Buffalo-Georgia Preview

Georgia enters this season with hopes for an SEC title and

possibly even BCS glory, but it first has to deal with the

aftermath of a tumultuous offseason.

As many as four players could be suspended for the sixth-ranked

Bulldogs’ season opener against Buffalo on Saturday.

With two defeats to start last season, it appeared that Georgia

was in line for another disappointing campaign, the kind that had

put coach Mark Richt squarely on the hot seat. Instead, the

Bulldogs quickly rebounded and reeled off 10 consecutive wins –

their longest single-season streak since 1982 – while securing a

spot in the SEC championship.

They were blown out 42-10 by eventual BCS runner-up LSU in that

game and lost in overtime to Michigan State at the Outback Bowl,

finishing 10-4 after going 14-12 over the previous two seasons.

“We know what we’re capable of,” said linebacker Jarvis Jones,

who was an All-American in 2011. “We had a lot of hype last year,

and we had a great run. This year, we know that people are

expecting us to be way better. We’re just going to take it all in

stride.”

The program got a boost in January when SEC interception leader

Baccari Rambo and fellow defensive back Sanders Commings announced

they would return for their senior years instead of heading to the

NFL draft.

Commings, though, will miss the first two games for his arrest

stemming from a domestic dispute in January, and outside linebacker

Chase Vasser is also out for two games for a DUI arrest in May.

Malcolm Mitchell, who had 665 receiving yards and four touchdowns

last year, is expected to move over to the secondary and start in

Commings’ place.

Rambo, an All-American in 2011, and linebacker Alec Ogletree are

also reportedly suspended, but Richt did not say Tuesday whether

the two were out of the lineup.

“I think we’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “Time will

tell.”

Cornerback Branden Smith was initially suspended one game for

marijuana possession, but that was lifted earlier this month.

Georgia’s headaches weren’t limited to defensive players.

Leading rusher Isaiah Crowell was dismissed from the program

following an arrest on felony weapons charges, and returning senior

Carlton Thomas left the team before spring practice.

Ken Malcome, who ran for 51 yards on 12 carries against Michigan

State after Crowell was injured, is slated to start Saturday.

Freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley might also see some

carries.

Aaron Murray, who has topped 3,000 yards in each of his first

two seasons, will direct the Bulldogs’ no-huddle attack again. He

threw for 35 TDs after that offense was installed before the 2011

campaign, and Georgia ran an SEC-high 1,016 plays compared with 814

in 2010.

“We want to score 40 or 50 points or more per game,” Murray

said. “That’s our goal. We have the firepower at running back, at

tight end, at receiver. We have a great offensive line. We’re

capable of doing that.

“We’re not here just to roll over and say we can win with

defense. We want to have our part and our share. We want to help

them out.”

Murray will face a Buffalo defense that’s missing one of its top

players in linebacker Khalil Mack.

The junior, a first-team all-Mid-American Conference selection

in 2011, is suspended for the opener after violating an unspecified

team rule. He had a team-best 5 1/2 sacks and 20 1/2 tackles for

loss during the Bulls’ 3-9 season in 2011, and was named to the

Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists.

Buffalo’s other top returning player is junior Branden Oliver,

who ran for a school-record 1,395 yards and scored 13 TDs last

season.

In their first matchup with Georgia, the Bulls will face their

highest-ranked foe since taking on No. 2 Auburn in 2006. They upset

their most recent Top 25 opponent, beating then-No. 12 Ball State

42-24 in the MAC championship Dec. 5, 2008.

Buffalo has been outscored 121-38 in its three losses to current

SEC members while Georgia has won by a combined 112-20 in its two

games versus MAC schools.