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GEORGIA BULLDOGS: Previewing

Location: Athens, Ga. (Sanford Stadium)

Conference: Southeastern, East Division

Coach: Mark Richt (seventh year, 61-17)

Assistant coaches: Tony Ball (running backs), Mike Bobo (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), John Eason (associate head coach/receivers), Jon Fabris (defensive ends), Rodney Garner (assistant head coach/defensive line), John Jancek (linebackers), David Johnson (tight ends), Willie Martinez (defensive coordinator/defensive backs), Stacy Searels (offensive line)

Last year: 9-4, beat Virginia Tech 31-24 in Chick-fil-A Bowl

Offense: The pieces are in place at the skill positions for Georgia to greatly improve what was an underperforming offense last year. Quarterback Matthew Stafford made huge strides near the end of the season and the tailback and receiver depth is impressive. The receivers still need to show they can hold onto the ball, but Stafford will have numerous options as pass targets. There are enormous question marks along an offensive line that returns only two starters and where nobody is playing the position he played a year ago. Preseason injuries have also riddled the line, taking away from the group’s opportunity to gel before the season opener. If the line can give Stafford time to throw, he could have the breakout year Bulldog fans are expecting.

Defense: Georgia’s defense was the guiding force in a remarkable three-game win streak to close the season, just as it appeared disaster was imminent. Few of the central figures in that defense are back, however, leaving unproven but talented players to pick up the slack. Safety Kelin Johnson and defensive tackle Jeff Owens are among the few experienced returnees, but don’t expect the defense to fall too far off. Brandon Miller, Dannell Ellerbe and Darius Dewberry lead a quick linebacking corps and several youngsters are ready to emerge in the secondary. The biggest question is whether the new starters on the defensive line can adequately rush the passer.

Can’t miss game: Oct. 27 vs. Florida. Georgia fans have been proclaiming “This might be the year!” for season after season when the subject is beating the Gators in Jacksonville. But the results have rarely lived up to Bulldog fans’ expectations at the World’s Largest Cocktail Party. The Bulldogs have beaten Florida only twice since 1989, but may need a win over the Gators this year to fulfill their hopes of winning the SEC East.

Local players: TE Bruce Figgins, Shaw (freshman)

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