Georgia Football: 5 Toughest Players Bulldogs Will Face in 2014
The Georgia Bulldogs may dodge such SEC powers as Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M on their schedule this season, but that doesn't mean there's any shortage of talent squaring off against the Dawgs in 2014.
To the contrary, the Bulldogs will face some of the nation's most impressive offensive and defensive players over the course of a slate that is packed with SEC East competition, a cross-division rivalry game with reigning conference champ Auburn and a season-opening tilt against Clemson.
Here are the five toughest players (appearing in order of schedule) that Georgia will face in 2014.
Vic Beasley: Defensive End, Clemson
Vic Beasley surprised fans and experts alike when he opted to return for his senior season as a Tiger. After all, it's not often that a draft-eligible player leads his conference in sacks and opts to return for another season of college football. Unfortunately for Georgia, that's exactly what Beasley did.
Beasley told Heather Dinich of ESPN.com that he wanted to maximize his chances of NFL success, saying, "I knew that I could get better and I also wanted to finish school."
Last season, Beasley notched 23 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 13 sacks. Perhaps most notable for Georgia fans, however, was his performance against the Dawgs last year. In the season-opener, he registered two sacks and pressured quarterback Aaron Murray for much of the game.
Last year, Beasley took advantage of a reshuffled Georgia offensive line that saw John Theus (who made 14 starts as a true freshman in 2012) out of the starting lineup and saw Kolton Houston playing and starting in his first collegiate football game. As the new lineup settled in, Beasley found space on the outside.
This year, both Theus and Houston will be back to start at the tackle positions, and inexperience won't be a factor on the outside of the line. If Georgia can establish the two guard spots and develop cohesion, Beasley's efforts might be negated.
That being said, he's still one of the nation's best pass-rushers. Even if he doesn't register a sack from his defensive end position, it's all but guaranteed that he'll be quietly disrupting the offense.
Mike Davis: Running Back, South Carolina
Mike Davis broke out in a big way as a sophomore in 2013. Not only did he account for over 1,180 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, but he added 352 receiving yards in establishing himself as a threat in the passing game as well.
For Davis, the most impressive statistics aren't his totals, but rather his consistency. He accounted for more than 115 yards of offense in each of his first nine ballgames in 2013. It took a leg injury to derail that streak.
If Todd Gurley isn't the best running back in the SEC, then the distinction must go to Mike Davis. Gurley may display a more diverse set of skills than Davis, but the junior Gamecock plays with every bit of toughness and grit that one would expect from one of the best backs in the country.
Last year, he torched the Bulldogs defense for 198 yards of offense on just 20 total touches. If the Georgia front seven isn't ready to play in 2014, then he'll probably do more of the same.
Alex Collins: Running Back, Arkansas
Alex Collins arrived at Arkansas as the top running back recruit in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite. He lived up to that billing by rushing for 100 or more yards in each of his first three games. His production slid, however, during a nine-game Arkansas losing streak to close out the season.
Interestingly enough, in his first three games (all three victories), Collins averaged 23.33 carries per contest and toted the rock at least 20 times in each contest. During the Razorbacks' losing skid, he averaged just 13.33 carries per game and never ran the ball more than 18 times in a single outing.
Statistics rarely tell the whole story, but it's hard to dispute the notion that Arkansas is better when Collins is used.
Last month, Arkansas took the title of "Running Backs U" in an ESPN.com report. Collins and backfield mate Jonathan Williams are doing their best to continue that tradition. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema likes to run the football, and the Razorbacks will likely rely on their two ground threats heavily against Georgia.
This is the type of game when inside linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson can earn their All-SEC stripes. Expect both players (and backups like Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin) to have huge games.
Vernon Hargreaves: Cornerback, Florida
The bio for Vernon Hargreaves on the Florida Gators' official website says it all:
- Third Team All-American by the Associated Press
- National Defensive Freshman of the Year by College Football News
- First Team All-Freshman All-America by College Football News, Sporting News, FWAA, 247Sports.com and Athlon Sports
- Athlon Sports SEC Newcomer of the Year
So, it's not a stretch to say his 2013 campaign was a success.
The scary thing about Hargreaves is that he's still improving. Combine that with his nine tackles against the Bulldogs last season, and Georgia should be worried about him.
That being said, Georgia returns a plethora of capable and experienced receivers who should be able to maneuver (as well as anyone) around the stud defensive back. Assuming Hutson Mason progresses as the starter at quarterback for Georgia, fans can hope Hargreaves quietly locks down one side of the field while the Dawgs find success on the other.
Nick Marshall: Quarterback, Auburn
Nick Marshall, a former Georgia Bulldog, had a fantastic debut for the Auburn Tigers in 2013. He threw for just shy of 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns and also racked up 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
If Auburn experiences the success that so many anticipate in 2014, it will be by riding Marshall. Accordingly, such a campaign could have him in the middle of a Heisman chase.
Statistically speaking, Marshall had his way with just about everyone last year and Georgia was no exception. Against the Dawgs, he racked up 229 passing yards and 89 yards on the ground to go with three total touchdowns. That being said, the Bulldogs were still just one ill-fated heave away from ruining Auburn's dream season.
This game comes late in the season, and the hope for Georgia fans is that defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's backfield may be hitting its stride by November. If that is the case, then an experienced and talented front seven and an improved secondary could give Marshall a tougher game than he saw in 2013.