Buffalo-Georgia Preview

Buffalo-Georgia Preview

Published Aug. 28, 2012 6:27 p.m. ET

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.