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College Football Preview 2015-2016: 16. Georgia Bulldogs

Nick Chubb
16. Georgia Bulldogs

2014-2015 Record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Coach: Mark Richt, 15th year (136-48 overall)
Recruiting Rundown
Key Losses: RB Todd Gurley, LB Amarlo Herrera
Heisman Hopeful: RB Nick Chubb
Breakout Player: DE/LB Lorenzo Carter

Following week one, just about everybody was hopping on to the Georgia bandwagon. The Bulldogs were coming off a dominant victory against Clemson, and outside of next week's battle with South Carolina, their schedule was favorable enough to make a Playoff run. Though, a suspension then ACL injury to Heisman hopeful Todd Gurley hurt Georgia severely, and the passing game was truly never able to hit it's stride. In all, the Bulldogs ended up 10-3, not a bad mark by any means, but leaving them wanting more entering 2015. As usual, Mark Richt and the 'Dawgs lose their fair share of quality pro talent, but as usual, enough is waiting in the wings. That talent, that includes the return of sophomore tailback Nick Chubb, who starred in Gurley's absence, has Georgia looking once more like the top dog in the SEC East, especially if someone steps in and takes over at quarterback.

Backfield: For Georgia fans who saw the same guy (Aaron Murray) handle the offense for four straight seasons, it may weird that they enter their second consecutive fall with a new quarterback. Hutson Mason was solid in replacing Murray, throwing for 2,168 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 68% of his passes and not turning the ball over much. Though, he graduated, leaving the door open for a number of different options. Sophomore Brice Ramsey backed up Mason last year, passing the ball 39 times. He looked pretty good, showing a bigger arm than Mason and the ability to move the ball down the field quicker. Also competing with Ramsey will be junior Faton Bauta, and perhaps the new favorite, Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert. Bauta has dual threat ability and the potential to really grow into something. Though, Lambert beats both out in experience and he showed signs of something with the Cavaliers. Lambert has two years of eligibility remaining and can start from the beginning. He isn't the strongest-armed quarterback on the roster, but he doesn't make many mistakes and has a high football IQ. Whoever starts for Georgia will get the pleasure of having one of the nation's best ball carriers with him in the backfield, helping to take some of the pressure off of them. Only at Georgia, who has had a long line of impact backs now, could they lose someone as talented as Gurley, and just fill the hole with Nick Chubb. Chubb ran for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging over seven yards a carry. He capped it all off with a 266 yard day against Louisville in Georgia's Belk Bowl victory, which awakened everybody's eyes (if they hadn't seen him already). A powerful runner who can't just be taken down with arm tackles, Chubb has a workhorse frame. Though, he can still beat out a ton of defenders in a foot race, and his vision resembles a professional back. Perhaps just as scary as Chubb is to opposing coordinators and defenses, is the fact that Georgia has reinforcements behind him. Keith Marshall was superb in his first year with Georgia in 2013, and was supposed to form a scary 1-2 punch with Gurley last season. But, Marshall also struggled with injury after injury and it is hard to know how often he will actually see the field this season. When he is healthy, few can match his versatility and elusiveness. If Marshall once more has an injury prone campaign, expect Richt and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to look at sophomore Sony Michel as a backup. In just 64 carries last year, Michel showed flashes of stardom, compiling 410 yards along with five touchdowns. Michel is a much more explosive back than Chubb and will provide a much needed change of pace from time to time. The fullback position should also be in very good hands, with senior Quayvon Hicks back. Hicks is a hard-nosed blocker with decent playmaking ability, combining for 116 all-purpose yards in 2014-2015.

