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.
No. 10 was Buffalo.
Next up is ...
9. OLE MISS
THE BASICS: LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 2-10 overall, 0-8 in SEC
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 6
WHEN: Nov. 3 (Georgia’s ninth game)
HOW THINGS WILL LOOK THEN: Georgia is hoping it will be coming off a second straight win over Florida, and be sitting pretty in the SEC East with only Ole Miss and Auburn left to play in the conference. As for Ole Miss, it is hoping that by this point in the season it will have a settled quarterback situation, and that DT D.T. Shackleford, perhaps its top defensive player, will be recovered from ACL surgery. (Shackleford missed all of 2011, then had to have another surgery earlier this year.) When the Rebels visit Athens, they will be coming off a trip to Arkansas.
LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE: Yes, it’s hard to project this far into the season, but it’s also hard to project Ole Miss being anything better than mediocre this year. So this one falls in the category of “need to win, or the season has bigger problems” for Georgia.
MORE ABOUT OLE MISS: It’s funny how the coaching carousel works sometimes. When Houston Nutt got the axe, there was some thought Gus Malzaln (then Auburn’s offensive coordinator) would be the top candidate. Instead Ole Miss hired Hugh Freeze from Arkansas State, which then hired Malzahn. Freeze has injected some energy back into the program, just as happens with any new coach. But he’s not expected to be a miracle worker in his first year. The Rebels have a lot of areas of concern, especially on the offense. No starter was named at quarterback after spring, with junior Barry Brunetti and sophomore transfer Bo Wallace still competing. There isn’t a ton of returning skill talent either, although Randall Mackey (who was a quarterback last year) is now at receiver, where the team hopes he can add a dimension.
WHO TO WATCH: Junior safety Charles Sawyer. There wasn’t much good about the Rebels last year, but one area of success was pass defense, which ranked 22nd nationally. (A cynic might point out that other teams didn’t need to pass much on Ole Miss in the second half, skewing the stat, but oh well.) Sawyer was a big part of that, finishing fourth in the SEC in passes defended (nine) and seventh in interceptions (four).
LAST TIME THEY PLAYED: Last year in Oxford, Georgia won 27-13, in a game not as close as the score might indicate.
THIS TIME: Again, no one can predict with much confidence for a game that late in the season, when much had changed. But it would take a lot of swings for each team by then for Georgia to be regarded as anything but a heavy favorite.