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Post Three pivotal players for Georgia football in 2012

Tuesday July 24, 2012

These aren’t key players in the sense of Aaron Murray or Jarvis Jones, and some might not even start the entire season. But these three players could be answers at some of Georgia’s most uncertain positions, and the degree to which they’re successful could help to sort out additional questions on both sides of the ball.

1) Kolton Houston. Who is Kolton Houston? Does he exist? At least Mudcat played once or twice. The redshirt sophomore was named a possible contributor heading into the 2011 season before a puzzling and unspecified “eligibility issue” kept him out for the entire season.

Houston showed his potential value to the 2012 team during a strong spring in which he established himself as a likely starter at right tackle. Houston’s status is still up in the air, and Mark Richt wasn’t able or willing to provide anything concrete during SEC Media Days.

Houston’s availability is a domino that could affect the rest of the line. If he’s able to go, Georgia will have the depth at tackle to bring promising freshman John Theus along at a proper pace. With Houston, Gates, Dantzler, and Long available, the Dawgs will have some options. Those options could trickle over to guard and even center depending on Andrews’ readiness and the need to shuffle around the interior line. Without Houston, Georgia will have less flexibility on the line and might have to dip into its younger pool of players sooner.

2) Marlon Brown. Is he a senior already? It was considered quite a coup when Brown chose to head to Georgia from his hometown of Memphis after Signing Day in 2009. The recruiting battle was so heated that Brown was booed by the Tennessee crowd when the freshman made a brief appearance in Georgia’s 2009 loss in Knoxville.

Brown’s career has been slow to develop with just 28 receptions through three seasons, but he made some progress as a junior. Brown accounted for 15 receptions, 234 yards, and 3 touchdowns in 2011. His biggest contribution came at Vanderbilt – four receptions, 121 yards, and two long touchdowns. That performance in Nashville was a revelation, but it didn’t turn out to be a breakout game for Brown. He didn’t notch more than two receptions in any subsequent game.

The outstanding 2011 recruiting class ensured that youth would contribute at several positions, but no position depended on newcomers more than receiver. Veterans like King and the tight ends had their impact, but try to imagine the 2011 season without Bennett, Conley, and, of course, Mitchell. This receiving corps will return intact for 2012, but their workload will likely increase given the changes at the tight end position.

That increased workload will come, at least at first, with a lot less Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell will spend the first part of the season at cornerback, and his skills – especially as a deep threat – will be missed. Bennett and Conley (if healthy) will get plenty of opportunities, and Justin Scott-Wesley and Rantavious Wooten should contribute as well. Brown might not have the speed of Mitchell, but he’s a large target. If King and Scott-Wesley can stretch defenses, Brown could have some room in which to operate. Georgia will have a much more potent passing attack with Mitchell on the field, but a strong senior season for Brown should help ease the impact when Mitchell isn’t available.

3) Damian Swann. Swann is on the other side of the Malcolm Mitchell tug-of-war. Though Mitchell’s role will be fairly clear early on during the Commings suspension, it’s the development of younger defensive backs such as Swann that will determine Mitchell’s primary position later in the year.

With Commings in the lineup and Smith locking down the other cornerback spot, Swann will still have an important role as a third or nickel defensive back. There isn’t much help on the way from the incoming class, but Sheldon Dawson could get a look. It will be up to Swann and Devin Bowman and possibly even Blake Sailors to shore up the depth when Commings returns. Marc Deas might be able to slide over from safety and help in a pinch.

Even with Commings, the cornerback spot isn’t all that deep. It seems unavoidable that Mitchell will have to be used in some capacity throughout the season. With the departure of Smith and Commings following this season, Swann will be looked to as a likely starter in 2013. Whether he can play like it in 2012 will have a lot to say about where Mitchell spends most of his season.

Post Penn State, Georgia, and transfers

Monday July 23, 2012

The NCAA’s sanctions on Penn State were announced this morning, and they were as severe as promised. You can read the full report, and here are some basics. Yes, they’re pretty much going 1-AA for a few years.

