For all of the people out there who believe the Georgia Bulldogs were something of a fluke last season and will become a one-year wonder, I’ve got two words for you: Kirby Smart.
Falling just short of the national championship last season, Georgia’s inability to make a 13-point second-half lead over Alabama hold up in the title game is behind much of the doubt. There’s also the fact the Bulldogs lost several key members of the 13-2 squad that won its first SEC crown since 2005. The NFL thought highly of the talent Smart had in his second year at Athens with three players selected in the first round of the draft. Despite their subtraction, NCAA football futures have the Bulldogs part of the "Big 4" behind Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State as an 8/1 to 9/1 choice to win it all.
Depth At Running Back Will Be Tested
Georgia is a runaway pick to win its sixth SEC East crown and return to the conference title game in Atlanta on December 1. Jake Fromm is back under center following an outstanding freshman campaign, and he’ll have to excel again to keep prized recruit Justin Fields from taking his job away. Fromm will have an even better O-line in front of him and has three of his top four wideouts back. It’s the backfield where question marks arise after the Bulldogs lost 1,000-yard rushers Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to the NFL. D’Andre Swift – who had over 600 yards on 81 carries – is the feature back, but the depth will be tested early after the team lost 5-star recruit Zamir White to a knee injury in summer practice.
The defensive side of the ball suffered the greatest attrition with eight of last year’s starters gone. It was a unit that ranked sixth in total defense and a big reason why eight of Georgia’s first 12 games finished "under" the college football odds. The top four linebackers will not be back, leaving defensive coordinator Mel Tucker with a big rebuild that will revolve around senior outside backers D’Andre Walker and Juwan Taylor, plus fellow senior Natrez Smith, assuming the latter can stay off police blotters.
Light Schedule Could Work Against Dawgs
This year’s schedule could prove to be a blessing and a curse. It all begins September 1 at home vs. Austin Peay, a game that may not even make the board at most of the top sportsbooks. The Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule is very weak, the Governors joined on the slate by Middle Tennessee, UMass and a Georgia Tech side that is carrying a low 5½-win total, making it more difficult to impress the CFP Selection Committee.
For the third year in a row, there’s no Crimson Tide on the fixture, and only two games against teams listed in the preseason rankings, a trip to LSU in October and a home date with Auburn about a month later. Georgia’s first two conference games are on the road against South Carolina and Missouri, teams that will be looking to avenge losses to the Bulldogs a year ago.
Smart spent too much time working under Nick Saban not to succeed at his alma mater and become an annual contender in both the SEC and on the national front. Still, 10½ wins allow for very little margin of error, but with their schedule, I like the Bulldogs to reach 11 wins for my free NCAAF pick.