ATHENS – The Georgia football team already has some high hopes for the upcoming season: The Bulldogs figure to be favorites to repeat as SEC East champs, and there will be talk of bigger things. The players have talked openly of getting “the ring,” and they don’t mean the one they got last year.
Those expectations aren’t unreasonable, but a lot of things will still have to go right – and many players will have to come through. To that end, as we start to focus in on the upcoming season, we present a running countdown:
Georgia’s most important players for 2012.
Let’s emphasize that this is not a list of the team’s 10 best players. That list would look much different. This list takes into account where Georgia has concerns and weaknesses. It takes into account depth. (As in, players that would be really missed if they can’t play.) We cannot predict players having unexpectedly bad years (such as Blair Walsh last year) or players coming out of nowhere to do well (such as Mike Gilliard or Michael Bennett). Some very good players will not make this list because there is depth at their position, or they project to do as well as they have in the past. And obviously we can't predict injuries.
A good way to look at it is this: If Georgia is going to win big this year, it is important that these players, in this order, have a good year.
Let’s start the list, in descending order, with:
10. COREY MOORE
WHY HE'S VITAL: Moore could very well be the starting free safety for the first four games, including that critical SEC opener at Missouri. This assumes that Bacarri Rambo’s four-game suspension is upheld. (It is pending, from what we’ve heard, and it would be considered an upset at this point if it doesn't stay at four games.) Moore played mostly on special teams last year, and at the end of spring practice was still competing with Connor Norman to be the presumed heir apparent to Rambo. But Moore was a consensus four-star prospect out of Griffin High School. And at the end of last year Shawn Williams (the last man standing in the secondary) was talking about Moore as Rambo’s replacement if Rambo went pro. Moore projects to potentially be as good as Rambo in a couple years ... but can he come close now?
QUOTABLE: "He's very aggressive and is a good athlete who is learning a lot. He is going to have to play for us, he's going to have to function on our defense." – head coach Mark Richt, during spring practice.
BEST CASE: Moore’s athletic ability is enough to overcome his inexperience, and he provides steady play alongside Williams. Georgia doesn’t lose a lot without Rambo, and the safety spot isn’t a weakness during the first four games. Georgia wants to avoid a situation like last year, when Rambo’s absence against Boise State was an obvious problem. Rambo’s ball-hawking skills – he was second in the nation in interceptions – will be hard to replace. But Moore has the ability to make plays and solidify the pass defense.
WORST CASE: Moore is overmatched and doesn’t blend well with the mish-mash secondary of the first few games. Georgia’s ability to defend Missouri’s spread offense is hurt a lot. Norman, or perhaps Marc Deas, could always end up being up to the job. But Moore is the player who seems to have the most upside, and was recruited to play. He’ll get his chance now.
FINAL WORD: Norman, or perhaps Marc Deas, could always end up being up to the job. But Moore is the player who seems to have the most upside, and was recruited to play. He’ll get his chance now.
Next up: No. 9, on Thursday ... Hint: This guy gets talked about a lot. And we mean, a lot.