Head Coach: Kirby Smart
2015 record: 10-3 overall, 5-3 SEC East
2015 Postseason results: Beat Penn State 24-17 in the TaxSlayer Bowl
2016 returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 66/1
Odds to win 2016 SEC Championship Game: 10/1
Odds to Win 2016 SEC East Division: 5/2
Regular season wins: under 9 1/2 -200 / over 9 1/2 +163
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After 15 seasons, Georgia moved on from coach Mark Richt and hired Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart as the new coach. Richt is now the head coach at Miami-(FL). Smart gets 13 starters back and Georgia looks to contend for the SEC East title but Tennessee and Florida will have something to say about that.
Last year, Georgia won their first four games before losing three of the next four to Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. The losses to Alabama and Florida were by 28 and 24 points respectively. Georgia would win their last five games including 24-17 over Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
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Smart brought Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to run the offense. He gets eight starters back on offense. Georgia averaged 377 yards per game on offense including 192 rushing yards and 26 points a game. The offense must improve from last year if Georgia wants to beat Tennessee and Florida.
Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert started all but one game last year. He passed for 1,959 yards with 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He is a senior but there is no guarantee he will keep his job. He has been pressed hard by true freshman Jason Eason, a five star recruit. In fact, reports say Eason will start the season opener against North Carolina. Brice Ramsey took a few snaps last year and is still around in case of emergency.
Running back Nick Chubb entered last season as a potential Heisman contender. He was living up to lofty expectations until he tore his ACL in the sixth game of the season. He had 92 carries for 747 yards and 7 touchdowns, plus a touchdown catch. He is listed as probable for the season opener. Sony Michel started the last six games after the Chubb injury. He had 219 carries for 1,161 yards with 8 touchdowns, and he also made 26 catches for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is listed as questionable with an arm injury. Keith Marshall is now with the Washington Redskins after rushing for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brendan Douglas will get some carries as well. Glenn Welch will be the fullback but is mainly used for blocking.
Receiver Malcolm Mitchell is now with the New England Patriots after making 58 catches for 865 yards and 8 touchdowns. Terry Godwin looks to take over as the go-to receiver after making 35 catches for 379 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he also had a rushing touchdown. Isaiah McKenzie had only 10 catches last year, but he did have 117 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns last year. He moves into the starting line-up to replace Mitchell. Tight end Jeb Blazevich had 15 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown.
The offensive line returns three starters. They only allowed 15 sacks last season, but Georgia didn’t pass the ball much.
Smart brought his defensive backs coach Mel Tucker over from Alabama to be the coordinator at Georgia. Tucker has several years of experience as a defensive coordinator both in college and the NFL. He gets five starters back for a defense that allowed 306 yards per game, including 157 passing yards and 17 points per game. Georgia was the top ten nationally in all three categories including the #1 pass defense.
There is a lot of talent in the front seven but they are very young. The entire starting defensive line will be sophomores. Ends Michael Barnett and Jonathan Ledbetter will flank tackle Trenton Thompson.
Three of the top four tacklers were linebackers last year and all three are gone. Jake Ganus, an inside linebacker, and outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd will be difficult to replace. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy will start on the outside. Reggie Carter returns from an injury and will start on the inside alongside Natrez Patrick.
The secondary will again be a strength. Safety Dominick Sanders was first team All-SEC with six interceptions and 48 tackles. Quincy Mauger will start at strong safety. He had 58 tackles and broke up five passes. Malkom Parrish and Aaron Davis will start at the corners.
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Redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship will handle the kicking duties. True freshman Marshall Long will be the punter. Reggie Davis and McKenzie will return kicks and punts. McKenzie took two punts to the house last year.
Outlook and Schedule
Georgia opens against North Carolina in Atlanta before hosting Nicholls State. Then comes road games at Missouri and Ole Miss. The Bulldogs host Tennessee before a road game at South Carolina. Georgia then hosts Vanderbilt before the game in Jacksonville against Florida, before a road game at Kentucky. Georgia closes with three straight home games against Auburn, UL-Lafayette and Georgia Tech.
If Chubb and Michel can come back healthy and if Eason gives them any semblance of a passing game, this team could challenge Tennessee for the East title. The Bulldogs do get Tennessee in Athens. Still I think this team wins 9 games and goes to a January bowl, but not a New Year’s Six game.
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