College football is on its way back, so we continue with the Today’s U Top 25 preseason rankings. We’re trotting out a new team each day. We started at No. 25 and we’ll build each day until we reach No. 1.
No. 16: GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Last Season: 10-3 (5-3 SEC East, won 24-17 against Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl).
Last Five Seasons: 50-17 (five bowl games).
Coach: Kirby Smart (first season).
Overview: Former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who had many opportunities to leave in recent seasons, arrives as Georgia’s new head coach after the Bulldogs dismissed Mark Richt, who went 146-51 in 15 seasons. But Georgia had not won an SEC title since 2005 and the perceptions was the program had severely underachieved (despite winning 10 games or more in four of the last five seasons). Smart’s charge is clear. The bar must be raised. Conference titles must be won — and Georgia must develop into a national-championship contender. Smart steps into a talent-rich situation, so even the most lofty of goals are achievable.
Player To Watch: RB Nick Chubb is returning after suffering a serious knee injury last season against Tennessee. Chubb already had 747 yards and seven touchdowns when he went down, so a return to form will give Georgia a formidable threat in the backfield, maybe even a contender for the Heisman Trophy.
Top Newcomer: True freshman QB Jacob Eason, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound, five-star package of potential, might have the starting job, even though Greyson Lambert (10-2 as last season’s starter) has returned. Eason is probably the best QB prospect at Georgia since Matthew Stafford. And he might be the most anticipated incoming freshman since Herschel Walker. (No pressure, Mr. Eason).
All-Conference Potential: RB Nick Chubb, OL Greg Pyke, DB Dominick Sanders.
Key Question: Can Georgia thrive with a rookie head coach and a young quarterback? Smart has the right pedigree after working in Nick Saban’s Alabama program. Eason seemingly has all the tools and positive characteristics. Experience is the only thing missing from the resume of Smart and Eason. And that’s what will make Georgia’s season so interesting.
Best Unit: Defensive backs. Last season, Georgia led the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of just 156.5 yards per game. All four starters return, including junior FS Dominick Sanders, who led the SEC with six interceptions.
Good Stat: Georgia’s defense was exceptional last season, allowing just 305.9 yards per game to rank seventh nationally and mask the Bulldogs’ offensive problems.
Bad Stat: Quarterback and wide receiver play must improve. You only need to examine last season’s passing statistics for evidence of that. The Bulldogs managed just 185.1 yards per game, 104th nationally.
Big Game: Oct. 1, Tennessee. This one should shape the SEC East’s direction. The Volunteers are prohibitive favorites to capture the division, but the recent Georgia-Tennessee series has been chock full of drama and unpredictability. Tennessee won 38-31 last season (after Georgia led 24-3 late in the first half). Prior to that, Georgia won the meetings by 35-32, 34-31 (overtime) and 51-44.
You could make the argument that nothing was really wrong with Georgia’s program. Most seasons, you could pencil the Bulldogs in for 10 victories and an attractive bowl-game appearance. But Georgia’s brass wanted more — namely a challenge to Alabama’s SEC dominance and more major bowl appearances. For Smart to ratchet things up, the Bulldogs must regain command against the likes of Tennessee and Florida and take the next step.
Next: No. 15 Houston.