Last year's loss to South Carolina in the second game of the season, while disappointing, was understandable for a team rebuilding in several key areas. The following week's loss to Arkansas was at least close, and besides, the Razorbacks ended up in a BCS bowl. But there was no lipstick for the pig that was the Dawgs' 24-12 loss at Mississippi State the following week, a 60-minute stinker in which the struggling Georgia offense didn't even get into the end zone until late in the fourth quarter when State was already preparing coach Dan Mullen's Gatorade bath. It was the first time the Georgia Bulldogs had to bow down to their bizarro brethren since 1974; more importantly, it represented an unequivocal sign that the 2010 season was headed over a cliff. For that reason, this year's matchup will be a critical test of just how far Mark Richt's Bulldogs have bounced back.
BETTER KNOW THE (OTHER) BULLDOGS
Coach: Dan Mullen, 14-11 in two years at Mississippi State
Last season: 9-4, 4-4 SEC; finished 5th in the SEC West and ranked 15th in the final AP poll
Returning starters for 2011: 15 (eight offense, seven defense, zero special teams)
Key returners: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, WR Chad Bumphis, CB Johnthan Banks
Key losses: DE Pernell McPhee, OT Derek Sherrod, CB Maurice Langston
Best-case scenario: Georgia's bigger, more experienced defensive front clamps down on Chris Relf more than they were able to last season and leads the team to a get-back win in Athens. Don't expect a blowout win even if the Georgia Dawgs are at the top of their game, because let's face it, this is not the hapless Mississippi State program of the late Jackie Sherrill/early Sylvester Croom eras; Dan Mullen has fashioned his team into a fairly potent instrument that's no longer a gimme win for anyone, much less a Georgia team in transition. But UGA still has the edge in talent, and with stouter play from the front seven and a crisper running game on offense, they're more than capable of earning their revenge.
Worst-case scenario: Without A.J. Green, the offense continues to struggle and falls to State in another ugly game. MSU is replacing its entire starting linebacking corps, but every other unit on their defense returns mostly intact, and that could spell trouble for a Georgia offense that couldn't get out of its own way in Starkville last year, particularly in the running game. Georgia's offensive line supposedly has been getting in much better shape this off-season, but without the talent and experience of Trinton Sturdivant guarding Aaron Murray's blind side, the rugged State defense will give them everything they can handle.