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Don't bury Georgia just yet

Count me as one of those who didn’t expect to see Georgia teetering this early in the season.

But I also wasn’t counting on A.J. Green watching from the sideline for the first four games, nor did I expect the Bulldogs’ offensive line to be this pedestrian to this point.

I also wasn’t one of those who ever believed that Georgia coach Mark Richt was legitimately on the hot seat, and I still don’t. But I’ll say this: If the Bulldogs lose a third straight game this Saturday at Mississippi State -- which would be their seventh SEC loss in their past nine games -- I reserve the right to change my mind.

That said, I still think this team has what it takes to be a 9-3 football team.

Getting back into the Eastern Division race might be a stretch, but digging out of this hole and finding a way to manufacture a successful season isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

For starters, the schedule gets a little more manageable over the next month or so. In fact, the Bulldogs are likely to be favored in their next five games heading into the Florida showdown on Oct. 30.

It also sounds like Georgia’s going to get some players back this Saturday against Mississippi State. Richt is optimistic that running back Caleb King (ankle), offensive guard Chris Davis (knee, hip) and cornerback Branden Smith (concussion) will all be healthy enough to play.

The Bulldogs tackled better against Arkansas than they did against South Carolina, but had a couple of costly blown assignments in the secondary that led to touchdowns.

The thing you worry about most now with Georgia is a loss of confidence, especially going back on the road.

But this is where that veteran offensive line really needs to assert itself. The Bulldogs haven’t been terrible up front, but they also haven’t played nearly as well as this team needs them to if Georgia is going to salvage this season.

One of the most promising things about the Bulldogs’ performance thus far has been the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray.

He was supposed to be the question mark on offense. Instead, he looks like one of the best building blocks on this team.

He’s tough, fearless in the pocket, extremely mobile and has a strong arm. Granted, he’s hung onto the ball too long at different points through the first three games, but that’s not uncommon for a first-year starter.

The more Georgia lets him shoot, as Richt described it last week, the better he’s going to get.

Still, it’s obvious how much the Bulldogs miss Green. Kris Durham has played well in his absence, and Tavarres King showed up a few times last week.

But opposing defenses are still playing Georgia differently than they would if Green were in the lineup. Ellis Johnson, South Carolina’s assistant head coach for the defense, admitted as much two weeks ago.

As much as anything, Georgia has been a bit unlucky with the way the schedule has fallen.

That doesn’t excuse the missed tackles, blown assignments or mediocre play in the offensive line.

But is it possible that this is a pretty good football team that’s lost to two excellent teams?

Better yet, what would Florida’s record be right now had the Gators played South Carolina on the road and Arkansas at home? What would LSU’s record be? What would Auburn’s record be?

The good thing is that it’s all going to play out over these next two months.

Remember that 2007 Georgia team? The Bulldogs were 2-2 in the SEC after being routed by Tennessee the first week of October, and they also lost to South Carolina to open league play that season.

When everything had settled that season, the Bulldogs found themselves in the Sugar Bowl and won their last seven games – finishing No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll.

I’m not saying this is a Top 10 team or a team that’s going to run the table.

What I am saying is that I wouldn’t bury the Dogs just yet.