The Bulldogs were within five yards of a national championship game berth under Mark Richt last year, coming up short on the Alabama 5-yard line in the closing seconds of the SEC title game. Richt's team returns much of the offensive firepower that took the Crimson Tide to the wire, including quarterback Aaron Murray, super sophomore running back Todd Gurley, and tight end Arthur Lynch. Each of them will garner a look from the NFL eventually.
The offensive line is in a state of preseason flux, as are several key spots on defense that were vacated by the NFL-bound Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and John Jenkins. The Bulldogs send plenty of talent into the NFL draft on a regular basis. UGA placed eight players in the 2013 NFL Draft, including two first-rounders (Ogletree to the St. Louis Rams; Jones to the Pittsburgh Steelers) and two third-rounders (Jenkins to the New Orleans Saints, Shawn Williams to the Cincinnati Bengals). That has been the trend under Richt, whose program has produced 32 picks since 2009, including 14 chosen in the third round or earlier.
Top senior prospects
TE Arthur Lynch: The 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end continues a long tradition of pro-caliber tight ends at UGA. Lynch made 24 catches last season for 431 yards and three touchdowns. Lynch isn't a threat to get open deep, but he is a consistent blocker with consistent hands. Lynch is a classic in-line tight end.
QB Aaron Murray: One of the SEC's most prolific passers returns for his final season looking to rewrite UGA's passing records. Small for the NFL at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, but very productive. Murray has thrown for more than 10,000 career yards, including a Georgia record 3,893 yards last season. He has a career TD-INT ratio of 95-32.
DE Garrison Smith: The 6-3, 299-pound defensive lineman made 57 tackles last season in his first year as an impact starter. He recorded only one sack and two tackles for loss, numbers which will need to rise significantly in 2013 if he is to boost draft consideration. An excellent student with leadership skills, Smith's character will help him get an edge on a chance in the pros as well.
WR Chris Conley: In a 45-31 Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska, the Bulldogs junior served notice that he'll be a prime candidate to replace Tavarres King as a starter with two receptions, both for touchdowns, for 136 yards. He finished the season with only 20 catches, but averaged 17.1 yards per grab and scored six touchdowns in only three starts.
RB Todd Gurley: UGA fans like to refer to the backfield tandem of Gurley and Keith Marshall as "Gurshall," but make no mistake, Gurley is the better pro prospect of the two. The sophomore combines a fearlessness for getting tough yards inside with breakaway speed, and has the ability to not only eventually play in the NFL, but play as a starter.
DB Josh Harvey-Clemons: The sophomore safety is a special talent, appearing in every UGA game last season. He made only 14 tackles, but figures to be a fixture in the Bulldogs' secondary for years to come. The 6-5, 212-pound safety has been suspended for UGA's season opener against Clemson after admitting marijuana use to UGA police in the spring.
LB Jordan Jenkins: The sophomore outside linebacker is vastly talented and posted a stellar season as a true freshman last year, with eight tackles for loss and five sacks. Jenkins made six starts last season and appeared in every game, recording a sack and a forced fumble against rival Tennessee. He already has enough size (6-3, 246) and figures to be a future star for the Bulldogs, perhaps as early as this season.
RB Keith Marshall: The other half of UGA's dynamic freshman rushing tandem from a year ago, Marshall ran for 759 yards on 117 carries and eight touchdowns. That's a 6.5 yards-per-carry average, best on the team. He has a strong, compact build at 5-11 and 219 pounds, and might play an even larger role this fall if the Georgia coaching staff looks to take more of the team's rushing load off of Gurley.
QB Hutson Mason: Mason hasn't begun to build his body of work at UGA, but he is the heir apparent behind Murray at the position, and UGA insiders believe he possesses even more raw talent than the fourth-year starter ahead of him. Mark it down: He will make a big splash in the SEC as a first-year starter in 2014.
DB/WR Malcolm Mitchell: A two-way talent last year for the Bulldogs, Mitchell is one of the most explosive athletes on the UGA roster. Mitchell was second on the team last year with 40 catches for 572 yards and four scores. Made 12 tackles defensively and is a regular on kickoff and punt returns as well. Out for the summer while recovering from surgery, Mitchell should be ready to go for the season opener. He'll be playing offense only this year, barring injury.
TE Jay Rome: Another big, strong blocker for the UGA run game, Rome (6-6, 255) caught 11 passes last year for 152 yards and two scores, including one in the SEC Championship game against Alabama. Rome comes from one of the nation's most tradition-rich prep programs in Valdosta (Ga.) High.
DB Damian Swann: The Bulldogs' junior ball hawk in the secondary led the team in interceptions (four) and fumble recoveries (two) last season. He also forced two other fumbles. He is Georgia's best cover man, but is undersized (5-11, 178). He will play some nickel back this season as well.
OL Xzavier Ward: There are plenty of offensive linemen at UGA with more experience, but insiders believe Ward might have the highest pro potential of any of them. The 6-7, 278-pounder will need to add some weight, but figures to be a future fixture at tackle for the Bulldogs. Ward finished spring drills as a starter on the right side, but will continue to be challenged.
Three must-see games of 2013
Aug. 31 at Clemson: A tough non-conference opener for a Bulldogs defense that will be challenged by the Tigers' scoring machine. The Georgia offense, however, can keep pace in a high-scoring game.
Sept. 7 vs. South Carolina: Annually, this game is an early tone-setter in the SEC East. Georgia can ill-afford a home loss to a division foe this early in the season.
Nov. 2 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville): The Bulldogs' annual trip to Jacksonville for a neutral-site clash against the archrival Gators should once again have division title implications. Florida's defense vs. Georgia's offense will be appointment television.