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A.J.: 'I would love to come back, but ...'

ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia junior wide receiver A.J. Green talks as if there’s a chance he’ll do something no one could reasonably expect of him.

Photo by UGA Sports Communications

Would a player currently rated No. 2 on ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board actually consider returning for his senior year of collegiate eligibility?

From a potential NFL lockout to aspirations to obtain an undergraduate degree now to his mother’s wishes to this season's four-game suspension and ongoing struggles for the Bulldogs, Green has a long checklist of factors he says will play into the choice. A lot of them would seem to be in the reasons-to-return category.

And yet, what would seem a no-brainer of a decision is still out there to be announced, and as Green said Wednesday, “I’m not going to make that decision right yet.”

“I would love to come back,” Green said, “but there’s so many things you have to deal with if you come back, getting hurt and stuff like that. You’ve got to put all that in perspective, and you’ve just got to do what’s best for you.”

As much as Bulldogs fans would love to see Green in red and black for another year, the odds are stacked heavily against it, since there is no question that Green stands to make millions immediately in the NFL.

Green proved it again by catching nine passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in a nationally televised showdown at Auburn this past weekend. The second-largest television audience for any college game this season (behind only Virginia Tech-Boise State, in numbers confirmed by USA Today) watched Green make several very difficult catches and get separation NFL-style on a 40-yard touchdown toss.

“At Auburn,” Kiper Jr. wrote, “the biggest pro potential wasn't shown by the embattled Cam Newton. It was A.J. Green of Georgia.”

For his part, Green calls the NFL “a big dream,” and it appears the love would be more than mutual for a big-ticket wide receiver of his size and skill level.

A.J. Green: 'I feel like I really hurt the team by missing those four games.'

But the NFL, at the moment, needs to get its own house in order. The very real threat exists of a lockout when the current collective bargaining agreement between players and owners expires in March.

The possibility exists that a college underclassman could declare in January and get drafted in April without the opportunity to agree to a deal with his new organization -- assuming he doesn't want to cross a picket line -- until the lockout ends. Once drafted, a player would be frozen onto a team without a paycheck. This possible situation would be “unchartered territory,” one agent said.

“That’s definitely going to play a big part in my decision,” Green said. “If they’re talking about lockout, there’s no point in me leaving.”

Then again, a new collective bargaining agreement is almost certain to include new salary restrictions for rookie players – both sides agree on this point. That structure may be in place in 2011, but it is basically certain for 2012, and that could be a multi-million dollar difference for a player projected to be picked as high as Green.

“That’s always a big dream (to play in the NFL),” Green said, “but my dream also was to get a degree and play in the NFL at the same time.”

Academically, Green said he lacks 20 hours to obtain his undergraduate degree in his major of Housing, which he said would put him on track to graduate next December.

He could always return to school at a later period after beginning an NFL career.

“That’s going to be big,” he said. “I was to get that (degree) because my family is really big on that, especially my mom. She really wants me to get that. Whatever she wants, then hey, I’ve got to do what she wants and make her happy. So if she tells me to stay, I’m going to stay.”

And of course, there is also Georgia’s performance this season. With Green suspended because of NCAA eligibility issues the first four games, the Bulldogs lost three games without him. They now stand 5-6 with one game remaining in the regular season, needing to beat Georgia Tech on Nov. 27 to reach a bowl game.

In cornerback Brandon Boykin’s words, “Nobody expected us to be this way.”

“Like I said from the beginning, I really wanted to play a full season coming into my junior year,” Green said. “I put in a lot of hard work just to come back and have a great junior year. I’m still having a good junior year, but I had to sit out four games. That’s really going to play another factor coming up, feeling like I still have something to prove. … I feel like I really hurt the team by missing those four games.”

Will any of this matter? Despite Green’s comments, which tend to offer a glimmer of hope that he’ll be back, it still seems like a foregone conclusion.

A junior projected so high just has to go pro.

Doesn’t he?

“A.J. Green, would he come back?” UGA coach Mark Richt said Monday when asked on his call-in radio show. “You know what? I’d love to think that he would. And if he does, I think the Bulldog Nation would really embrace that. I think that it would be a blessing to the program for sure, and I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be a great blessing for him too."

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