Football season is ever so close, and by now you have or will be inundated by depth charts, predictions and a glut of information on any team you want to learn about.
Well, here’s some more of that in a little different package, as I go “out on the limb” about all 14 SEC teams with a look at each:
Today: Georgia Bulldogs
2014: 10-3, 6-2 SEC; beat Louisville 37-14 in the Belk Bowl
1) Wait … even these guys have a QB battle going?
As the favorite in the East Division and a team coming off of a rather prolific offensive season, you’d think the Bulldogs wouldn’t be in that number of SEC teams still hunting for who is going to be at the wheel of the offense. That’s exactly where Georgia is, however, and that may be the only reason the Dogs aren’t more prominent in the national championship discussion.
The battle was already unsettled through spring work with Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park all in the mix. Then Greyson Lambert decided to transfer from Virginia and Park departed. So this August, the competition has remained fierce and longtime coach Mark Richt doesn’t seem anywhere ready to identify a starter between Ramsey and Lambert.
Whichever QB winds up as the dude, there will be a focus on improving a passing attack that was less-than-spectacular in 2014, averaging 201 yards a game in league play. First-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will look to breathe some new life into that part of the offense with one or the other quarterback, and that’s huge considering No. 2 below.
2) Heisman hype for real?
No matter who the quarterback is, the Bulldogs’ offense will be geared around sophomore tailback Nick Chubb, and there are several reasons why. The first is Chubb himself, who took the SEC by storm with eight consecutive games topping 100 rushing yards or more to close the season, five against league opponents. He finished with 1,547 yards on the ground – 1,323 in the last eight outings.
But if Chubb is going to be the Heisman Trophy contender he has been widely projected as, he needs two things: Steady play from the Georgia quarterback and a veteran offensive line. The first is to be determined, but the second doesn’t need to be. Four starters are back up front for the Bulldogs – tackles John Theus and Kolton Houston, guards Greg Pyke and Brandon Kublanow – and that crew was vital to Chubb and the offense leading the SEC with 38.8 points per game in league play.
3) Remain creative
There were some flaws with the restructured Georgia defense in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as the coordinator (the entire defensive staff was new for the first time since 1964), but the Bulldogs managed to create trouble for opponents with an SEC-best 19 takeaways in conference play and that’s a trend that needs to continue.
Like the offensive line, most of the familiar faces are back (six starters in all), led by linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd – who combined for 11 sacks, 41 QB pressures and five forced fumbles.
In the secondary, five veterans are back as part of the rotation that picked off 15 passes and forced six fumbles. Quincy Mauger had four interceptions last season and Dominick Sanders snared three picks and those two will make it tough to throw the ball against UGa.
Pruitt’s impact has gradually increased in his second seasons and beyond at his previous stops, and with a core veteran group intact, that could be even more pronounced.
4) No hiccups and be ready in October
Early-season stumbles have plagued Georgia the last several years – in particular losses against South Carolina that have put the Bulldogs fighting from behind in the conference race. Avoiding those this year could have a doubly important meaning. Navigating a very manageable September slate (although the Gamecocks are again sitting there in Week 3) could propel the Bulldogs into a three-week season-defining October stretch against Alabama, at Tennessee and back home vs. Missouri.
The Crimson Tide could be either a top-3 team by then or a proud champion desperate to stay afloat, while the Vols and Mizzou figure to be the Bulldogs’ two primary combatants for the East Division championship. Should Georgia get through that three-week gauntlet, an unbeaten showdown against Auburn could be on the horizon in the Bulldogs’ final SEC game.