Right now, Georgia is hands down SEC's most interesting team
This is no slight to the SEC’s other 13 teams. In the country’s most scrutinized and talent-rich conference, every team is full of storylines, subplots, potential road blocks and hopeful solutions as spring spins toward summer.
Will LSU really throw more in order to win more? Can Auburn solve its quarterback situation? Can Alabama reload … again?
But then you look over at what’s been doing in Athens, and you marvel at the depth and noise of it all.
A high-profile coaching change, or exchange, with sideline staple Mark Richt gone and Kirby Smart given the keys after leaving Nick Saban’s side.
The red-carpet arrival of potential savior quarterback Jacob Eason, who helped bring over 90,000 crazies to Sanford Stadium for the spring game, an SEC record.
And the never-ending status watch of star running back Nick Chubb, who is coming off left knee surgery.
Those three stories alone make Georgia, for now at least, the most interesting watch in the SEC, a red-clad carnival of high expectations (Smart), hope (Eason) and finger-crossing (Chubb) that is just too delicious to take your eyes off of as the spring winds down. No Bulldogs fan will stop watching, right up until kickoff this fall.
So let’s glance at these three main subplots that form the newfound crazy, exciting, unpredictable world of Georgia football:
On the sidelines, there is the departure of Richt, who won a lot of games in 15 years in Athens but not the biggest ones, and so it was eventually time for him to go (many red-faced Bulldog fans surely wanted the time to come sooner). In steps Smart, Saban’s lieutenant for so many years and championships, the latter being the key word for a program that hasn’t won the big one since Herschel Walker left.
There were other factors, like that new quarterback in town, but there’s no doubt Smart’s presence, a fresh presence, was a big reason why that record crowd of 93,000 showed up on a mid-April Saturday for a glorified walk-through. The guy who played his high school ball in Bainbridge, Ga., and went on to be an All-SEC defensive back in Athens was officially back in town, and he got an absurdly large welcome.
Georgia managed to double its previous spring game attendance record of 46,815, set just last year. The previous SEC spring record was the 92,310 who watched the 2011 Alabama spring game, ironically on the day that the Crimson Tide unveiled a statue of Saban. No doubt re-energized Bulldogs fans have dreams of Smart following in his mentor’s footsteps and one day having a statue outside Sanford Stadium.
Brian Jones of Bleacher Report wrote earlier this year: “Richt was great for Georgia, but if everything goes according to plan, Smart might be able to get them over the hump when it’s all said and done.”
And that really is the essence of what everyone will be watching for this fall, and in the next few years. Richt was good. Steady. But the Bulldogs hired Smart to be a lot more than that, and count Bleacher Report as thinking he could be the one who could knock Saban and Bama off their perch. These insanely high expectations make Georgia that interesting watch, starting right now.
The second subplot is Eason, and it almost seems too scripted that Smart and Eason arrive in Athens at the same time. Not that Smart is an offensive guy, because he’s made his reputation as a defensive coach, but his fortunes to start his coaching career at Georgia are presumably tied to the immediate development of Eason, the five-star prize from remote Washington state who also had a little bit to do with that record spring crowd.
While Smart plays the part of the savior on the sideline for Georgia followers, Eason is the on-field savior who didn’t stray elsewhere when Smart was hired, the kid they can envision winning a Heisman or Heismans and raising crystal trophies on January Monday nights. A fan comment below Eason’s spring game highlights said that he would be the best quarterback in the SEC by December. And you can bet he or she meant it. Another fan wrote: “Glad to say I got to see his first pass of his amazing career.”
See what that patient Georgia fan did there? He called Eason’s career amazing on the day of his debut. His spring debut. No pressure, kid.
An SBnation.com story pointed out how Georgia will be running a similar offense under new coordinator Jim Chaney to the one Eason ran in high school, which of course means Eason shouldn’t miss a beat, assuming he does in fact win the starting job this summer as most want and some expect.
You can do a search for Eason and see a story about how he was great and all in the spring game but the starting job still hasn’t been won, and also see a video link underneath that story asking how many Heismans Eason will win.
This is the tug-of-war phenomenon Eason has brought, bridging fantasy with reality. It’s why Georgia fans are gasping for air, the 93,000 who were at the spring game and the thousands who weren’t.
And what about the third subplot, centering on Chubb, the guy who once was the football king of Athens who is just trying to get back on the field.
This is a guy who exploded onto the SEC scene as a freshman in 2014 with 1,547 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, filling in for suspended star Todd Gurley. Chubb was SEC Freshman of the Year. He was named the Belk Bowl MVP. He was the Next One, just like Eason has now become.
Chubb picked up where he left off last year with 747 yards and seven touchdowns before tearing several ligaments in his knee, including his PCL, on his first carry against Tennessee. He is rehabbing furiously to get back for the season opener, or for this season at all, to pair up with fellow junior Sony Michel and give the Bulldogs — and likely Eason — one of the best one-two backfield punches in the nation.
While Chubb’s status is as uncertain as it gets, the new coach knows one thing that is for certain, as he told DawgNation.com last month:
“He’s doing so much extra behind the scenes that people don’t know about,” Smart said. “It’s so important to him. Yet he’s smart enough to kind of temper that with, ‘I need to be ready.’ He’s such a role model for the kids. They see him work. They saw him the day after the surgery, he’s right back and ready to go rehabbing. He’s got such a great attitude.”
Michel told gridironnow.com after a spring practice last month: “(April 5) when he was out there, he was moving pretty fast, faster than what people would think. He was just like, ‘I can’t slow down.’ That’s just the type of person he is.”
This is an easy guy for Georgia fans to root for when he’s on the field, but in this head-spinning offseason, they are now rooting for him on the practice field, in the weight room, to hopefully be on the real field in September when the games count and this perfect storm of subplots with Smart and maybe Eason and maybe even Chubb all comes together.
It’s all why you can’t possibly take your eyes off this program in 2016.