Receivers: Perhaps a little bit later than expected, it is Malcolm Mitchell's time to shine in Athens. Injuries have also derailed the promising career of Mitchell, but when healthy, he is among the best receivers in the SEC and the nation. The departures of fellow receivers Chris Conley and reliable Michael Bennett, leave Mitchell as the clear No. 1 option for whoever takes over at quarterback. Mitchell missed Georgia's first four games recovering from an ACL injury he suffered in 2013, but still showed plenty of playmaking ability, finishing with 31 receptions and 248 yards. He will continue to be a dangerous deep threat with his speed, but it remains to be seen if anyone can get him the ball. Joining Mitchell will be junior Reggie Davis, another big play threat who showed real upside last year despite not see a lot of opportunities. Davis is not as sure handed as Mitchell but is just as explosive. Fellow junior Blake Tibbs could also be in store for a much larger role after being buried on the depth chart throughout 2014. Richt and Schottenheimer are also hinging on the return of Justin Scott-Wesley, who also saw his 2013 and 2014 campaigns come to a close early due to injury. Scott-Wesley had knee surgery just weeks ago, but according to multiple news outlets, there is still optimism he could be ready for fall camp and the beginning of the regular season. Scott-Wesley has great size and is gifted with excellent balance, allowing him to make tough catches on sidelines. His return would certainly add another element to Georgia's passing game. The tight end position is bound to be a strength this year for the Bulldogs. Sophomore Jeb Blazevich and senior Jay Rome both return to give Georgia vertical passing threats. Blazevich is likely to be the starter, after recording 18 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Though, Schottenheimer will find creative ways to let both impact the game. Incoming freshman Jackson Harris is a four-star recruit who will also fight to see snaps at the position.
Offensive Line: Only helping the ground attack be even more lethal will be the offensive line, which returns four starters and a number of All-SEC linemen. Junior right guard Greg Pyke did earn All-Conference honors last season for his performance and his return is a major help. Pyke is a stout, powerful guard who has the vision to handle any of the quick interior linemen that the SEC can throw at him. Expect Georgia to run a lot of run plays to the right side, with Pyke helping pave the way for big holes. Joining Pyke on the right side of the unit will be Kolton Houston, a senior with a proven track record. Houston has good size and is also gifted with long arms that meet the pass rusher. On the other side of the line, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on the services of senior John Theus. Theus, who seems like he has been in Athens forever, is huge and is slated to start at left tackle. Theus is 6'6" and while over 300 pounds. He is a gifted run blocker for a tackle and could be the anchor of the unit as a whole. Joining Theus on the left side of the unit will be junior Brandon Kublanow. Despite being very inexperienced a year ago, Kublanow was very productive and he should continue to grow and improve this season. The loss of center David Andrews opened up the position, and senior Hunter Long appears to be the favorite to take over. Long is a solid, smart center with a great mind and he will continue to work hard to form better relationships with Ramsey, Lambert and the rest of Georgia's quarterbacks. Sophomore Dyshon Sims will be looking for more chances at either guard spot, hoping to showcase his strength and versatility. Richt worked hard on bringing in a number of linemen who have bright futures in this year's recruiting cycle. Included on that list is Pat Allen, a four-star tackle who Richt went way north to grab, snatching up from Maryland, away from other East Coast schools. Closer to home, he picked up another four-star tackle in Sage Hardin, an Atlanta prospect with plenty of potential. There is a good chance that junior college transfer DeVondre Seymour could see action at tackle right away. Arriving from Hinds Community College, Seymour brings experience and plenty of sheer power.

Defensive Line: Under Richt's leadership, Georgia has typically been very stout on rush defense, and while a lot of that has to do with the great linebackers he manages to develop, it starts first with the defensive line. This year's unit is stocked with experience, especially at the two defensive end slots, where two seniors are expected to start. Sterling Bailey and Josh Dawson are those two expected to start, with the graduations of impact Ray Drew and others. Bailey showed plenty of ability last year, and he has an explosive first step, certainly a trait of many dominant pass rushers. Dawson was very good despite limited opportunities in 2014, picking up four tackles for loss. He showcased tremendous instincts and determination. Both certainly have the talent to grow into very fearsome pass rushers for Richt and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Expect senior James DeLoach to also get his fair share of snaps at either end spot as while. Joining the veterans on the perimeter will be a number of impact freshman. Natrez Patrick is a beast from Atlanta who could vie for immediate action, while Chauncey Rivers is also a proven four-star recruit. The nose tackle position took some serious hits this offseason, with the losses of Mike Thornton and Toby Johnson. Neither were dominant interior linemen, but they both were pretty productive, combining for 57 tackles and a number of sacks. Expect to see senior Chris Mayes taking over the nose tackle position, at least at the beginning of the season. The senior from Griffin, Georgia hasn't seen much action throughout his time in Athens, but he is a solid run stopper. Though, Georgia fans are really excited about the players that will likely start the year behind him on the depth chart. Consensus five-star prospect Trent Thompson is going to be a beast at Georgia, it is only a matter of time. Thompson is seen by 24/7 Sports as the top overall player in the Class of 2015. Out of Westover High in Albany, Georgia, Thompson is a freak of nature who has the size, quickness and power to contribute right away for Pruitt and Richt, and make many NFL scouts impressed. It doesn't stop with Thompson, though as Richt and staff also brought in Jonathan Ledbetter. Ledbetter is another Georgia product who will also compete for playing time from the get-go. Though perhaps not as ready for big boy SEC football as Thompson, Ledbetter could still offer incredible athleticism for the defensive tackle slot. Relatively unheralded recruit Da'Quan Hawkins is a solid three-star recruit and an extra body Pruitt can throw in if needed, but a redshirt could certainly be an option as well.