  • $60 million fine “to be paid over a five-year period beginning in 2012 into an endowment for programs preventing child sexual abuse and/or assisting the victims of child sexual abuse.”
  • Postseason ban for four years
  • Scholarship reductions to 65 overall with no more than 15 added per year
  • Vacating all wins since 1998
  • Five years of probation
  • Waiver of transfer rules – any PSU player may transfer without penalty

If the NCAA involvement on a matter that’s much more a criminal and civil issue bothers you, ask yourself why coaches suspend players after an arrest. The coach (or NCAA) isn’t getting involved in the legal questions, and there will be much more done in civil court. But in any organization – a team, the NCAA, a job – there are standards and expectations for membership. Though the NCAA sanctions don’t do much anything to the individuals involved in this horrible cover-up or provide solace to the victims, they do punish the unprecedented organizational failure at Penn State. If it helps, think of the Penn State case as a “violation of team rules” on a grotesque and unimaginable scale. Of course a coach would kick such a player off the team, and the NCAA considered the death penalty. It’s left to debate whether today’s sanctions are a worse fate. The NCAA claims that “what some refer to as the death penalty wasn’t severe enough.”

I’m not going to get into much debate about the appropriateness of the penalties – there’s plenty of that elsewhere. There is one sanction that does affect Georgia and every other NCAA school. The waiver of transfer rules gives every Penn State player the choice of remaining at PSU or joining another program immediately.

Though the 85 scholarship limit will be flexible for those schools accepting PSU transfers, others like Georgia have plenty of room. Georgia’s current scholarship situation isn’t much better than the limit under which Penn State will be operating, but that’s a topic we’ve hit on enough. The point is that Georgia, with plenty of room and the chance to be a part of a possible SEC and national contender, is as attractive of a landing place as there is for any potential transfers.

Should Georgia be aggressive about courting these transfers? There’s the unseemliness of picking over the remains of a gutted program, but that’s the door that’s been opened by the NCAA. There are only a handful of PSU players who considered Georgia in the first place, so those relationships would have to be cultivated quickly from scratch. With the Georgia coaches more or less focused on season preparation now, will they be willing to take the time to work on anyone who doesn’t come knocking on the door?

The date also makes me wonder about the timing of any transfers. We can’t begin to imagine what’s going on in the minds of the PSU players right now. Certainly some will be out the door right away. But on the eve of camp after an offseason working together with this story hanging over their heads, the bonds formed might hold much of the 2012 team together. Transfers are likelier to come later and from underclassmen who will realize the years of desolation ahead of them.

There are two transfer horizons: immediate and longer-term. Can any potential transfers help me now, and will there be those who can fill gaps in coming seasons? In terms of immediate help, Georgia – despite low overall numbers – is in good shape at the top of the depth chart at almost all positions. The exception might be in the secondary and specifically at cornerback. Offensive line is also a possibility. Is there someone who can step in right away at defensive back and give Georgia more flexibility with Malcolm Mitchell? That’s a very narrow set of criteria, and I don’t know the PSU roster well enough to even throw out a name for consideration. But those are the questions you’re asking if you can find someone willing to transfer in the next few weeks.

The picture changes when you look down the road. Georgia will probably face a number of departures from underclassmen, and the overall numbers will still be low. Potential transfers will then be evaluated against not only need and available space but also the pool of prospects Georgia is currently recruiting. The scenario then is someone like an underclassman linebacker or defensive lineman who can bridge the gap between the anticipated post-2012 departures and the incoming freshman class. Though the NCAA’s flexibility will allow Georgia to add PSU players on top of the 25/85 limits in the short term, they’d still have to account for those overages in future recruiting classes. Your criteria widen for these transfers, and it’s with this group I’d expect Georgia to have more success.

Post Team Speed Kills previews the Dawgs

Tuesday July 17, 2012

If you want a qualified look at how the rest of the SEC views the 2012 Bulldogs, there’s not many better resources than the SEC blog Team Speed Kills. They’re working through the conference looking at each team, and they’ve just concluded Georgia week. Below are links to their Bulldog previews:

Post Recapturing Georgia’s road mojo

Tuesday July 17, 2012

During the first eight years of Mark Richt’s time at Georgia, the Dawgs’ road record became almost a thing of legend. Over those eight seasons, the Dawgs were an amazing 30-4 in an opponent’s stadium.

