ATLANTA -- For the third year in a row, Georgia finished 8-4. Its streak without a Southeastern Conference championship stretched to 19 seasons.
A program stuck in a rut? Maybe. But it sure doesn't feel that way.
As usually happens when a new coach takes over, the Bulldog Nation is willing to give Mark Richt a year to enjoy the honeymoon. This season was considered a step forward. A year ago, Jim Donnan was fired after bringing home the same record.
Of course, it helps that Georgia won at Tennessee for the first time since 1980 and ended a three-year losing streak against Georgia Tech - the longest drought in that series since the early 1960s.
"I'm proud of the team," Richt said after the Bulldogs finished with a 20-16 loss to Boston College in the Music City Bowl. "We're certainly disappointed (with the last game), but we're going to move on and look toward the future. I think the future is bright."
There are plenty of reasons for optimism.
David Greene set a school record for passing yards by a freshman (2,789) - and he's not even guaranteed the starting job in 2002. D.J. Shockley, a favorite of Richt's who redshirted this season, will get a serious look in spring practice. Certainly, he's talented enough to warrant some sort of playing arrangement, which might cause the coach a few headaches in Year 2.
The Bulldogs also have one of the deepest group of receivers in the SEC, led by Terrence Edwards (39 receptions, 613 yards, six touchdowns) and Fred Gibson (33, 772, six). Sophomore Reggie Brown is expected to return from a knee injury, as well.
The offensive line loses only one player, center Curt McGill, but it's still a mystery who'll be running behind that seasoned group next season.
Verron Haynes was a godsend late in the season after moving from fullback to tailback, but he's moving on to a likely career in the NFL.
Sophomore Musa Smith has been plagued by injuries in his first two seasons, raising serious questions about his durability. Freshman Tony Milton, who redshirted, and the recruits will probably be considered for major roles in the backfield.
"We have a very strong need for a tailback or two who can give us some of the type of things that Travis Stephens at Tennessee can do," Richt said. "That will be a big push for us."
In addition, Georgia's recruiting effort will focus on the defensive line, which played surprisingly well despite a rash of misfortune. Bruce Adrine went down with a knee injury. David Jacobs suffered a stroke.
Sophomore Johnathan Sullivan and freshman David Pollack helped to cover those losses. But junior end Charles Grant may give up his final season to enter the NFL draft, which would give the Bulldogs a new hole to fill.
Grant and another early entry candidate, tight end Randy McMichael, plan to announce their decisions before Jan. 10 - the first day of classes for spring semester.
Georgia will definitely have to replace three key members of the defense: All-SEC cornerback Tim Wansley, safety Jermaine Phillips and linebacker Will Witherspoon.
Richt said a cornerback who can handle single coverage is also on his recruiting wish list. For the immediate future, sophomores Bruce Thornton and Decory Bryant are set to take over that position.
This will be the first full recruiting season for Richt, who took over just a month before the last signing day.
"I believe we'll sign close to the full number of scholarships," he said. "This will be a big year for us."
While Richt's easygoing demeanor was a welcome change from the acerbic Donnan, the new coach also made a bunch of rookie mistakes.
A late quarterback switch from Greene to Cory Phillips may have cost the Bulldogs a chance to beat South Carolina.
Trailing 24-17 against Auburn, Richt admittedly called the wrong play when the Bulldogs reached the 1-yard line with 16 seconds remaining and no timeouts. Jasper Smith was stopped on a run and Georgia couldn't get off another play.
Finally, Richt raised plenty of eyebrows in the Music City Bowl when he ordered a punt on fourth-and-14 with 1:32 remaining. Georgia got the ball back with just 14 seconds left, leaving time for only two plays.
"I figured we'd have about 30 or 40 seconds left," Richt said, proving he's still got a thing or two to learn about making decisions in the heat of the moment.
The bowl game also brought to light another major problem this season. Three times, Georgia drove inside the Boston College 20, only to come away twice without scoring.
"It seems it has been the same all year," Greene said. "We move the ball up and down the field all game and kill ourselves in the red zone.
"It's frustrating because - except for Florida (a 24-10 loss) - all the games we could have, should have won."
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