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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Know your foe: Week 7, Georgia

In the past 13 seasons, Georgia is the second winningest program in the SEC.

2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3)

Series History: 2-1 (UGA)

Last Meeting: W 41-26 (2013)

Players to Watch: Georgia running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall

2014 Projection: 9-3 (5-3)

The Georgia Bulldogs have gradually become the model of consistency within the Southeastern Conference.

This season marks Mark Richt’s 14th year at the helm in Athens, where he has excelled despite criticism along the way. In 13 seasons, Richt has racked up a 126-45 record to make his Georgia squad the second-winningest SEC program during that stretch, behind only Louisiana State.

During that window, the Bulldogs have made bowl appearances in every season, and only suffered one losing season, in 2010.

However, the 2013 season told a very different story, as the team limped its way to an 8-5 record after being plagued by injuries, off-field distractions and poor play for months on end.

As the season progressed, the injury casualties began to pile up. Receiver Justin Scott-Wesley and running back Keith Marshall both went down for the season in a mid-season game against Tennessee, while star receiver Michael Bennett and leading rusher Todd Gurley were both sidelined for multiple games with lingering injuries. Senior quarterback Aaron Murray tore an ACL against Kentucky in his final game at Sanford Stadium.

But even after the season finally came to a merciless end, the bad news kept pouring in. The Bulldogs were supposed to return all 11 starters to a young and talented defense that showed some major strides by season’s end. But during the offseason, five Georgia defensive players were dismissed from the team, including starting safeties Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

Now looking to put all of that misfortune in the rearview mirror, Richt and the Bulldogs suit up for the season ahead.

Murray is gone, but one of the silver linings of last year’s demise was the emergence of rising starter Hutson Mason. Mason started the final two games of the regular season and showed some promise, but he will have much more help when he arrives at camp in August.

The Bulldogs return Gurley and Marshall in the backfield healthy and ready to go. When healthy, Gurley is a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

Mason will also get much needed help at receiver with Bennett returning from injury to join leading receiver Chris Conley out wide. Malcolm Mitchell, who was lost for the year when he injured himself against Clemson in last season’s opening game, is expected to be back as well, though he did recently undergo surgery.

Defensively, Georgia returns nine starters. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt joins the staff fresh off of a national championship with Florida State.

The Bulldogs will be a talented team in 2014. The question will be how the legions of injured men look in their return to the gridiron.

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