It’s kind of shocking then to see a Missouri preview bring up Georgia’s recent road record as a possible Missouri advantage when the Dawgs visit Columbia. But there it is: “Georgia is just 10-12 away from Athens the last three years.”

There are separate issues here. Record aside, it’s ridiculous to think that Georgia will be out of sorts in an SEC road game. That’s just another Saturday. Tyler handles that point very well here.

On the other hand, it takes more than composure for a successful road trip. There’s definitely a mindset to going on the road. Following the landmark 2001 win at Tennessee, there was an audio clip that made the rounds of a player explaining Mark Richt’s approach to the game: go in “like a bunch of commandos,” get the job done, and get out. This mindset served them well in some big road games at Tennessee, Clemson, Auburn, and of course in Atlanta.

It’s not all mindset, sure. Georgia’s recent run of problems in big road games went along with some very ordinary teams. But whatever advantage Georgia used to have on the road has often been absent since the 2008 season that saw memorable wins at Arizona State and LSU. Think about some of the disastrous road trips since: Oklahoma State 2009. Tennessee 2009. Colorado 2010. Those are just the lowlights; there were plenty of other road losses. None of those environments was especially intimidating, but the Dawgs still laid an egg.

If we can dig up an unpleasant memory, go back to the 2008 Alabama game. (It’s not an exact comparison; Georgia was favored.) Athens was more than a little pumped for its blackout game. Bama came in focused, silenced the crowd, and announced its place back on top of the SEC. It helps that Bama had a future Heisman winner and a sick defense, but they were still able to cut through any pre-game hype, dominate an opponent on the road, and keep doing it week after week.

No, we don’t need a video of Coach T. talking trash about Missouri. But Georgia’s biggest obstacles in 2012 come away from home, and they’ll need that same kind of determination to take out these hostile crowds and put away these teams in the way of Georgia’s goals. The Dawgs took a nice step last year with a perfect 4-0 record in true road games. The road competition is much tougher in 2012, and Georgia’s success in repeating as SEC East champs will most likely hang on their ability to recapture some of that road mojo.

Post Kickoff and TV info for first three games

Monday July 16, 2012

The kickoff times and television plans for Georgia’s first three games of the 2012 season were announced this morning:

  • Buffalo (Sept. 1): 12:21 p.m. ET – SEC Network
  • @ Missouri (Sept. 8): 7:45 p.m. ET – ESPN2
  • Florida Atlantic (Sept. 15): 7:30 p.m. ET – CSS

Times for the rest of the SEC’s games in weeks 1-3 can be found here. It’s a reflection of the current balance of power in the SEC that CBS will open its SEC coverage with Alabama-Arkansas rather than the usual Florida-Tennessee.

Overall, the times are about as good as we could expect. The Missouri game certainly deserves its prime time slot, though the placement on ESPN2 means a third-tier broadcast team for one of the five biggest SEC East games of the season. We’ve anticipated a lively reception for Missouri’s first SEC game, and the early evening start will only fan those flames.

The opener against Buffalo will be played in the full glory of the early September sun (no lake-effect cooling for our guests for sure), but it’s not as bad as it could be. A 12:21 kickoff is certainly preferable to one later in the afternoon. We should be used to these games by now. At any rate, it’s not the 3:30 start time for Florida’s visit to Texas A&M – a game which will be played on the surface of the sun.

The most interesting of the three is the FAU kickoff. The appearance of a night game on a home schedule that frankly didn’t offer many opportunities for a later start got a pretty positive reception this morning. For the hard core tailgaters, a night game against any opponent is great news, and it’s a September afternoon that we won’t have to spend in the sun.

It’s been a while since Georgia has had a late start against a non-BCS opponent. The Dawgs kicked off against Georgia Southern on a rainy night at 6:00 in 2000, and you have to go even further back for a true night game. There’s not going to be much buzz for this game, and I wonder about the impact of the start time on attendence. It’s not (yet) a sellout to begin with. The tailgates should be good and strong, but will the quality of the opponent tempt many fans – and especially students – to just continue the tailgate? The late start and likely result could also mean a desolate stadium after halftime as families get a head start home from a game that’s likely to end around 11.

