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College Football Preview 2019: 5. Georgia Bulldogs

5. Georgia Bulldogs

Is this the team to get UGA over the top? A young front seven and receiver corps will have to step up

D'Andre Swift
Offense: Following offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's departure to Tennessee, the Bulldogs will turn to James Coley to run their offense. Coley will have a veteran quarterback and running back to work with as well as a strong offensive line, but must find some new weapons at receiver.

Now that Justin Fields is at Ohio State, there is no question this is Jake Fromm's team. Fromm had some poor moments in 2018 but overall was very strong, throwing for 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns. He is already fourth in Georgia school history for touchdown passes, and he could realistically move up to second on that list by the time 2019 concludes. An intelligent, accurate passer Fromm has ditched the "game manager" nickname some gave him following the 2017 campaign.

Georgia will have to replace a 1,000-yard rusher in Elijah Holyfield but the running back position is still a notable strength. D'Andre Swift dealt with some injuries early on in 2018 but by the end of the season was clearly one of the best in college football. Averaging 6.4 yards per carry, he can burn any defense with his game-breaking speed and burst. The Bulldogs have long leaned on a 1-2 punch at tailback, so it will be interesting to see who emerges alongside Swift. Veteran Brian Herrien is a proven commodity, but the real excitement in this backfield is around redshirt freshman Zamir White. White came to Athens as a five-star recruit before tearing his ACL last spring and receiving a redshirt. He has superstar talent, but health is an obvious concern going forward.

With the exception of Swift, the top five pass-catchers on this Georgia team all depart. Junior Jeremiah Holloman looked ready to take up the mantle as the new No. 1 target but was dismissed from the team this off-season and ended up at Florida International. That will leave this offense with some serious question marks at the position, although there is talent still waiting to make an impact. Senior Tyler Simmons does have experience in this offense and had 183 yards last season, making him their top returnee. The hope is that either former Cal transfer Demetris Robertson or Miami transfer Lawrence Cager can step up as well. Robertson was a former five-star recruit who just never saw the field last year, while Cager has the size to be a major red zone threat. Newcomers Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens may also be able to factor into this offense in some way. The Bulldogs lost tight end Isaac Nauta to the NFL and then watched his backup, Luke Ford, transfer to Illinois. Senior Charlie Woerner isn't as skilled as either of them but is serviceable.

Clearing the path for Swift and these running backs will be one of the top offensive lines in the SEC. There are four players with starting experience back and the only position that needs to be replaced is at center, where sophomore Trey Hill saw some action last fall. The real star of the unit will be junior left tackle Andrew Thomas, who has started every game his last seasons with the Bulldogs. Joining him on the left side of the line will be junior guard Solomon Kindley and sophomore Cade Mays, who can be moved essentially anywhere across this unit.

Defense: The Bulldogs must also replace their coordinator on the defensive side of the ball, as Mel Tucker opted to take the Colorado head coaching gig. New DC Dan Lanning gets seven starters back from a Top 15 unit in 2018, although there is still plenty of youth figuring things out.

Georgia will still likely run a 3-4 scheme that will rely heavily on their D-Tackles creating chaos in the middle. Seniors Tyler Clark and Julian Rochester are proven veterans that will be crucial in stopping the run. Clark is the likely starter, as he managed 31 tackles, 4 TFL and three pass deflections a year ago. It will be interesting to see what other combinations the Bulldogs trot out alongside Clark and Rochester. Junior Malik Herring is a likely starter at end, while senior Michael Barnett and sophomore Jordan Davis will find a way to contribute in some manner. UGA is hopeful one of them can emerge as a pure pass rusher, as the D-Line struggled to get sacks for most of 2018.

The Bulldogs are very young at the linebacker position, but there is no shortage of talent. A number of former high-profile recruits are ready to show what they can do, particularly with D'Andre Walker gone (leader in sacks last season). Outside linebacker is a real strength, even with Brenton Cox recently kicked off the team. Junior Walter Grant showed flashes last fall and looks like he could start at one OLB spot, while sophomore Adam Anderson and newcomer Jermaine Johnson will compete for the other starting job. Anderson is an impressive talent but still very untested, while Johnson is the nation's top JUCO transfer and can really get after the QB. Inside linebacker has weapons like junior Monty Rice, sophomore Channing Tindall and true freshman Nakobe Dean. Dean has already impressed a bunch of people around the program and despite the fact he has yet to see a snap at the FBS level, some are comparing him to former UGA great Roquan Smith. Rice is the top returning tackler in the LB corps, with 59 a season ago.

Led by consensus All-American and Jim Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker, Georgia had one of the best pass defenses in the nation a year ago. While Baker is off to the NFL, the Bulldogs do still have plenty of experience returning, with three starters back in Athens. Replacing Baker will obviously be a tall task, but sophomore Tyson Campbell appears set to be the No. 1 corner. Campbell had 45 tackles last year and recovered two fumbles, but still has a lot of room for improvement. The likely starter at the other corner spot has to be senior Tyrique McGhee, a skilled veteran. Behind them, both safety spots are going to be a notable strength, as junior Richard LeCounte locks down free safety and J.R. Reed strong safety. The two of them led all UGA defenders with tackles last fall and Reed also picked off two passes. The fact that they are both so experienced and proven will give the Bulldogs two anchors to lean on.

Even though losing Tucker and some other notable pieces will hurt, Georgia still should have the pieces in place to be incredibly stingy on that side of the ball. If the young talent in the front seven matures quickly that would be a major plus and could even help the 'Dawgs rival Alabama and LSU for best units in the SEC.

Special Teams: Long-time kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is once again returning to Georgia and is one of the best in the entire country, knocking 19 of 23 field goals in 2018. Add in punter Jake Camarda and the UGA specialists should be in good shape. The return game will have to replace Mecole Hardman, but there are options waiting to step up.

Bottom Line: Kirby Smart has clearly elevated Georgia into a National Championship threat year-in, year-out and that is certainly the case in 2019. They have All-American talent at the sport's most important position and even with turnover on the coaching staff, the defense is oozing with talent and experience. The Bulldogs will have to deal with a rapidly improving SEC East and a non-conference slate that includes Notre Dame. Even so, this is most definitely a Playoff contender with one big question to answer: can they overtake Alabama? The Bulldogs have come agonizingly close the last two seasons only to come up short. I don't envision them doing it this particular season, but if Fromm is able to play the way he did last year, it is a distinct possibility.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 11-2 (7-1 SEC, Lose in SEC Championship Game)
Offensive MVP: QB Jake Fromm
Defensive MVP: S J.R. Reed
Breakout Player of the Year: WR Demetris Robertson
Impact Freshman: LB Nakobe Dean

Five-Year Trend
2014: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
2015: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)
2016: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
2017: 13-2 (7-1 SEC)
2018: 11-3 (7-1 SEC)

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