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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 13. Georgia Bulldogs

13. Georgia Bulldogs

A dominant backfield should propel an SEC East title run

  • Location: Athens, GA.
  • Conference: SEC (East)
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Kirby Smart (second year)
  • Last Years Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
  • Bowl Result: Victory in Liberty Bowl


After years of rumors surrounding his likely head coaching future, Kirby Smart finally made the jump from Alabama defensive coordinator to head man in Athens last season. As expected for a first-year head coach in the unforgiving SEC Smart and the Bulldogs had significant ups-and-downs. They were as high as ninth nationally, and did beat Auburn, who was ranked 8th when Georgia beat them. However, overall the team's 8-5 campaign felt like a little bit of a disappointment, especially considering the immense talent on this roster. Entering Year Two, there is no doubt what Smart's goal is: an SEC East title, and likely more. With one of the nation's top backfields and an experienced defense, that goal seems like a distinct possibility.

Nick Chubb
Offense: Smart had quite the quarterback quandary entering 2016. Did he go with the more experienced but less talented Greyson Lambert, or throw true freshman Jacob Eason into the fire and see how the five-star recruit performed? Smart originally planned for Lambert as his guy but quickly turned to Eason, who played well despite his youth. Now a sophomore, there is no question that Eason is the guy for UGA, after he threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago. There is no question Eason's talent; he has elite arm strength already and plays with a maturity beyond his years. Even so, the sophomore will have to cut down on his turnovers in '17 and perform better at reading defenses. Eason will be joined in the backfield by senior Nick Chubb, who was impressive last year in his first season removed from a terrifying knee injury in 2015. Chubb had 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns, but those numbers should only improve as he gets healthier and stronger. When the veteran is fully healthy, there is no question his amazing power and breakneck speed make him a Heisman candidate. Keeping Chubb fresh is the fact that the Bulldogs have a plethora of options beyond him, namely fellow senior Sony Michel. Michel has taken advantage of the fact Chubb has had injury issues, as he added 840 yards and four touchdowns last season. Michel doesn't have Chubb's power or natural ability, but provides a wonderful change of pace as a speedster that can break open games. Sophomore Brian Herrien should also see opportunities after managing 363 yards on 63 carries a year ago (5.8 yards per carry). Between those three, you could certainly make the case that Georgia has one of, if not the most, talented and deep backfields in the entire nation. Georgia is hoping that their receivers corps can improve dramatically in 2017 after issues with drops throughout much of '16. Junior Terry Godwin was second on the team in receptions and receiving yards last season but should take over a bigger role as Isaiah McKenzie departs. Godwin isn't very big (5'11", 185 pounds) but makes an impact with his reliable hands and impressive elusiveness when he gets the ball. Expect his 38 catches and 397 yards to increase in a big way as his targets go way up. Sophomore Ryan Ridley is a prime breakout candidate after recording 238 yards as a true freshman. Ridley is an elite-level deep threat (19.8 yards per reception in '16) and should be a perfect fit with Eason's big arm. Junior Michael Chigbu and senior Javon Wims are two other wide outs expected to see much more action in '17 after showing flashes last season. At tight end, Georgia has the young star (Isaac Nauta) and the established veteran (Jeb Blazevich). Nauta was a five-star recruit by most recruiting services prior to 2016 and showed enough that the Bulldogs have to be very excited about his potential, while Blazevich is a tremendous blocker and solid red zone threat. Both should see plenty of action, with Nauta likely to overtake as the full-time starter at some point during the year. Up front, Georgia loses a ton of talent, including two-time All-SEC tackle Greg Pyke and former Rhode Island transfer Tyler Catalina. That should put a lot of pressure on the unit's lone returning starters, senior tackle Isaiah Wynn and junior center Lamont Gaillard, but both have proven they can lead. True freshman Isaiah Wilson, considered one of the top newcomers in the 2017 recruiting class, has a decent chance to start at one of the guard spots, where there is very little depth.

