Richt expects Georgia to be back in title hunt in 2013

Despite losing 12 players who started games for Georgia’s 2012 defense, coach Mark Richt believes the Bulldogs will be among the country’s elite teams again in 2013.

“We plan on being that; we hope to be that; we’ve got to earn that,” Richt said Thursday. “No one really knew what was going to happen this past season. There were some big question marks a year ago, mostly offensively. … By the end of the year they came through. More questions will asked of the defensive side of the ball this year, so those guys have to do their thing and be able to come through.”

Georgia finished in a tie for fifth in the AP poll and fourth in the coaches poll following its 12-2 season. The Bulldogs won the SEC Eastern Division championship for the second consecutive season and came within 5 yards of upsetting national-champion Alabama in the SEC title game. The Bulldogs lost 32-28 and missed out on a BCS bid, but defeated Nebraska 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl to become the second team in UGA’s 120-year history to win 12 or more games in a season.

Richt fielded questions from reporters during a 21-minute teleconference call Thursday to wrap-up the 2012 season and look ahead to 2013. Following were some of points of discussion:

On the decision of junior nose guard Kwame Geathers to turn pro: "I've known that for a good little bit. It just means more opportunities for the next guys. That's why we're recruiting D-linemen like we are. We knew there was a possibility of having this type of attrition. We've been kind of preparing for that in our recruiting numbers. So there's just going to be more opportunity for the guys that are on campus and the ones that are coming in new."

On depth at nose guard with Geathers and John Jenkins gone: "I definitely think we have enough of a talent base there. (Chris) Mayes is obviously a nose guard, I think Michael (Thornton) is obviously a nose guard. I think Jonathan (Taylor) has some versatility where he could end up being an end as well. But I think we're going to end up having enough beef and ability to be able to get it done."

On Georgia's ability to reload on defense: "Well, we better be ready. I've got a lot of faith in these guys, but they've got to work. They've got to prepare right now. They can't just sit here and wait until camp starts or even summer. They've got to start now, and I talked to those guys about it. Their goal must be greater than just getting to play or getting to start or even being All-SEC, for that matter. They need to prepare to be the very best in America at what they do. They have to be thinking, 'am I going to be good enough to help this team win a championship?'"

On having both Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason back at quarterback: "If Hutson (hadn't redshirted), he'd have played a lot this year … based on our faith in his ability to function well. He might've gotten in a series or two earlier here and there. So I think he would've played a lot, and hopefully he'll have the opportunities to do the same next year."

On whether there will be a rotation such as Georgia used with David Greene and D.J. Shockley: "I'm not sitting here saying we're going to do anything like that."

On the impact of hiring former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson to coach the defensive line: "I think we're very fortunate to get Chris. He's actually had some special-teams responsibilities throughout his career, too. So he's a very well-rounded coach, very experienced, very mature man, great family man. Just a great role model for our kids. So I'm thrilled, and I know coach Grantham is, and the whole staff is excited about Chris being with us."

On the progress of receiver Michael Bennett after knee reconstruction: "He's doing very well. He's got a very good attitude, and (associate athletic director for sports medicine) Ron (Courson) feels that he's making great progress. As far as spring ball, I know he won't be doing anything live."

Impressions of Alabama's domination of Notre Dame in the BCS Championship game: "I didn't watch every single minute of the game, but I saw enough to see where it was going. And, I don't know if it proves the strength of our league. I'm sure there are some doubters here and there. I know a couple of our teams didn't win bowl games. But I think it gave more evidence to what we think is true, which is, year in and year out, and game in and game out from the beginning of the season to all year long, the gauntlet of our league is rough, and it prepares us for games like that. I think we've got one heck of a league, and Alabama did a great job."