Georgia football: 5 ways the Bulldogs will measure success in 2020
Since Kirby Smart took the reins of the Georgia football program, the parameters of what constitutes a “successful” season have changed. It used to be that winning the SEC East was a success. But once that was accomplished, a successful season meant not just getting to Atlanta, but winning in Atlanta. Then, not just winning in Atlanta, but getting to the College Football Playoff, and eventually winning that.
So far, that last part has been the only thing that that’s escaped the grasp of Smart, who’s heading into his 5th season as the head man in Athens. And the hope is that year No. 5 ends in Hard Rock Stadium with a national title.
Here are 5 ways the Bulldogs will measure success in 2020:
1. How Todd Monken’s revamped offense shows improvement from last year
When Smart effectively fired James Coley in favor of offensive guru Todd Monken, he made a statement that Bulldogs fans had been making all season long: Georgia’s offensive output in 2019 simply wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t horrible, but it missed the dynamic touch that other programs (i.e. LSU) possessed.
Enter Monken, a former FBS head coach and NFL offensive coordinator who has proven he can pull the right levers as needed. His signature work? Turning a moribund Southern Miss program into a high-flying outfit that finished inside the top 15 nationally in scoring and total yards in his final season in 2015.
And he’ll have plenty of weapons to work with: a passer in Jamie Newman who can pick up yards with his feet as needed; a veteran grad transfer in tight end Tre McKitty; one of the top tight end prospects in the country in Darnell Washington; and a pair of promising returnees at wide receiver in Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens. Add D’Andre Swift’s heir apparent, Zamir White, and this is a unit that, if it can catch on quickly to Monken’s new system, can help the Dawgs hit a new gear offensively.
2. How well Georgia’s new-look offensive line under Matt Luke holds up
Matt Luke will be walking into a much different offensive line room than the one that his predecessor, Sam Pittman, presided over at the beginning of 2019. It’s enough to have to replace 1 starter up front. Replacing 3? That’s a different story.
Ben Cleveland, Warren Erickson, Trey Hill and Jamaree Salyer are among the returnees, and while they’ll be playing in the shadows of a front 5 last year that featured a 1st-team All-American and a 2nd-team All-SEC pick, Luke’s track record of success coaching the position at Ole Miss means that the Dawgs might be able to pick up where they left off.
3. Developing a more opportunistic defense
I’ve written in the past about Georgia’s defense and how, although it’s been strong, it’s been missing a few key things: takeaways and consistently getting to the quarterback.
Azeez Ojulari (5.5 sacks) showed an ability to pressure the QB, and with his redshirt sophomore season looming, he’ll be poised to put himself on draft boards this upcoming season. As far as forcing turnovers, the Dawgs lagged, but it was OK because they didn’t allow many points and kept teams from running the ball against them with ease.
Still, if those factors can all come together in 2020, that will make what’s been a very good Dawgs defense even better.
4. Sweeping Alabama and Florida
Take one look at Georgia’s schedule, and 2 dates stand out: Sept. 19 at Alabama and Oct. 31 vs. Florida in Jacksonville. It’s likely that any hopes of a Playoff bid, or even a trip to the SEC Championship Game, rests on the results of those games.
The last thing you want if you’re a Dawgs fan is to be carrying at least 1 conference loss into TIAA Bank Field on Halloween. Getting handed a 2nd conference loss by your rival and seeing your 3-game winning streak against them end? Talk about a lost season.
And let’s not forget: Even though Georgia and Alabama play in the regular season (for the 1st time since 2015), they might face each other again in the SEC Championship Game. So Smart, who has never beaten his old boss, might have to do it twice in the same year. No pressure.
5. Getting back to the College Football Playoff
Sure, it’s too early to make any rock-solid declarations for the 2020 season as so much can change. But with the talent on this team, wouldn’t it be disappointing to see it miss out on the Playoff for a 3rd consecutive season?
If the Dawgs want to truly consider themselves among the elite of the elite in college football, they have to find a way to consistently keep themselves in the Playoff hunt. Does that mean running the table all the way to the unveiling of the top 4? It might not, but Smart’s crew will want to give the selection committee zero reasons to keep them on the outside looking in once more. (Then again, you never know what the committee has up its sleeve, so maybe Georgia will need an unblemished season after all.)
Smart’s 2017 team was a breakthrough campaign for Georgia football. Sooner or later, though, he’ll be judged not on his ability to get the Dawgs to the Playoff, but by winning it altogether.