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Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Schedule Preview: Yup, Vanderbilt Is A Rival Now

Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga., Sept. 22

Coach: James Franklin, 6-7 in his debut season at Vanderbilt.
Last year: 6-7 (2-6 SEC).
Best win: The season finale, a 41-7 road shellacking of a Wake Forest team that went to a bowl.
Worst loss: A 27-21 overtime heartbreaker to a bad Tennessee squad they had every chance to beat.
Returning starters: 18 (nine offense, seven defense, two special teams).

Stock watch for 2012: Rising, slightly. From a team that earned what was only Vandy's fifth bowl bid in program history and put up a decent fight in nearly every team it played, the Commodores return a ton of experienced talent. That bodes well for a defense that performed quite well for the most part in 2011. What's less certain is whether the Commodore offense can put up consistent production for the first time since Jay Cutler graduated six years ago. James Franklin was hired for his offensive prowess, so expectations will be high that he can get the 'Dores' offensive attack in gear.

Best-case scenario (from the Dawgs' perspective): A defense that's still royally pissed about last year's game comes out with guns blazing and holds the 'Dores to single digits on the scoreboard. Let's face it, the Bulldog defense has double motivation to play hard against Vandy this season -- sure, Franklin's postgame dustup with Todd Grantham last season went viral in a hurry and provided the Dawgs with reams of bulletin-board material, but even if that little incident had never happened, the Bulldog D should have chips on their shoulders simply because they didn't play that well in Nashville last October (199 rushing yards at better than five yards per attempt, for starters). Everyone's talking up Georgia's defense as one of the very best in the country this season, and this should be a statement game for them. Not that that renders the offense an afterthought or anything, but if Aaron Murray can have the same kind of game he had against the Commodores last year (326 yards, three TDs and only one pick), Georgia will be in good shape.

Worst-case scenario: Vanderbilt's defense knocks the rebuilding Bulldog offensive line for a loop, stymies Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley, and upsets the Dawgs in Athens. Remember, Vandy's going to have chips on their shoulders about last year's game too, and whatever else you can say about Franklin, he's given the Commodores the kind of swagger few current SEC fans have seen in their lifetimes. Vandy beat Georgia in Athens six years ago, they came within a few plays of knocking off the Dawgs last year, and they'll ride into Athens in September fully believing they can win. Georgia's defense should be able to corral a Vanderbilt attack that's been inconsistent at best the last few years, but the pressure will be on the offense to minimize mistakes and put some points on the board early. If they can stun Vanderbilt with a couple quick TDs, they'll be in good shape, but a low-scoring defensive slugfest would play into the Commodores' hands in much the same way the 2006 game did.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.