5 dream and 3 disaster scenarios for Georgia in 2017
As the SEC East favorites, expectations are high for the Georgia Bulldogs. A little bit of Year 2 magic for Kirby Smart, and perhaps the team could be going to the SEC Championship Game and a New Year’s Six bowl game. If certain issues arise however, Smart’s second season could be a letdown.
Will it be a dream or disaster season for the Dawgs? Here’s scenarios for each:
Keys to a dream season
1. Nick Chubb has his best year since 2014
When Chubb took over for the injured Todd Gurley in 2014, the freshman lived up to his 5-star recruiting rating, dazzling in his new role. For the season, he rushed for an impressive 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns on 219 carries, an impressive 7.06 yards per carry. Unfortunately, the injury bug has kept Chubb from replicating his numbers over a full season.
As a sophomore, Chubb averaged an even better 8.02 yards per carry, but a knee injury ended his season in the sixth game. Last season, Chubb appeared in all 13 games (albeit only one carry against Tennessee), but his rushing stats (224 carries, 1,130 yards, 8 TD) didn’t quite measure up to his explosive freshman season.
A healthy senior season and some help upfront could mean the return of the old Chubb. Last season’s average of 5.04 yards per carry puts Chubb in the middle of the pack in the SEC. For Georgia to have a special season, Chubb needs to be one of the conference’s elite ball-carriers.
2. Rivalry sweep
The last time Georgia beat Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech and Tennessee in the same season was 2012. As many remember, that season resulted in a trip to the SEC Championship Game and Georgia being a play away from a likely spot in the BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame.
After watching Missouri and Florida represent the SEC East in the conference championship game the past four seasons, the Bulldogs are eager to get back to Atlanta. With this year’s schedule, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee are likely to be UGA’s toughest SEC games. If the season goes according to plan, a clean sweep of the three virtually guarantees a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
Ending the season with a victory against Georgia Tech would help secure a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, which would be a step up from Georgia’s recent postseason invitations.
3. Jacob Eason turns the corner
After being hyped as a 5-star recruit and true freshman, Eason hasn’t nearly gotten the same kind of media buzz this offseason. Ever since Jake Fromm enrolled early and impressed this spring, some have wondered if Eason holds onto the starting job.
It’s true that Eason had his share of growing pains last year (204-of-370, 2,430 yards, 16 TD, 8 INT), but he still set several school freshman passing records. While Fromm, a highly rated 4-star recruit, is talented, Eason has a significant experience advantage having played in environments like the Georgia Dome, EverBank Field in Jacksonville and South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium.
If Eason can show he’s improved his accuracy, he will lead the Dawgs into big-time, hostile environments like Neyland Stadium and Jordan-Hare. Those are setting where experience and maturity is key, but Eason has to show he’s learned from his freshman struggles.
4. Playmakers step up at receiver
Eason (or Fromm), of course, can’t do it alone. The quarterback will need some playmakers step up at wide receiver, especially with Isaiah McKenzie now in the NFL.
The top returning wideout is Terry Godwin (38 catches, 397 yards), a reliable veteran pass-catcher. For the big playmaking ability, the Bulldogs could look to some of their sophomores. Riley Ridley had 12 catches his freshman season, including the second-most remembered touchdown from the Tennessee game.
Mecole Hardman, a 5-star athlete in the 2016 recruiting class, is moving to offense after playing defense back as a freshman. Hardman has the speed and athleticism to potentially shine in the passing game, and his 3-catch performance in the spring game certainly excited Dawgs fans.
The team’s top pass-catcher might not be lining up on the outside. Isaac Nauta, another former 5-star recruit, is poised for a breakout, All-SEC type season as a sophomore. As a freshman Nauta’s season-high was 83 receiving yards. He seems likely to hit triple digits at least once this season as one of the Eason’s go-to targets.
5. Defense wins championships
Somewhat overlooked, the Bulldogs had one of the better defenses in the SEC last season. UGA was in the top five in the four major defensive categories: scoring (No. 5), rushing (No. 4), passing (No. 2) and total defense (No. 4).
While SEC East rivals such as Tennessee and Florida are replacing multiple defensive starters lost to the NFL Draft, Georgia’s only draftee was McKenzie. With top defensive performers Trent Thompson, Lorenzo Carter and Dominick Sanders all back for the 2017, Georgia’s top-5 defense a year ago could be even more dominant this season, and deliver at least an SEC East championship.
Recipe for disaster
1. QB uncertainty during the season
This time one year ago, few thought there would be any potential quarterback controversy in Athens. Eason was the former 5-star recruit and early enrollee coming off a very impressive spring game. Now some aren’t completely sold on Eason. This year, Jake Fromm shined in the spring game and has some believing he could take the starting job from Eason.
For Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, it will be important to figure out if Eason or Fromm is the guy early on. Neither quarterback wants to be looking over his shoulder to see if he’s about to get benched for a bad throw or an interception. It’s certainly Eason’s job to lose. The starter should be named and settled before Week 1.
2. Offensive line lets down Chubb and Michel
It’s easy to look at Chubb’s performances the past three years and draw conclusions based solely on the stats. To be fair to Chubb and fellow senior running back Sony Michel, a ball-carrier can only run through the line when the big uglies open some running lanes.
There’s a lot to be excited about with this Georgia team, but offensive line remains a concern for many, especially after a rough G-Day for the position group. Smart, Jim Chaney and Sam Pittman have all had months to come up with how to improve on what went wrong in the spring game. If the line can’t properly block, it could be a rough year for the UGA offense.
3. Trouble at home
Smart lost three home games in his first season. That equaled Mark Richt’s combined home losses in his final four seasons.
The Hail Mary loss against Tennessee can be considered an outlier, but home losses to teams like Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech were the difference between a good (10-3) and mediocre (8-5) season.
This season, Georgia has home games against Appalachian State, Samford, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky. The first two should be easy wins with UGA favored in the next four. If Georgia posts a 3-3 record at home again in 2017, it’s guaranteed to be a disaster season.