SEC Baseball Preview 2013: Whither David Perno and the Georgia Bulldogs?

Matt Ryerson-US PRESSWIRE

It's an odd-numbered year, which could just mean that Georgia is going to the NCAA tournament. But even formulas can be wrong sometimes

Last Year: Georgia missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years despite getting off to an 8-0 start. Of course, when that first loss comes against Western Carolina -- well, you know that you might be in for a tough season. The Dawgs finished up just 31-26 and 14-15 in the SEC, and with a lot of bubble teams seeing their spots in the tournament pop in the final weeks, whatever small chance Georgia had of making it went out the window by the time the bids were announced.

What's Changed: The only pitchers with double-digit starts are gone, and that includes the generally good Alex Wood, who was 7-3 with a 2.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts even. But the other starting pitcher was Michael Palazzone, who had a forgettable final year in which he went 2-7 while compiling a 4.96 ERA. Would-be closer Pete Nagel was lost to Tommy John surgery, and a freshman will take over for him. On the offense, the biggest loss is Peter Verdin, who battled .307/.404/.364 in 2012; as the numbers might suggest, Verdin doesn't take a lot of pop with him.

What's the Same: The rest of the offense. Three of the four Bulldogs who batted better than .300 last year are back, and all of them have higher slugging percentages than on-base percentages (though just barely in a couple of cases). Curt Powell leads the way after hitting .355/.434/.448 last season, and home-run leader Hunter Cole (7) is also back. That Cole led with seven and had very little real competition for the title tells you that this is not a team that's going to slug its way to an SEC title. (Georgia's overall slugging percentage last season was .371.)

The Schedule: If Georgia wins the SEC East, it will only be because of how easy the cross-division schedule is. I'm kidding. But only slightly. There are a few tough non-conference games, including a home-and-home against Clemson and a pair of games against No. 16 Georgia Tech (Baseball America). In the SEC, the Dawgs go to College Station and get Arkansas at home, two series that won't be easy. But the consensus worst teams in the West are also on the slate, including a visit from Alabama and a trip to Auburn. The Dawgs' biggest competitors for the division, if they end up competing, are also neatly split down the middle, with Georgia going to Kentucky and South Carolina but getting Vanderbilt at home and closing out the season in Athens against Florida.

Prognosis: David Perno Equilibrium would suggest that this is going to be a tournament year for Georgia. The Dawgs went to the NCAAs in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 before making a breakthrough by going in back-to-back years when they went in 2009. Then didn't go in 2010, then went in 2011 and missed the field in 2012. Perno needs the swing. He hasn't won 40 games since 2008, and has only crossed that threshold three times in 11 season with the Dawgs. But it's hard to see that formula working out this year for Georgia unless the pitching pans out; if the Dawgs make it, it could be by the skin of their teeth.

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