Projecting the SEC East in 2013: Georgia claims No. 3

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Georgia loses a lot of its 2012 defense. Does that mean the 2013 Dawgs will be unable to hold on to the SEC East?

Once more, Neil is skeptical about Georgia. For more on Georgia, head to Dawg Sports.

No. 3 Georgia

Starters returning: Nine on offense, two on defense.

The good: QB Aaron Murray is back for his senior season, headlining a long list of players on offense who will return to Athens. Among them are running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, Georgia's version of thunder and lightning. Joining them is wideout Malcolm Mitchell, who all but sealed Georgia's trip to Atlanta last year with his 45-yard touchdown against Florida, and Michael Bennett, who looks to bounce back from a season-ending injury a year ago. This is a unit that was very good, though mostly young last year. Add a year of experience and you could be looking at a top-10 offense nationally.

The bad: As good as Georgia's offense could potentially be, their defense could hold them back from accomplishing anything. The defense loses their two leaders, Bacarri Rambo and Jarvis Jones, and a slew of other starters from a unit that hasn't allowed a touchdown to Florida in seven quarters. Todd Grantham is about as good as you can get at plugging holes, but when you've got to plug all of them at once, minus safety Damian Swann, it gets tricky even for the best of them. The Bulldogs' schedule only makes matters worse: With Clemson, South Carolina and LSU all in September, they could easily start 1-3, and, unlike in 2011, when the Dawgs started 0-2, the rest of the schedule doesn't allow them to climb out of an early hole.

The key: With one side of the ball a strength, and the other a weakness, the Bulldogs need to turn special teams into a strength. If Marshall Morgan can improve his accuracy, and Gurley can continue to be a threat in the kick return game, Georgia's special teams could be dangerous.

Key game: South Carolina. No longer do the Bulldogs get the benefit of SEC West cupcakes, as they did in 2011 (Ole Miss and Mississippi State as rotational opponents in addition to annual foe Auburn) and 2012 (just Ole Miss), but they do get the benefit of facing the Gamecocks at home. Florida is a big game, too, but without the advantage of making up ground in inter-division play, Georgia needs to first worry about the team that's beaten it three straight times.

Somewhat relevant fact: Aaron Murray is 1-4 in postseason games: 0-2 in SEC Championships and 1-2 in bowl games.

Relevant fact: Since 2007, Georgia is 3-13 against top-15 teams.

Overview: This offense is going to put up points, no doubt about it. But the defense has way too many question marks to even consider this team as a national championship contender. You simply can't win the SEC East (or West, for that matter) with your defense as a liability. Florida fans can relate to this: Remember 2007? As long as Murray can put up big numbers, the Dawgs will be fine, but he plays in the SEC, where some of the best defenses await. The Dawgs don't face Alabama, but they do face LSU and Florida, and we know better than to write off any South Carolina defense with Jadeveon Clowney on it. This team will make a late push, but will settle for the Gator Bowl.

Projection: 8-5 (5-3 SEC), Gator Bowl loss.

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