"We ought to be a whole lot more grown up going into next year," Coach Mark Richt said.
If defensive end David Pollack and safety Sean Jones put off the NFL one more year and return to Georgia, the Bulldogs' projected starters will have 288 combined career starts. Entering this season, that total was 147.
"We're so young, I can only see (the program) going up," defensive tackle Kedric Golston said.
The Bulldogs, who have already put together back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins for the first time since 1983, are expected to be ranked in or near the top five in next year's preseason Associated Press poll.
Georgia, No. 11 and 10-3 this season, plays No. 12 Purdue here at 1 p.m. on Thursday in the Capital One Bowl.
Coach Mark Richt is hesitant to put too many expectations on next season.
"If we get our butts kicked (by the Boilermakers), they won't put us in the top five," he said.
But it's clear from his comments this week that he's been thinking about the future. When Richt worked under Bobby Bowden at Florida State, Bowden repeatedly urged his staff to avoid the complacency that can come with staff continuity and success, and Richt is already thinking of ways to motivate, he said.
"I'm going to make sure we don't do that as a staff or a team," he said. "We're going to go back to ground zero and start from scratch and build it up as if it was the first year, with the same enthusiasm. Hard work is a good cure for complacency."
Richt is a big believer in momentum in games, and he thinks it's equally important in the development of a program.
"I think it's important to continue to improve and feel like you're moving forward," he said. "It was hard to tell this year if we got better or not because there were so many setbacks."
While this year's final ranking will be far below last year's No. 3, the season can be considered a success given the Bulldogs' youth and the injuries they sustained.
"I feel like we're right where we want to be," safety Thomas Davis said. "It's very gratifying to know everyone is expecting you to win week in and week out. I feel like we're building a great foundation."
Consider this: Next year's juniors and redshirt sophomores won't know what it's like not to play in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia hasn't been ranked lower than No. 12 in the nation in the last two seasons, and it has been in the top in twelve of the last 26 polls.
"Hopefully, it can only get better," said quarterback David Greene, who will start his 40th career game against the Boilermakers and enter next year as a top-tier Heisman Trophy candidate.
If Pollack and Jones don't leave, Georgia will return its top six tacklers and more than 87 percent of its total tackles from this season. The offense, though, is where the biggest improvement will be expected. Georgia entered this season with five new starters on the offensive line. All five have at least nine starts now, and only one of the team's major skill positions players -- wide receiver Damien Gary -- is leaving. Along with Greene, Georgia is expected to return every player who rushed the ball this year and two of its top three receivers -- Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown.
"I think the players we have coming back are the kind of players who can make a difference on a national stage," said departing cornerback Bruce Thornton.
Several of the Bulldogs are already looking into the future, and some have said they are treating this week's game l like it's the first game of the 2004 season.
"I think it all starts with this game," Golston said. "We need to show up and take care of business."
Reggie Brown (16)
Sean Bailey (0)
Daniel Inman (12)
Ken Shackleford (0)
Josh Brock (14)
Ryan Schnetzer (2)
Russ Tanner (13)
Nick Jones (4)
Bartley Miller (9)
Fernando Velasco (0)
Max Jean-Gilles (14)
Dennis Roland (1)
Martrez Milner (0)
Leonard Pope (0)
David Greene (39)
D.J. Shockley (0)
Kregg Lumpkin (0)
Michael Cooper (8)
Jeremy Thomas (7)
Des Williams (0)
Fred Gibson (21)
Bryan McClendon (2)
Will Thompson (12)
Robert Geathers (15)
Kedric Golston (9)
Ray Gant (3)
Gerald Anderson (8)
Darrius Swain (4)
David Pollack* (32)
Quentin Moses (0)
Arnold Harrison (9)
Danny Verdun Wheeler (2)
Odell Thurman (12)
Derrick White (3)
Tony Taylor (12)
Jarvis Jackson (0)
DeMario Minter (0)
Mikey Henderson (0)
Tim Jennings (9)
Thomas Flowers (0)
Thomas Davis (17)
Marcus Howard** (0)
Sean Jones* (23)
Greg Blue (2)
(Career starts entering Capital One Bowl in parantheses)
* Pollack and Jones are considering early entry into the NFL draft
** Howard was recruited as a linebacker but could make the same move
Thomas Davis made, from linebacker to safety.