Usually an 8-5 record will all but dash your hopes of keeping your job for long in the SEC. But if your name is Mark Richt and your success at the University of Georgia has been pretty stellar, more than likely, you get a pass for one “bad” season.

While 8-5 in the Land of Herschel is considered a down year, teams like Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Kentucky would kill for that kind of success.

Now, after injuries decimated the Bulldogs in 2013, the starts 2014 with a new quarterback behind center and a serious Heisman Trophy candidate to carry the ball. The defense must be improved and Richt must find a way for this team play through youthful exuberance to make an impression. The team has been ranked 15th preseason by the Sporting News. That might be a little lofty, but this is an SEC team with many expectations.

Here are five reasons the Bulldogs will be a national title contender in 2014.

Rebounding offense

Prior to 2013, Mason threw just 47 passes in a Georgia uniform. But once Aaron Murray was lost for the year against Kentucky, he was pressed into his first extended action. Mason performed well in his limited audition, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns in a win over rival Georgia Tech, and he completed 21 of 39 passes for 320 yards in an awful weather day in the Gator Bowl. As with any first-year starter, Mason has room to grow and will have his share of ups and downs.

Mark Richt

Richt is the most successful coach this side of Vince Dooley. The quiet demeanor – the proud faith and the way he carries himself. A lot of that has to do with his roots at FSU with Bobby Bowden and his time teaching students to be athletes and men.

Richt came to the school to change culture and lead a program. 8-5 is not indicative of what this team is all about. This season should be better.

Jeremy Pruitt

Georgia’s hire of Jeremy Pruitt is one of the top coordinator additions of the offseason. Prior to his highly successful one year at Florida State, Pruitt was an assistant at Alabama, so he’s no stranger to life in the SEC. Despite having one of the league’s most-talented rosters, the Bulldogs have not finished higher than fourth in the SEC in total defense since 2008. Considering previous coordinator Todd Grantham ran a 3-4 approach, Pruitt’s multiple looks on defense should make for an easy transition. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Georgia, as 10 starters are back, and the linebacking corps could be the best in the SEC.

The Schedule

A case can be made for Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri, and Florida shouldn’t be forgotten about thanks to a favorable home schedule. Even though the Bulldogs are replacing a prolific quarterback in Aaron Murray, there’s enough returning to make a run at the SEC title. Running back Todd Gurley should be an All-American in 2014.

Defensive maturity

Defensively across the entire board this entire side of the ball appears stacked. Only one full-time starter departs. On top of that, most of the depth chart is comprised of juniors and seniors. Defense is going to keep Georgia in the hunt. The 10 starters will mature together.