would leave for the NFL after that year and the job would be Mason's for two seasons.

Murray returned, though, which has squeezed Mason's starring role to 12 regular-season games.

"He's really sacrificed a lot for this team," Richt said this summer.

No, our faith in Georgia is based partly in thinking no team can be savaged by injuries two seasons in a row. It seemed every time you tuned into a Bulldogs game last year they were carting a player to an MRI exam appointment.

Georgia's always athletic roster returns nine defense starters and will be led by new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Really, though, our faith in Georgia is based mostly on monsters at tailback, led by Todd Gurley, probably the nation's best back when he's not nursing injuries. Gurley missed significant time last year and still gained 989 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The chorus line behind Gurley is also impressive, led by Keith Marshall, who is returning after tearing his ACL last year against Tennessee. Georgia has also recruited another fine crop of runners.

We'll know early where Georgia stands, as the Bulldogs open at home against Clemson and then rest a week before a huge SEC East showdown at South Carolina.

Hard to believe, this is Richt's 14th season at Georgia. He left a Florida State program that annually played for national titles under Bobby Bowden.

Richt is still looking for his first at Georgia, which has patiently waited to hang a banner.

How long is a program this good expected to wait?

The countdown so far: No. 16 Notre Dame, No. 15 Mississippi, No. 14 Stanford, No. 13 Louisiana State, No. 12 Michigan State, No. 11 USC, No. 10 Baylor.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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