Post A pivotal recruiting weekend in Athens

Friday July 13, 2012

Is is dramatic to suggest that this is Georgia’s most important recruiting weekend prior to Signing Day 2013?

Dawg Night is a one-night elite camp at Georgia for top prospects that often produces a lot of recruiting news. Prospects are evaluated, offered, and – if you’re lucky – commit at the program’s showcase event. The 2011 Dawg Night landed Georgia key commitments for not only the 2012 class but also the upcoming 2013 class. Theus, Ramsey, Terry, and Henry all committed last summer at this event.

Though there will be plenty of 2014 prospects in attendance, the focus on Friday’s 2012 Dawg Night is still on the 2013 class. Georgia’s impressive early push was enough to build a very solid foundation for 2013. This has to be a large class, and there are already 19 commitments – well over halfway home on a class that might even number in the 30s. Georgia’s in a position where they can begin to focus on their remaining top targets, and that’s what this Dawg Night is all about. There hasn’t been a commitment in nearly a month, but fans are hoping that Dawg Night can revive Georgia’s recruiting momentum.

We don’t know if this Dawg Night will produce commitments on the scale that it did in 2011. It certainly could. Job #1 at Dawg Night is keeping the current group of commitments on board. Nearly all of them will be in Athens. Some will be among Georgia’s best recruiting assets. Others will need a reminder why they committed to Georgia. Beyond securing the current commitments, there will be dozens of uncommitted 2013 prospects including several top targets. Georgia will be looking to add to its class with commitments from a couple of these targets. The class won’t be wrapped up this weekend by any means, but this is one of the few remaining opportunities for a big summer splash before teams get heavy into 2012 preparation in just a couple of weeks.

On a related front, there’s the fallout from the Reuben Foster decision. Georgia had been a major player for Foster even while Foster was committed to Alabama. No one would have been surprised had Foster announced for the Dawgs yesterday. Now that Foster is committed to Auburn, fans are nervously watching to see if other prospects will follow. The cryptic quotes from the prospects about pacts and assurances that a select group of top prospects would all attend the same school have Georgia fans in particular paying close attention to some of their top commitments. It would be one thing for Foster to flip between Alabama schools; he was never committed to Georgia in the first place. It’s another thing if Foster’s flip affects those already on Georgia’s board.

It doesn’t calm nerves to hear one of Georgia’s top defensive commitments, safety Tray Matthews, tell UGASports.com that “I think the plan is to go to Auburn this weekend.” Matthews will still attend Dawg Night, and he’ll be certain to receive a lot of attention from Georgia coaches hoping to shore up his commitment. Convincing all current commitments to remain on board would be as big of a story as any new commitments that might come out of this weekend.

Post Hur bout de hundar?

Wednesday July 11, 2012

From Finebaum to Van Pelt to David Johnston to even your favorite podcast, the sports talk format is so widespread now as to be taken for granted. Every sports town has its sports radio station with opinionated hosts (well-informed or not) moderating a sounding board for fans.

If you’ve ever spent much time in this world, you might appreciate this long Grantland look at the format’s origins at WFAN in New York. You’ll also learn how Georgia’s own Mikael Pernfors, then the #22 tennis player in the world, figures into the story.

And then we start talking to Mikael and he was terrific. He went to the University of Georgia and I’m thinking about a Swede in Georgia and off the cuff I say to him, “Can you translate for us? What would ‘How ’bout them Dogs’ sound like in Swedish?” And it was something like, Hur bout de hundar? That became the official slogan of the show, and then 30 times a day we would play Mikael Pernfors teaching us all how to say “How ’bout them Dogs?” in Swedish. Now all sports talk radio shows have that stuff.

Post Football deck parking follow-up

Monday July 9, 2012

If you entered the new lottery system for 2012 football deck parking, you should have received an e-mail in the past week with the results. You can now go to http://football.parking.uga.edu/ and order your pass after you log in with the account you created during the lottery process. Do so before 5:00 p.m. on July 19, or your reservation will expire.

If you are still interested in deck parking but did not enter the lottery, check back on the parking website starting July 23rd. Even under the old system, there were always passes left over in the larger decks – North Campus and Carlton St. But even those passes didn’t last more than a few days, so keep checking.