With a good deal of help from Year2.
Georgia's not the team with the most returning starters in the league, but they have a nice mix, and that could be a huge help to the few truly new guys who do take the field. Most of that will be in the depth department, with the starting quarterback likely to be the only player to see SEC action for the first time when the Dawgs face honorary SEC member Louisiana-Lafayette. There is reason for optimism on the roster.
THE NEW GUYS
Yes, we're talking about the quarterback again, this time Georgia's. And yes, it's Aaron Murray. How good will he be, can he lead the Dawgs back from last season's brush with irrelevance, etc. It's worth looking at Mark Richt's other first-year starting quarterbacks during his tenure at Georgia to see what answers we can find.
With the exception of Matthew Stafford -- who turned out to have a great overall career -- none of the first-year quarterbacks under Richt have had what you could call a bad first years. Sure, there are some flaws, like Shockley's completion percentage and Cox's TD-to-INT ratio. But calling Shockley a "first-year starter" in 2005 is really stretching the term, and even Cox had attempted 58 passes and had some meaningful playing time in at least the Colorado game before his first year at the helm. So history says Aaron Murray could fall anywhere on a continuum between David Greene's first year and Matthew Stafford's. Happy to narrow it down for you there.
Murray is the most significant new face on the offense.
There's more turnover on defense, which is not exactly the worst news Dawg fans could hear; besides, we're not talking about people who have never seen the field before. And all but one of the likely starters got four stars from at least one of the recruiting services; they might be new, but they're talented. Among them: Cornelius Washington, a linebacker whose 13 tackles last year include five for loss -- four of them sacks. Bacarri Rambo had two interceptions and broke up five passes in 11 games (no starts).
THE VETERANS ON OFFENSE
One of the main reasons to think Murray might have a relatively easy transition to college is his supporting cast. Three of his offensive linemen started all 13 games last year (Clint Boling, Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones), Chris Davis played all 13 (starting 11) and Josh Davis started six. That experience should mean Murray won't be spending much time under pressure.
A.J. Green is back, along with his 53 catches for 808 yards and six touchdowns. Among the other returnees, only Orson Charles had more than 20 catches last year (in fairness, only one other receiver besides Green and Charles had more than 20 catches period). Tavarres King had a few more yards than Charles (377-374) despite having five fewer catches (23-18).
And Washaun Ealey is good for far more than getting his eyes gouged. He rushed for 717 yards and three TDs on 125 carries last year -- all of them in the last nine games of the season. That includes 183 yards on 20 carries against Georgia Tech, an effort nicely complemented by Caleb King's 166 yards on 18 carries. King had 594 yards and seven scores on 114 carries last year. Depth is not a problem at running back.
On defense, Justin Houston will anchor the linebacking corps after having 15 TFL and 7.5 sacks last year. Brandon Boykin returns to the secondary with three picks, six broken-up passes and 54 tackles.
WHAT THEY LOST
That's not to say that the Dawgs didn't lose significant players -- they did. Both leading tacklers from 2009 are gone. That includes Rennie Curran, who had 130 stops last years, and Reshad Jones, who had 73 in addition to snaring four interceptions. And Geno Atkins takes his 10.5 TFL and 3.0 sacks with him, as well as his 33 quarterback pressures. View that last number with some salt -- the Georgia staff appears to be quite generous with the quarterback hurries. But he was in the backfield a lot at any rate, something that's not always easy to replace. Georgia fans hope the new 3-4 scheme can make up for that.