Bulldogs Beat

Georgia’s top sports stories of the year

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- This calendar year began with Georgia losing its bowl game, and it will finish with, well, we don’t know yet because the bowl game is Tuesday, the second-to-last day of the year.

But we do know that in between the Georgia football program experienced its most tumultuous year in some time: two coordinators gone, the star player suspended and plenty more.

So here’s a ranking of the top 10 Georgia sports stories of 2014, with the caveat that three days still remain and one more important game. We’ll risk ranking it anyway:

1. TODD GURLEY: FROM HEISMAN TO SUSPENSION

Midway through the season, it was a sure thing that Georgia’s star tailback would be among the Heisman trophy finalists. But the seeds of Gurley’s downfall had been planted months earlier.

Bryan Allen, a heretofore unknown memorabilia dealer, ended up being arguably as important to Georgia’s football season as any player. His allegation that Gurley had signed autographs for money was taken seriously by Georgia and corroborated by the player himself. The four-game suspension derailed the Heisman hopes.

Gurley made an electrifying return against Auburn, with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. But in a fitting summation of his season, it was called back because of a penalty. Then he tore his ACL near the end of the game to end his season ... and his Georgia career.

Gurley will leave Georgia as one of its most accomplished players. But his full potential went unfulfilled.

2. FROM GRANTHAM TO PRUITT

Todd Grantham’s four years as Georgia’s defensive coordinator -- some good, some bad -- ended in early January when he accepted the same job at Louisville. Two days later, head coach Mark Richt had a replacement. Jeremy Pruitt made a similar lateral move away from national champion Florida State.

And so ensued a complete overhaul of the defensive staff and with it a renewed energy among its players (at least those who stuck around). The result was a defense that did improve, but the effects of Pruitt’s arrival should be longer-lasting, as he and his assistant coaches were much stronger recruiters than Grantham and most of his staff.

3. MIKE BOBO MOVES ON

The former whipping boy for Georgia fans, Bobo was much more respected around the country. That stretched all the way to Colorado State, which hired away Georgia’s longtime offensive coordinator a couple of days before Christmas to be its head coach. Offensive line coach Will Friend is following him west.

Bobo’s departure could well end up being a bigger deal than the defensive coaching changes. But since his replacement is unknown as the year ends, it’s hard to evaluate yet just how big a deal it ends up being.

4. BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES

Georgia’s football season started with a stirring 24-point victory over a good Clemson team. It went on to include a 27-point home win over Auburn and impressive road wins at Missouri and Arkansas. The win at Missouri came less than 48 hours after the team found out about Gurley’s suspension.

But the lows were embarrassing: losing to South Carolina and Florida, two teams that ended up with six losses, and the first loss to Georgia Tech in six years. It was the Florida game that stood out the most, the Bulldogs getting run off the field by a team that was on the verge of firing its head coach.

5. DEFENSIVE ATTRITION (AGAIN)

Pruitt didn’t solve Georgia’s problem holding on to defensive backs. In fact he may have hastened it, not getting along with Shaq Wiggins, who transferred to Louisville. But Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews might have left anyway, felled by discipline issues.

In all, Georgia had six defensive backs leave the program in 2014. One didn’t even last a full year: Shaq Jones signed in February and was gone in October after a DUI.

6. HOOPS: FROM HOT SEAT TO JUST HOT

The first Georgia basketball game of this calendar year marked a low point: a loss at George Washington to make the Bulldogs 6-6 entering SEC play. Head coach Mark Fox, whose father would pass away a few days later, was in danger of losing his job.

The Bulldogs went on an improbable run to finish tied for second in the SEC, making the NIT, and after a slow start this season they are in the top 30 in the RPI. Georgia went 21-12 during this calendar year.

7. HUTSON MASON

Replacing Aaron Murray was never going to be easy, and Mason had some rough going early. But after adopting a “let it rip” philosophy, he ended up having a pretty good season.

Mason didn’t end up being as successful as D.J. Shockley, who also only got one year as the starter. But Mason’s accuracy and ability to avoid turnovers played a big part of another great offensive year.

8. NICK CHUBB

He was another reason for the offensive success. Gurley’s loss was offset by Chubb, who ended up being a first-team All-SEC pick and the SEC freshman of the year. And now he enters the Heisman discussion for future years.

9. JACK BAUERLE

The suspension of Georgia’s longtime swimming coach didn’t receive huge attention, but within the school it was a huge deal. The painful wait had a decent ending, as the NCAA allowed Bauerle to keep his job despite finding that he did intercede in an academic matter. Bauerle returns to coaching meets Jan. 3.

10. MONEY AND MCGARITY

Greg McGarity said in December that being athletics director “is not a popularity contest,” in answer to critics that he and Georgia’s administration don’t spend enough to support the football program. The criticism has reached a fever pitch on blogs and message boards, but as the year ends, the plans to build an indoor practice facility are on track, and sources say McGarity is ready to pay what is needed to keep assistant coaches and hire new ones.

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