ATHENS - Yes, technically Georgia’s football season isn’t over yet. There is the matter of the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska, for which practice begins on Wednesday.
But work for the 2013 season has surely begun, with coaches busy on the recruiting trail, current players mulling their next move, and the usual offseason stuff. So it’s not too early for us to look at the key decisions the program faces between now and the start of spring practice, which is sometime in March.
I have chosen not to include the pro decisions of Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, because at this point it will be a surprise, and a shock in Jones’ case, if either returns in 2013. Nor am I accounting for possible de-commitments, possible transfers, or the possibility of any coaches’ leaving - not because it won't happen, but because specifics aren't predictable at this point. A meteor could land on Mark Richt in the Publix parking lot this week for all we know.
This list is based on what we know as of Monday, Dec. 10, so here you go:
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1. Aaron Murray, stay or go: This looming decision probably doesn’t get enough attention. The assumption (among media and fans) has long been that Murray, a couple inches short and not a surefire first-round pick, will be back. And that very well may end up being the case. But until Murray makes it official, the state of next year’s offense is in limbo. Hutson Mason, who would replace Murray after redshirting this year, has the confidence of the coaches but is still totally unproven. Given the rest of the skill position players, Georgia’s offense might still be outstanding with Mason at the helm – but it’s far from a guarantee. And the success of Georgia in 2013 is setting up to be predicated on a dominant offense, so Murray’s decision is the most important for the team right now.
2. Laremy Tunsil: For those who don’t know this name, Tunsil is an offensive tackle in Lake City, Fla., who is rated a five-star prospect by 247sports.com. He’s the kind of player who could potentially start at tackle right away – and Georgia probably needs a tackle to start right away. If Tunsil signs, he very well could be the starting left tackle in 2013, or he could start at right tackle with John Theus moving to the left spot.
3. Kwame Geathers, stay or go: After Jones and Ogletree, Geathers is the most likely defensive player to bolt for the pros. But it’s not close to a certainty. Geathers would be a fifth-year senior in 2013 and players in his family have a history of going early. But Kwame Geathers was one of the few players last year, along with Jarvis Jones, who quickly dismissed the notion of turning pro. Geathers’ decision could have a big impact, because he would give the team an experienced, 350-pound nose guard, and as we saw in 2010 and 2011, having a big nose guard in the 3-4 makes a big difference. The good news for Georgia is that Geathers doesn’t return, the team has capable replacements in Mike Thornton and John Taylor ... and perhaps a recruit you'll see later on this list.
4. Reuben Foster: The inside linebacker from well he was from Georgia for awhile, now he’s from Auburn, Ala., after moving there, but either way he’s back to being a recruiting free agent. Rusty Mansell of 247sports.com, who is to recruiting in Georgia what Nate Silver is to electoral maps, reported last week that Georgia coaches were calling up Foster almost immediately after he de-committed from Auburn. If Foster signs with Georgia, he could play a lot in 2013, and perhaps even start.
5. Josh Harvey-Clemons, safety or linebacker: Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising that the highly-touted Harvey-Clemons had to wait a year to play. Not only did he walk into a senior-laden defense, but he didn’t have a definite position, the way Jordan Jenkins did. But Harvey-Clemons is a standout talent, and with the coming defensive exodus look for Georgia to decide this year whether Harvey-Clemons stays at safety or moves back to inside linebacker – mimicking Ogletree’s move before spring practice in 2011 – or goes to outside linebacker, his spot in high school. The decision could be based on position need, or just on where Harvey-Clemons fits best – or most likely it will be a little of both.
6. Montravius Adams: The defensive tackle from Vienna, Ga., is one of the nation’s top prospects overall. Adams would be higher on this list if it were an extreme need position. Still, Adams warrants mention because he’s good enough to start eventually, even if it isn’t from Day 1. Clemson seems to be the main competition for Adams, per the recruiting analysts.
7. How many recruits enroll early: Georgia is going to sign a big class, numbering in the mid-30s, and it’s conceivable that half of them could be Georgia students this spring. The major ones who are planning to enroll early include quarterback Brice Ramsey, receiver-defensive back Tramel Terry and safety Tray Matthews. Of course enrolling early doesn’t guarantee who plays and who doesn’t, as we saw this year with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. But the more recruits who do go through spring practice, especially on defense, the more chance that the coaches have a good idea of who to put where come the preseason.
8. Malcolm Mitchell: You wouldn’t think there’s much chance of Mitchell moving back to cornerback, given the way this season went. But Todd Grantham will likely push for it again, especially with three defensive back starters leaving. Mitchell seems too valuable at receiver to move again, but it will be interesting to see what Richt has to say about this.
9. Kolton Houston: Does the offensive lineman’s NCAA eligibility continue interminably, or is there some kind of resolution? Houston tweeted on Monday that he’s now academically a senior – and yet he has still yet to play a down in college football.
10. Special teams coaching: No, they’re not hiring a special teams coordinator, unless a current coach leaves and the ensuing moves allow for a juggling of responsibilities. But Richt mentioned during the season that he was thinking of becoming the kicking coach himself. Whether or not he follows through on that, it still signaled an opening by Richt to tweak the way things are done there. The performance of the special teams was much better as the season went on – and was very good in the SEC championship game, most notably with the blocked field goal for a touchdown. So any chance of Richt’s hand being forced likely went away with that. However, it’s always possible the team adds a coordinator title to John Lilly, the tight ends coach, or something minor along those lines.