Did Florida's window already close? Georgia eager to reclaim SEC East
I’ve heard the phrase “the new normal” more over the past year than in my entire life.
Sure, once the coronavirus is finally under control, we’ll be looking at a world much different than the one we were living in. Hopefully that “new normal” means a 2021 college football season that resembles a more familiar rhythm than the one we saw in 2020.
And if you’re a Georgia fan, you’re hoping that familiar rhythm includes the Dawgs finding themselves back on top of the SEC East.
Florida had the boxes checked in 2020 — a quarterback in Kyle Trask who will go down as a program legend, arguably the best tight end in the country in Kyle Pitts, a versatile threat in Kadarius Toney, a talented receiver in Trevon Grimes, and a complement of other players that easily made it the most high-powered offense in the division. Georgia just didn’t match up with Stetson Bennett IV leading the way and it showed in Cocktail Party. As a result, Florida ended Georgia’s stay atop the SEC East.
All those names I’ve mentioned for the Gators, though? Gone. And that’s great news for Georgia.
Moving into 2021, there’s simply too much production to replace. It starts at quarterback, where the book on Emory Jones is being written, but despite his dual-threat tendencies, he’s not going to be the second coming of Trask. The defense has a number of key pieces returning, but as a whole, it wasn’t nearly good enough in 2020.
Don’t get me wrong: There are a few questions to be answered for Georgia, too. (Have you seen the list of players in that secondary that will be gone next season?) But at absolute worst, this should be a Dawgs team that wins the SEC East.
And you can look no further than JT Daniels, undoubtedly the most talented quarterback in the division. That’s not to mention a loaded running back room led by Zamir White and pretty much every key offensive player returning, including a stacked receiving corps with plenty of targets for Daniels to maximize.
Add that to the fact that the Dawgs have plenty of momentum on their side as opposed to the Gators.
For Florida, the cracks in the dam could only hold for so long, coming to a head against LSU where Marco Wilson’s footgear helped push the Tigers to an upset win at The Swamp. After getting torched by Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith in Atlanta and allowing 435 rushing yards to Oklahoma and getting blown out at Jerry World in the Cotton Bowl Classic, a one-time Playoff aspirant was left staring at a 3-game losing streak.
And Wilson’s hijinks and a leaky defense were far from the only issues Dan Mullen, who didn’t do himself any favors in the PR department in 2020, had to deal with.
For the Dawgs? Things were pretty boring in comparison.
Sure, they were pushed to the limit by Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, but a last-second Jack Podlesny field goal capped a season that, despite a few lows, ended with Georgia on a 4-game winning streak following its defeat in the Cocktail Party, having gathered a good bit of steam heading into 2021 thanks in part to the play of Daniels. In some ways, the Sept. 4 opener in Charlotte against Clemson might feel more of a continuation — at least offensively where there’s been so little turnover — and not a full-on reboot.
And, without getting too far ahead of myself, outside of Clemson, it’s hard to see many teams giving the Dawgs a true test outside of whoever they’d potentially face in the SEC Championship Game (let’s assume Alabama).
Their West division opponent outside of Auburn is Arkansas, trending in a good direction under former UGA offensive line coach Sam Pittman but still with plenty of ground to make up. (Auburn, by the way, under the guidance of 1st-year coach Bryan Harsin, has a Bo Nix problem to solve, as the soon-to-be junior’s inconsistencies have hindered its ability to make headway in the conference.) In the East, Missouri looks to be on an upward swing under Eli Drinkwitz, but can you really see anyone in the division as it stands now capable of beating the Dawgs?
Maybe the Gators do go toe-to-toe with them in Jacksonville later in the year. But top-to-bottom, this is a Bulldogs team that is much more talented and Playoff-ready than their rivals in Gainesville.
And as far as the SEC East is concerned, that’s as “back to normal” as it gets.