Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Preview: Georgia Bulldogs
Year one of the Kirby Smart era was largely an up and down affair that ended with a birth in the Liberty Bowl against TCU. Year two could be a far more successful run, specifically based on returning talent on offense, where eight starters return, and the running game should be amped up with both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel returning. Look for the Bulldogs to make a major push for a birth in the SEC title game in the second year of the Smart era.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The run game should be at full strength with the return of both Chubb and Michel. They combined for just under 2000 yards rushing last season and 12 TDs. The duo could easily break those numbers in 2017, especially if sophomore QB Jacob Eason progresses as expected.
Eason had a decent freshman campaign, but it was not free of bumps in the road. He finished with 2430 yards passing and 16 TDs to just eight picks. He has to become more accurate in his sophomore campaign, and that is expected. He does not need to be a superstar with his RB corps, but he does need to be at least be an accurate game manager.
Isaiah McKenzie is gone at WR, and was the leading receiver for the Bulldogs with 44 receptions last fall, but that should not be a huge concern with the return of both Terry Godwin and Michael Chigbu returning. Both will be coming into their junior campaigns, and both are expected to step into major roles in the offense. Chigbu only caught nine passes last fall, and is a bit of an enigma.
The TE group may be the deepest on the team, and Isaac Nauta and Jeb Blazevich should see a bulk of the playing time.
Rodrigo Blankenship hit 14/18 FGs as a freshman last season, and will return as the starting PK.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The offensive line could be an issue, as both tackles and the center position must be filled in fall camp. Isaiah Wynn and Lamont Gaillard both return at Guard, but replacing 60% of the line could take time, and those who win the jobs will need time to gel. Dyshon Sims figures into one open spot, while Wynn could shift to tackle, with Gaillard shifting to Center. There are several bodies who will not be available until fall camp, so the look could be jumbled in comparison to what we know right now.
There is also some concern about the receiver position. Chigbu could be the answer, but his limited production at this point leaves him a mystery. Overall, the position will need someone to stand up and be the man, or else the development of Eason may be in doubt. Look for Javon Wims and Riley Ridley to get plenty of time on the field as well.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Bulldogs lost 12 lettermen on defense, but none of those were on the defensive line, and nine total linemen return to action in 2017. Trenton Thompson is one of the most impressive members of that unit at DT after leading the team with 9.5 TFLs last season while lining up at tackle. John Atkins also has the most experience of any of the returning linemen, and will line up at NT. The Bulldogs should be all set up the middle. DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle and Tyler Clark will also rotate in at the tackle and Nose positions.
Lorenzo Carter and David Bellamy both could have bolted for the NFL after last season, but chose instead to stay, giving the Bulldogs one of the best duos at OLB in the nation. They combined for 15 TFLs last fall, and will give the Bulldogs some presence in the edge rush department. There is also plentiful depth, but lacking experience, behind them.
Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick will both return at ILB after finishing first and second in tackles last fall. They combined for 154 total tackles on the season, and will give a solid backing to the already solid middle of the defense.
The Bulldogs also have solid experience coming back in the secondary, especiallt at CB, where both Malkom Parrish and DeAndre Barker return. Parrish finished with nine PBUs last season.
Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders will also both return to their starting Safety spots in 2017.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
While there is solid experience coming back at the DE spots, production was rather spotty there in 2017. Jonathon Ledbetter and David Marshall both return, but both need some kind of breakout season to help the production of the other edge players.
While the starting experience is deep at LB, the backup group boasts mostly special teams experience, and the unit is rather thin on the reserve level.
The secondary was not exactly massively prolific last fall, and with all four starters returning, much is expected out of a group that will be important in the march to an Eastern Division crown.
The Punting game is also of concer, as Marshall Young only averaged 38.71 yards per punt last season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Appalachian State, 9/9 at Notre Dame, 9/16 Samford, 9/23 Mississippi State, 9/30 at Tennessee, 10/7 at Vanderbilt, 10/14 Missouri, 10/28 at Florida (Jacksonville), 11/4 South Carolina, 11/11 at Auburn, 11/18 Kentucky, 11/25 at Georgia Tech
The schedule is daunting in some spots, including in the middle chunk of the season where Georgia plays three games away from Athens in four weeks. Georgia will play four of their final seven on the road or on a neutral field, and hosts just six games on the season.
The offense needs some pep after averaging just over 24 points per game last season, and once again, the run game will be massively important to increase output, but the line may present an issue there if answers cannot be found early with three open holes. The development of Eason could mean everything.
The defense is always solid, but last season lacked any real power, and the Bulldogs, not just on defense, seemed to sputter at times. With a ton of returning experience, one should expect that to be a thing of the past.
When you look at Georgia on paper, all of the pieces seem to fit that would send the Bulldogs on to the SEC title game, but that is on paper only right now, and the Eastern Division is still considerably weak. If the Bulldogs can put it together, they should have enough talent on hand to deal with that weakened East, and move on.