Georgia introduces a new coach for the first time since 2001. Expectations will be high for Kirby Smart in his first season, especially considering the Bulldogs are fresh off a 10-3 season. Luckily, Smart inherits a loaded roster.
Four of the last five Georgia recruiting classes ranked top 10, including the No. 8 class in 2016. Running back Nick Chubb will be back to lead an elite rushing attack, while Smart will try and develop elite talents into a cohesive defense.
Here are five bold predictions about Georgia’s 2016 season.
Kirby Smart brings excitement back to Athens
After 15 years, Georgia fans finally grew complacent in their relationship with Mark Richt. Despite winning 9.7 games a year, UGA brass decided it wanted more. The Bulldogs swung for the fences, hiring longtime Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
Smart has never run a program, but a seven-year stint as DC under Nick Saban can only mean good things. He hopes to join Mark Dantonio and Jimbo Fisher as revered members of the Saban coaching tree. Being a native son won’t hurt – Smart was an All-SEC linebacker for the Bulldogs in 1998.
Jacob Eason is QB by Halloween
Of the gifts Richt left, holding on to blue-chip quarterback Jacob Eason might be the greatest. Eason was the No. 5 player in the class and No. 2 quarterback, behind only Ole Miss freshman Shea Patterson.
Incumbent starting quarterback Greyson Lambert is back, along with backup Brice Ramsey. However, Eason won the hearts of UGA fans with his 244-yard performance in the spring game. The battle has remained close throughout preseason camp and Eason still might win the job in the preseason. But even if he does not, expect Eason to take over before Halloween hits. Potential losses to Ole Miss, Tennessee or Florida could be the catalyst.
Nick Chubb, Sony Michel combine for 2,000 rushing yards
Few teams can compare to the elite running back talent Georgia consistently reels in. After All-SEC honors as a true freshman, Chubb suffered a devastating knee injury in his first carry against Tennessee. That opened the door for Michel to rush for 1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns in his stead.
Michel could be delayed returning from an arm injury, but the partnership ranks among the best in college football. Chubb will likely take his rightful place as the featured back, but Michel will get plenty of carries.
Georgia closes on a five-game winning streak
The schedule is tough, but Georgia will improve as the year goes on. Games against Tennessee and Ole Miss early are trouble spots, but the schedule clears out from there. Only a potential trap against fellow Saban assistant Jim McElwain remains.
Georgia will likely lose to Florida, but then reel off wins against Kentucky, Auburn, Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Tech before taking care of business in a bowl game. Assuming a quality bowl matchup, the Bulldogs will go into 2017 as a favorite.
Bulldogs stay in SEC East chase
The SEC East has struggled to produce a dominant team the past few seasons. Though Florida won the division title last year, it was far from convincing. Tennessee is poised to buck the trend, but the Volunteers have not won a division title since 2007.
Tennessee has an excellent chance to win the division, but the Bulldogs could throw a wrench considering their matchup is at home. If UGA can win, it gives them the tiebreaker. Expect Tennessee to edge Georgia, but things will be closer than expected down the stretch.
Source: SEC Country