Leonard Floyd
Linebackers: Georgia's linebacker corps took a hit this offseason with the losses of Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson. The inside linebackers were tackling machines, combining for 215 total tackles with 17 of those going for a loss. While Richt and Pruitt will certainly miss the pair, there is still some crazy talent in the unit, which starts with junior Leonard Floyd. While the Bulldogs would love Bailey, Dawson or someone else to step up on the defensive line, they may rely heavily on Floyd to become their top pass rusher. The imposing outside linebacker is 6'4", 230 pounds and uses his long arms to get them in the face of opposing quarterbacks. He is extremely strong and a fearless pass rusher, who has grown into a more complete player. Floyd has six sacks last season, a number that should explode with another year of SEC football under his belt. Georgia also possesses a dangerous pass rusher on the other side in outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins. The senior is a proven playmaker with elite versatility. Jenkins showed his skills in run defense with 70 tackles, but also was a decent pass rusher, with five sacks. Blessed with great knowledge of the system and clearly great playmaking ability, Georgia and Pruitt will lean on Jenkins to be the leader of the unit most likely. Another outside linebacker that returns is sophomore Lorenzo Carter. Carter was a big-time recruit for Georgia a year ago, a consensus five-star pickup. And, he did not disappoint in his freshman season, picking up 41 tackles, seven TFL and 4.5 sacks despite not playing in a starting role. Now, even bigger things will be expected of the true sophomore. He has the versatility to play either defensive end or outside linebacker, and has the size and explosiveness to make plays in the backfield in either role. Expect the 'Dawgs to be very creative on getting him opportunities to make plays. The replacements for Herrera and Wilson are not completely certain, though junior Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough could be seen as the frontrunners for the two spots in the 3-4 defense. Both were pretty productive as rotation linebackers last season, and it isn't crazy to think that they could be pretty good. The two combined for 60 tackles last season, but there is obviously going to be work to be done to match the void that Wilson and Herrera left behind. The good news is that both Kimbrough and Carter are intelligent football players who are great tacklers, especially in space. Recruiting wise, Richt and staff did a pretty good job, picking up a junior college transfer, Chuks Amaechi, and players with other long term potential. Amaechi arrives from Arizona Western with the size and hitting to contribute and make big plays right away. Four-star Gary McCrae was a more local find who could turn into a very good linebacker in due time.

Secondary: Despite losing a number of players to the transfer route and graduation before 2014, Georgia was very good against the pass last season. Unfortunately, they do suffer a big loss this season, as impact defensive back Damian Swann. Swann had 65 tackles a year ago and added four interceptions, and his departure means a new player will have to assume the No. 1 cornerback role. That should leave sophomore Aaron Davis, as the Bulldogs' top coverage guy. Despite being relatively inexperienced, Davis is a well-rounded cornerback who should only improve. Davis had 40 tackles, one pick and five pass deflections last season. He will be expected to create more turnovers, something Swann definitely did well throughout his time in Athens. Along with Davis should be another sophomore, Malkom Parrish, another good athlete with plenty of upside. Parrish will need time to adjust to a new, more important role, and it would not be surprising to see opposing quarterbacks look to exploit him early. Senior Devin Bowman is a great system guy, and a fantastic leader for the unit. Junior Quincy Mauger is a beast at strong safety, who is always ready to make a huge play. He ended up with four interceptions last season, continuously coming over the middle and showcasing his great hands. He will have to be smart to not get beat or fooled, but Pruitt and the staff will work hard to keep disciplined but still aggressive. Free safety is in pretty good hands, as it at least has a starter with pretty decent experience. Another sophomore, Dominick Sanders also added three interceptions in 2014, along with 34 tackles. Sanders has great hands as well, which were certainly evidenced by those picks, and will continue to grow as a coverage option. Sophomore Tramel Terry will fight for snaps at either safety spot. Depth is a little bit concerning for the unit, as beyond Terry at safety and Bowman at corner, there is no other veteran option to turn to. The good news is that eight defensive backs will arrive in the 2015 recruiting cycle. Four-star safety Rashad Roundtree may be looked at as the most likely to make an immediate impact, not only because of the need at the position, but because he has the size and ability to do it. Fellow safety Rico McGraw is a tremendous athlete who will only grow into a more complete defensive back, while DeAndre Baker is a Miami prospect who will vie for opportunities at cornerback.

Special Teams: Experience should not be a problem at either kicker or punter positions. Senior Marshall Morgan is fairly accurate, though he had some tough times from deep distance last season. Senior Collin Barber is a very good punter, who could battle for All-SEC honors. Malcolm Mitchell can make plays, but he has become mistake prone, and replacements could be looked to.

Georgia football shouldn't change much from last year in 2015-2016. They will continue to feed Nick Chubb as much as he can handle, and also look to give out carries to the other talented backs they possess. They will also be solid on defense, with a number of players primed for breakouts. The worry is certainly the passing game. Not only is the QB spot a big question mark, many receivers are gone. Even so, Georgia is seen as the favorites in the SEC East for yet another year, with Tennessee still needing work to do, and Missouri reloading, despite winning the division the past two years. A division title could certainly be a real option, and bigger things could happen, especially if the Bulldogs can steal wins against Alabama and a couple other big boys on their schedule. Though, the issues in the passing game could possibly hold back this particular Georgia team from huge noise, and put even more pressure on Richt for next season.

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