More than a few people think Georgia might be the team that shocks the pundits this year and wins the SEC East.
Tennessee was the media’s preseason pick to unseat reigning division champion Florida, but it’s the Dawgs who many feel boast the most talent overall.
A favorable schedule helps, but looming questions at quarterback and tailback might be the biggest obstacles facing first-year coach Kirby Smart.
Let’s take a look at the best and worst-case scenarios for the Bulldogs in 2016.
Dreaming the good dreams
1. Chubb is Chubb: Stud tailback Nick Chubb is completely recovered from the serious knee injury he suffered last season and quickly returns to previous form. A healthy Chubb is easily one of the nation’s best running backs, and getting him going means that it might not really matter who is under center in a lot of games. Chubb was a first-team All-SEC selection as a freshman in 2014 after chewing up 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns and was a leading Heisman Trophy candidate before getting hurt at Tennessee last October.
2. Michel is ready, too: Sony Michel’s injury isn’t as bad as originally believed and the junior tailback will be available at the season’s start. Michel was impressive in picking up the torch for the injured Chubb last fall, rushing for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load.
Chubb’s status early in the season is still unclear, so the broken left forearm Michel recently suffered while riding an ATV couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.
It remains to be seen whether the surgically-repaired limb will have healed enough for Michel to play in the Sept. 3 opener at the Georgia Dome against North Carolina, meaning the Dawgs could go into the season without either 1,000-yard back.
Smart’s decision about which quarterback to play could hinge on whether he has either Chubb or Michel available that game. Without either, Georgia could be forced to turn to seldom-used Brendan Douglas or one of their true freshmen tailbacks. Georgia should still have its way against the Tar Heels defense, but the game could be a lot closer than originally believed.
3. Eason is all that: Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason lives up to all the hype, and it has been considerable. Georgia fans have been clamoring for the former five-star recruit for seemingly an eternity and will likely get their wish at some point this season.
But lighting it up in high school is one thing – doing it in the high-fallutin’ SEC each week is another matter entirely.
Eason looked good in the spring, but he’ll have to quickly adjust to the speedier college game. Eason has a big arm and a bright future, and that future could be starting now if he’s just half as good as all the hype.
In a best-case scenario, Smart would probably prefer to gradually work Eason into the lineup before taking over for good from Greyson Lambert, but injuries at running back may force the new coach’s hand. Eason could be asked to prove that he’s as good as advertised from the season’s outset. He does just that in a perfect world for Dawgs fans.
4. Carter dominates: OLB Lorenzo Carter finally plays like the superstar that many thought he would be. Blessed with great height, size and speed, Carter has teased Georgia fans with occasional flashes of his vast potential, but his first two years have been largely disappointing. Now a junior, the strapping 6-foot-6, 242-pound former five-star prospect will have to raise his game following the departures of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd to the NFL.
5. O-line dominates: A revamped offensive line shakes off last year’s disappointing effort and consistently establishes itself at the line of scrimmage to open up holes for whoever is under center or carrying the football for the Dawgs. If all goes well — from the line to the running backs’ health — Chubb and Michel finish the season with 1,000 yards.
But it’s rare that any football season goes perfectly as planned, so here’s a look at five potential scenarios that could prove disastrous to Georgia this fall.
1. Chubb not the same: Chubb never regains the form that made him one of the nation’s top running backs and the Dawgs are forced to ask more of their quarterbacks than is realistic.
Chubb’s ability to instinctively see holes, cut and accelerate is what made him special. It will take some time for him to rebuild that same trust in his surgically repaired knee so that he can move like he once did, but overcoming the linger psychological effects of an injury always takes longer than the physical recovery.
2. Even worse … neither is ready: Neither Chubb nor Michel are back to form by the time Georgia plays consecutive season-defining games at Ole Miss (Sept. 24) and Tennessee (Oct. 1). It’s unlikely the Dawgs win either game without at least one of their star running backs fully healthy and enjoying a breakout game to power the offense.
A loss to the Vols at home would greatly diminish Georgia’s chances of winning the SEC East.
3. Eason plays like … a freshman: The burden of heavy expectations early on proves too much for Eason.
Georgia fans expecting the true freshman to work miracles from his opening college snap are in for an awakening. No true freshman QB has won an SEC title since divisional play started in 1992.
Playing quarterback in the SEC is a steep learning curve that will inevitably have its share of ups and downs for millions to see. Injuries to his tailbacks mean that Smart may no longer have the luxury of gradually working Eason into the lineup. He will likely be the starter by the season’s end, but has never really experienced failure before.
That means that Eason will have to learn quickly to put bad plays behind him and continue looking ahead. The Dawgs will not beat the elite teams they face with Lambert at quarterback.
4. Where’s the pressure? No pass rushers step up in the absence of Jordan Jenkins and Floyd. Junior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy is a fine player, but he needs help, specifically from Carter. But in this scenario, Carter continues to play like a myth.
5. Wide right: An unproven kicking game falters in the clutch. It’s been 10 years since the Dawgs entered the season without a scholarship kicker on the roster. Redshirt freshman Rodrigo Blankenship won the job in the spring and will also handle kickoffs, but he’s unproven. That the previous coaching staff didn’t see enough in him last year to offer a scholarship is worrisome.
Source: Saturday Down South