Georgia Bulldogs Still Clinging To SEC, National Title Hopes

Oct 5, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt walks off the field with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (11) after defeating the Tennessee Volunteers 34-31during overtime at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

In the moments leading up to the onside kick that would eventually seal their fate, the national championship aspirations of the Georgia Bulldogs were still alive and well. Then, as the Clemson Tigers fell on the football, securing a Week One victory that would launch their own championship quest, the pulse weakened for the Bulldogs. The national championship hopes were very quickly put on life support.

Now, five weeks later, facing an unexpectedly pivotal matchup with SEC East title implications against the undefeated (and ranked) Missouri Tigers, Georgia is back in the thick of the conversation as the highest-ranked one-loss team in the country. And, after surviving an intense scare in Knoxville this past weekend against the Tennessee Volunteers, the schedule sets up favorably for Georgia to run the table and garner a third consecutive berth in the SEC Championship Game.

The Bulldogs get Missouri at home this weekend and they’ll also get Florida at home on Nov. 2. They should be favorites in both of those games and their other five remaining contests, and if it plays out as planned, Georgia will be a few losses away from playing another play-in game to the national title on Dec. 7 in Atlanta.

Now, the fact they control their own fate heading towards Atlanta is evidence enough of how resilient this football team is. No, the Clemson loss didn’t affect the SEC East standings, but the fact that Georgia was able to rebound after such a gut-wrenching loss to beat South Carolina and LSU, and then to survive against Tennessee on the road, shows a level of character we haven’t necessarily expected from Georgia teams.

Now, that’s not to say that the Georgia Bulldogs haven’t been successful under head coach Mark Richt, because they certainly have. But, it seems like on a yearly basis the Bulldogs are only able skirt the edges of the national championship conversation without ever getting an actual seat at the table.

This year, once again, they skirt the edges. However, their prospects look promising.

They’re currently ranked seventh in the AP Poll, and of the six teams between them and the top, Stanford and Oregon are scheduled to play each other this year and Florida State and Clemson play each other this week. That eliminates two undefeated teams, and if Georgia and Alabama were to win out, that’d give Georgia a shot to deal Alabama a loss in the SEC Championship and leapfrog them in the standings.

After that, it just boils down to hoping that the victors of those aforementioned matchups and the Ohio State Buckeyes hit speed bumps along the way. And even if only one of those teams takes a loss, there’s always the possibility that a one-loss Georgia Bulldogs team–considering the strength of their schedule–winds up ahead of an unbeaten team in the BCS standings.

No, Georgia doesn’t quite control its own destiny in the national title race, but it certainly has to like where it’s sitting. And, in a way, not having control over the landscape allows Georgia to play without pressure.

From this point forward, Georgia’s biggest obstacle appears to be themselves. Specifically, their defense.

Through five games, Georgia is giving up 32.2 points per game, a putrid 95th in the country. Premier quarterbacks like Tajh Boyd and–as surprising as it is to say–Zach Mettenberger have torched the Bulldogs secondary, and solid backs like Roderick McDowell, Jeremy Hill and Rajion Neal have given Georgia’s front seven fits.

It’s a young unit, and it’s been one that has faced some difficulties on the injury front, and it’s easily the greatest concern for Georgia going foward.

Luckily for the Georgia Bulldogs, the offense has been as good as advertised. Aaron Murray wasn’t spectacular in the win over Tennessee, but with Georgia trailing by a touchdown, you still got the sense that there was still just too much time remaining for a quarterback with Murray’s talents, and the senior delivered.

Murray is still very much in the Heisman Trophy race.

And, while Todd Gurley is doubtful against Missouri and Keith Marshall is now out for the season after an injury last week, the Georgia running game was still formidable with freshman running back J.J. Green against Tennessee. All-in-all, it’s definitely Georgia’s offense that’s manning the woodwind on a ship that has its sights set on a national championship.

The loss to Clemson may have driven that ship slightly off course, but the Georgia Bulldogs have corrected and they still have a great opportunity at winning that elusive national championship for Mark Richt. That seems preposterous given the mood after the opening week loss, but credit to Georgia and Richt for not dwelling on it and getting back on track.

Topics: Aaron Murray, Georgia Bulldogs, Mark Richt, SEC, Todd Gurley

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