Dominick Sanders
Defense: Kirby Smart's pedigree as a defensive coach certainly helped Georgia's defense in '16, as the group played very well, finishing with the fourth best total defense in the SEC and the 16th nationally. Now, the D returns an astounding 10 starters, ensuring that this group will be incredibly stingy in 2017. It begins with a defensive line that has tons of talent, beginning with junior defensive end Trenton Thompson. Thompson had five sacks last season and showed just how high his ceiling was with a tremendous bowl performance, which helped him earn Liberty Bowl MVP honors in the team's victory. If he can play with the type of focus and energy he played with in that one over the course of a season, he is surely an All-Conference player. Junior Jonathan Ledbetter was suspended the first six games after two alcohol-related arrests but played well when he finally got on the field. He is almost certain to start at the other defensive end spot, giving Georgia two dangerous pass rushers off the edge. Senior nose guard John Atkins doesn't get much credit, but the powerful veteran plays a pivotal role collapsing running lanes in the heart of the unit. Georgia is absolutely loaded at linebacker, where all four starters are back and some haven't fulfilled their full potential yet. Juniors Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick are the two true stars of the unit, as both led the Bulldogs in tackles a year ago. Smith is one of the rangiest linebackers in the country, making plays from sideline. He doesn't get after the quarterback often, but nearly every other part of the game he offers significant help with. Patrick is back at the ever-important middle linebacker and the future NFL Draft selection should only get better after 59 tackles in his first year as starter. Senior Lorenzo Carter is probably the team's best pure pass rusher, but is still growing in other parts of the game. A former five-star recruit, Carter has loads of talent and did record five sacks last year, but could be one of the top 'backers in the conference if he can really fulfill his vast potential. Senior Davin Bellamy is back at the outside linebacker spot opposite of Carter. Bellamy is quite the relentless pass rusher himself, recording a whopping 17 quarterback hurries in 2016. The Bulldogs have had one of the top pass defenses in the country the past few seasons, and that should be the case once again, as nearly everybody is back in the secondary, with the exception of former Alabama transfer Maurice Smith, who graduated. They are especially strong at safety, where two All-Conference players roam in Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders. Parrish will lock down the strong safety job, and the hard-hitting senior should really set the tone for the back once again. Meanwhile, Sanders is a tremendous playmaker who managed three interceptions last season and is always around the ball. Every cornerback in this conference has a tough job having to deal with some of the freaks the SEC has at receiver, but these corners really know how to hold their own. Senior Aaron Davis is a fearless, ultra-competitive CB who will play a huge role, while junior Deandre Baker is expected to start opposite of him.

Special Teams: Sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship took over for redshirt freshman William Ham at kicker early in 2016 and played very well, knocking down 14 of 18 field goals with a long of 49. Expect the unorthodox kicker to get even better in '17 with more experience under his belt. At punter, Georgia hopes sophomore Marshall Long can stay healthy after he was lost for the year, which forced former QB Brice Ramsey to handle punting duties.

Last season's 8-5 mark continued a frustrating trend for Georgia; extremely talented teams that for some reason are unable to get truly over the hump. In fact, since coming within inches of an SEC Championship and likely National Championship berth in 2012, the Bulldogs haven't returned, and have finished just one year ranked, despite being ranked in the preseason every year since. That has put a lot of pressure on Smart to win right away, and once again, the talent that he has on this roster is not a question mark. If Eason can take big steps forward in his second year at the helm, Chubb continues getting healthier and the defense lives up to their astounding talent levels, this team certainly has more than enough to win the SEC East and contend for a Playoff berth. Now, it's merely a matter of execution for the 'Dawgs.

Player to Watch
Nick Chubb, RB
After leading off 2016 with an impressive 222-yard performance in a win over North Carolina, Chubb slowed down. He did still finish with 1,180 yards, but didn't quite live up to what he did in 2014 and in the first half of 2015, when he absolutely feasted on opposing defenses. Now well over a year removed from that scary knee injury that sidelined him for much of '15, Chubb hopes to get back to his old ways. If he can regain his Heisman form, it may mean the difference between the Bulldogs being merely good versus being a Playoff-caliber team.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)*
2013: 8-5 (5-3 SEC)*
2014: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)*
2015: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)*
2016: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)*

*= Bowl appearance

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