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SEC Football Preview 2014: Georgia Offense Includes Something Old, Something New

The possible return of 'Gurshall' and Aaron Murray's successor under center might hold the key to the Bulldogs' chances in the East

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Here's a riddle for you: Should Georgia be more concerned (to the extent that it's concerned about anything) with its defense or its offense?

After all, the Bulldogs return just six starters on the offense this year -- but among those coming back are their top running back and the two top wide receivers. The offensive line is another story. The defense has eight starters back on the field this year, but was mediocre last year and has to contend with a new coaching staff. If the players on that side of the ball simply progress, though, the Georgia defense might be set. A few contributors will need to step up on offense.

BIGGEST RETURNS | RBs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall
It might be too early to herald the return of "Gurshall" -- and not because Gurley and Marshall don't like their combined nickname -- at least until we find out just how well Marshall's repaired ACL looks in game action. But for all the Heisman chatter surrounding Gurley right now, the bigger boost for Georgia might be getting both of these players back at the same time. Gurley has averaged six yards or more a carry in each of his first two years and has gotten the bulk of the rushing yards (even in the duo's first season). But football teams seem to be moving more and more away from the idea of a true feature back -- a guy who carries the ball 25 or 30 times a game. Gurley will still get his carries and has a good chance of breaking the 1,000 yard mark again after missing it last year -- but the Heisman is probably a stretch. Marshall will get the ball, too, particularly if Georgia is looking to protect Hutson Mason early on.

BIGGEST LOSS | QB Aaron Murray
It's hard to think of anything to say about Murray that hasn't already been said. He's a supremely gifted quarterback who was invaluable to Georgia. Over his career, Murray played in 52 games and completed 921 of 1,478 passes for 13,166 yards, 121 touchdowns and 41 interceptions. That's good for a 158.61 passer rating. Murray helped revive the program from the bottom of Mark Richt's mid-career swoon, and led the program to two straight SEC East titles and what would have been serious contention for a third if the Dawgs had avoided the injury disaster that struck last year. There are those who selectively use a few examples to say that Murray never won that many big games (he actually did win several), but that ignores that many of those games had high stakes precisely because of how high Murray carried the Dawgs.

For the most part, Mark Richt has a pretty good track record with first-year starting quarterbacks. We can all remember how well David Greene and D.J. Shockley did, but Joe Cox actually had a pretty decent season in his one year at the helm. (There were other problems with the 2009 team that Cox led.) And the advantage of Murray going down last season, if there is one, is that Mason already got a taste of playing as the starting quarterback. The results were mixed; Mason's numbers were for the most part better against Georgia Tech than against Nebraska in the bowl game, and the Dawgs won the former and lost the latter. If Mason can just do about what the average Mark Richt quarterback does in his first year, though, the Dawgs will take it.