NOTE: This is part of our series ranking Georgia's most important games in 2012, beginning with the least important, and continuing on to ... drum roll, and booming voice ... the MOST IMPORTANT.
The criteria for ranking the games follows this basic criteria: Their role in shaping the ultimate success (or not) of the season, but with consideration given to rivalry, context of season, and caliber of opponent.
No. 12 was Florida Atlantic.
No. 11 was Georgia Southern.
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THE BASICS: LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in Mid-American Conference
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 8
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 8
WHEN: Sept. 1 (Georgia’s opener)
HOW THINGS WILL LOOK THEN: It’s the season opener for both teams, and Georgia will almost certainly be without three-fourths of its starting secondary, due to suspension, as well as possibly inside linebacker Alec Ogletree. (Only cornerback Sanders Commings’ suspension has been officially announced.)
LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE: Somewhat, simply because it’s the opener. The first game isn’t always the tone-setter for a season: Witness 2010, when Georgia throttled Louisiana-Lafayette, only to lose the next four games and finish 6-7. And last year’s debacle in the Georgia Dome against Boise State, which had Bulldog fans ready to raze the Butts-Mehre building, was followed by a 10-win season and division championship. Still, the amount of suspensions puts a bit of a different spin on this game, especially on defense, where Malcolm Mitchell’s performance will be studied closely in anticipation of the showdown to come in Missouri.
MORE ABOUT BUFFALO: This program was renowned for a time as one of the most miserable at the FBS level, before Turner Gill turned it around. Then Gill left for Kansas, with disastrous consequences, and his replacement at Buffalo, Jeff Quinn, hasn’t fared much better, going 5-19. This year the Bulls hired Lou Tepper, a longtime defensive coach at big programs, including LSU and Illinois. Tepper is installing a 3-4 defense, hoping to turn around a run defense that ranked 86th in the nation last year. (The pass defense was 36th, the most respectable national ranking for the Bulls in 2011.) The offense, with a multiple system, averaged 30 points at home last year, but about half that at home, and the Bulls have to work in a new quarterback this year.
WHO TO WATCH: Tailback Branden Oliver is clearly the team’s top player. As a sophomore last year, he set school records for rushing attempts (306), yards (1,395), all-purpose yards (1,760) and 100-yard rushing games (eight). Most of the those records were formerly held by James Starks, the current tailback for the Green Bay Packers. Quinn is quoted as saying “there is no doubt that we have one of the nation’s premier running backs in Branden Oliver.” Well there is doubt, depending on your definition of “premier.” Oliver did manage 114 yards at Pittsburgh, and 84 against Connecticut, but was held to 58 at Tennessee. In any case, he should get the biggest test of his career against the Georgia front seven, which led a defense that ranked 11th nationally against the run last year.
LAST TIME THEY PLAYED: Never.
THIS TIME: It should be a fairly convincing Georgia opener, unless the defensive suspensions create that much of a problem, and Oliver helps the Bulls move the ball and run the clock. Otherwise, Georgia will hope to build a big lead without having to show much of its playbook, and stay healthy for the trip to Mizzou.