Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs are seemingly always in contention to win the always-daunting Southeastern Conference without ever actually winning it.
OK so that’s a hyperbole – UGA took the SEC crown in 2002 and 2005 – but for some reason, Richt’s name appears on someone’s “Hot Seat rankings” every few years and then proceeds to win just enough games to make everyone forget about it.
After winning 10 games and finishing second in the East division in 2014, Georgia is back to having the same old expectations as a potential contender to take the conference by storm and make a run at the second annual College Football Playoff.
Likely to be a Top-15 team (again) in the preseason polls, the Bulldogs return early Heisman candidate Nick Chubb at running back, a slew of outstanding performers from a solid defensive back seven (including the likes of star linebacker Leonard Floyd), and a number of in-division counterparts that are dealing with massive transition.
But Georgia, a perennial favorite to win the SEC East year in and year out – this upcoming season included, I’m sure – also has a new quarterback, questions within the receiving corps, a new offensive coordinator, and a ton of pressure to finally get over the hump as the team that has struggled to live up to the automated hype.
It is also on Athlon Sports’ list of impressive bowl winners that could prove to be overrated this upcoming fall.
“Rising sophomore Nick Chubb will be on the Heisman short list to start next season after a 266-yard effort against the [Louisville] Cardinals’ steady defense,” wrote Athlon’s David Fox. “Beyond Chubb, though, Georgia is starting over on offense with Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park entering a quarterback competition under a new offensive coordinator. The defense made major strides last season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but four key seniors depart the front seven. The SEC West crossover schedule against Alabama and Auburn won’t be very forgiving.”
In other words, Georgia – albeit talented across the board, thanks to consistent Top-10 recruiting classes – will likely stay in that eight- to- 10-win range, with losses to the West powers and at least one head-scratcher (Florida circa 2014). That would play in fine tune to the numbers; since Georgia’s last SEC championship in 2005, it has finished with three losses or more seven times.
ESPN.com SEC Blog contributor Alex Scarborough doesn’t have much faith in the quarterback situation in Athens, either, ranking the Bulldogs’ current QB depth chart as No. 11 (out of 14) heading into spring practice – beating out Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.
“With Hutson Mason’s departure, Georgia’s line of succession at quarterback ended. This spring there is no incumbent at the position and no clear frontrunner either,” wrote Scarborough. “That’s because of the three returning quarterbacks, none have started a game in college. Brice Ramsey, a redshirt sophomore, was the backup to Mason and will get the first look, but in eight appearances last year he had three touchdowns and two interceptions. He’ll be pushed by Faton Bauta and Jacob Park.”
It’s difficult to name a team with the 11th-best quarterback situation in the conference as a division favorite, no? Especially with Butch Jones’ evident momentum in Knoxville and the provocative hire of Jim McElwain at Florida, and the rest of the division’s surprisingly strong outing during the postseason.
Will Georgia be overrated? It’s possible. It has been in the past. But this year will be different – it will be an underdog. You can count on that; early honors should go to Missouri and the new sexy pick in Tennessee. And that’s fine.
But maybe – just maybe – the ‘Dawgs will embrace this role and become the team we’ve all been waiting for it be.