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Top 25 team preview: No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs

Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Todd Gurley will look to build off his freshman campaign, when he rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 TDs.

Georgia's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 31at Clemson
Sept. 7 vs. South Carolina
Sept. 21 vs. North Texas
Sept. 28 vs. LSU
Oct. 5 at Tennessee
Oct. 12 vs. Missouri
Oct. 19 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 2 vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Nov. 9 vs. Appalachian State
Nov. 16 at Auburn
Nov. 23vs. Kentucky
Nov. 30 at Georgia Tech

The SEC title game is Dec. 7 in Atlanta.

Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray recalls the precise moment he decided to return for his senior season. "Just minutes after we lost the SEC Championship Game," he said. "I was still on the field." Trailing Alabama 32-28, Murray had led the Bulldogs from their 15-yard line to the Crimson Tide's eight in a furious 59 seconds, but the game ended when his tipped throw was caught by Chris Conley, who fell at the five. This fall Murray will lead one of the nation's most explosive offenses, with 10 starters back from a unit that gained an FBS-best 7.09 yards per play last year. Combined with a young defense loaded with four- and five-star recruits, coach Mark Richt has arguably his most talented team. "We actually left points out there on the field against Alabama," said the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Murray, who holds the Georgia record for career touchdown passes (95). "Coming so close has definitely been motivation for us."

The case against

As productive as the offense was last season, the line still surrendered 27 sacks, and Murray struggled with his accuracy when forced to scramble. On defense the Bulldogs must replace eight starters, including two on the defensive line and both safeties. Since 2008, Richt is 3-16 against SEC teams that have finished the season ranked in the AP Poll.

Schedule analysis

Can you say SEC? The Bulldogs have one of the country's toughest early-season schedules: They play at Clemson (Aug. 31), then host South Carolina (Sept. 7) and LSU (Sept. 28). Things get easier after that, but dangerous games still loom, especially the annual date with Florida in Jacksonville (Nov. 2).

Key stat

175.6: The number of passing yards Georgia allowed per game last season, the eighth-fewest total in the nation. Not one opposing quarterback threw for more than 300 yards against the Bulldogs, a feat they'll look to replicate with a young defense in 2013.

Breakout player

WR Chris Conley: Conley's big-play potential was finally untapped in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska. Flashing his 4.4 40 speed, the 6-3, 206-pounder caught a short pass from Murray early in the third quarter and sprinted untouched for an 87-yard touchdown. This came only minutes after he had snagged a bomb from Murray for a 49-yard score. Look for Conley, who was named the team's offensive MVP at the end of spring practice, to be Murray's favorite long-ball option.

Freshman to watch

S Tray Matthews: After starring as a senior at Newnan (Ga.) High, Matthews graduated early and enrolled at Georgia in January. During the spring, he practiced with the first-team defensive unit -- a group he'll likely be a part of for the next several years. "Tray is physical, tough safety who is athletic enough to play well in coverage," said Richt. "He'll be a rookie back there and he'll have some rough spots, but his talent is undeniable."

X-factor

LB James DeLoach: The sophomore DeLoach should replace first-round NFL draft pick Jarvis Jones at outside linebacker on the strong side. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham may even put the 6-3, 270-pound biology major at end when he switches out of the 3-4 to a nickel package with four defensive linemen.

2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)

QB Aaron Murray: 3,340 passing yards, 34 TDs; 15 rushing yards, 1 TD

RB Todd Gurley: 1,280 rushing yards, 17 TDs; 80 receiving yards, 1 TD

WR Malcolm Mitchell: 710 receiving yards, 8 TDs; 26 rushing yards

Coach speak: Mark Richt

SI: How long did it take you to get over losing the SEC Championship Game to Alabama?

MR: I watched the game right after it was played, but I haven't seen it since. I didn't dwell on it at the time because we had a bowl game to prepare for. But I think about it more now. I reflect on it. It's tough to be so close, but that's football, man. It doesn't always go your way.

SI: How surprised were you by running back Todd Gurley, who became the second true freshman at Georgia to run for more than 1,000 yards?

MR: When we recruited Todd, we knew he was good, but we didn't know he was this good. As soon as he got on campus, he showed us in scrimmage situations that he was ready to compete at a high level. He still has things he needs to improve on, like pass protection, catching the ball and running routes, but he's got a chance to be very, very good this season.

SI: Would you like another shot at Alabama?

MR: Our goal is to win the SEC East, get to Atlanta and then go from there.

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