Georgia put together a majestic 2017 season going 13-2 and coming up a couple of plays short of winning the national championship in Atlanta last January. The Crimson Tide captured the national title on a spectacular 41 yard touchdown pass from freshman Tua Tagovailoa to freshman De'Vonta Smith.The final score was 26-23 in overtime. It was a total classic.
The Bulldogs lost 7 defensive starters off that team including linebacker Roquan Smith, the 8th overall pick of the draft by the Chicago Bears. Smith was a tackling machine. They also lost linebacker Lorenzo Carter off that team. Carter was a 3rd round pick of the New York Giants. Also lost was safety Dominick Sanders, who picked off 16 passes in his Georgia career. Sanders was not drafted and was released by the Philadelphia Eagles in the spring, so he's looking for a team. But he was a highly impactful player in Athens.
Despite the losses, the young talent on defense along with some veterans, returning starting quarterback Jake Fromm, along with the No.1 player in the country in 2018, quarterback Justin Fields, who I'll talk about in a moment, and a slew of skilled players along with a veteran, talented offensive line should make this team a load for anybody to handle. And Kirby Smart and his staff added a highly touted 2018 freshmen class, the Number 1 class in the country according to Rivals and 247 sports, which features 8, 5 stars and 15, 4 stars. So this restocked team has the Dawgs primed for another shot at winning it all.
It starts with the quarterback as always, and Fromm played some terrific football last year in leading the Dawgs to a 13-2 record and an SEC Championship. He completed 181-of-291 passes, 62%, for 2,615 yards, 24 TDs and 7 interceptions. His quarterback rating was 8th best in the country. He hurt his non throwing shoulder earlier this summer, but he's at full tilt now. The interesting thing that happened in the spring game though was that Fromm threw 2 interceptions, 1 for a pick 6 by cornerback DeAndre Baker. He didn't look that swift. On the other hand, 5 star Justin Fields looked pretty spectacular. He threw a pinpoint 15 yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Matt Landers, and looked very confident running the offense. If this keeps up, Smart and co-offensive coordinators Jim Chaney and James Coley, who coaches the quarterbacks, may have a tougher decision than you'd think. Fields is for real, and he's not going away. Fromm has a lot of improving to do this month if he wants to hold off Fields and keep his job. I saw the same scenario take place at Alabama last fall, and this could also happen at Georgia, sooner than it did at Alabama, with Fields taking over at quarterback if he continues to excel and Fromm struggles. They are the only 2 scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, which makes it even more challenging for Smart, because if Fromm gets benched, he may look to go elsewhere and play. Should be interesting to see it play out in the early part of the season. Fromm has the upper hand with the season he put together last year and his SEC experience, and big games in the playoff versus Oklahoma and the Crimson Tide, but he looked shaky in the spring game and Fields looked outstanding. Fields is also an exceptional runner.
Whoever it is, he'll have a surplus of offensive talent around him. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are both now on NFL teams, as Chubb was a 3rd round pick of the Cleveland Browns and Michel was a first round pick by the New England Patriots. Chubb rushed for 4,769 yards and 44 TDs in his 4 year career, while Michel added 3,613 yards and 33 TDs. Chubb averaged 6.3 yards per carry and Michel 6.1.
Last year, Chubb rushed for 1,345 yards and 15 TDs, while Michel rushed for 1,227 yards and 16 TDs. Both were terrific college football players and outstanding people. Still, there is talent returning and coming in. The great D'Andre Swift, a 5'9", 215 pound sophomore, who was a 5 star in the 2017 class, rushed for 618 yards and 3 TDs including a hugely impressive 64 yard TD run against Auburn in the SEC Championship game, a 28-7 victory. Swift is phenomenal and is the Number 1 guy out of the backfield. Elijah Holyfield (5'11", 215) and Brian Herrien ·6'0", 210) are solid returners, and Smart also got 2 5 star signees in his 2018 class, Zamir White (6'1", 222) and James Cook (5'11", 181). James Cook is the younger brother of former star Florida State and now Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook. Both look exceptional and could step in right away for the second and third spot at running back.
Smart added 2016 5 star and Cal transfer Demetris Robertson to his wide receiver unit. At Cal his freshman season, Robertson caught 50 passes for 767 yards and 7 TDs. He played in 2 games last season before suffering a season ending leg injury. He had 7 receptions for 70 yards before the injury. He is 6'0", 190 pounds and is maybe the fastest player on the Georgia roster now, though there are some guys who could give him a lot of trouble in a race. One of them is junior Mecole Hardman (5'11", 183) who could be one of the most dynamic receivers and punt returners in the SEC. Hardman can motor and caught an 80 yardTD pass from Fromm in that national championship game last year in which he just out-motored the Alabama secondary for the score. Hardman caught 25 passes for 418 yards and 4 TDs last season. The Dawgs also feature senior Terry Godwin (5'11", 185), who caught 38 passes for for 639 yards and 6 TDs last season. Riley Ridley, the younger brother of now Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley, who was the 26th pick in the draft, is set for a big year on the perimeter. Ridley caught 6 passes for 82 yards against Bama in the title game, and finished with 14 receptions for 218 yards and 2 TDs in 2017. There will be a lot more production out of the 6'2", 200 pounder this season. I saw some more talent in the spring game from Ahkil Crumpton (5'9", 175), Tyler Simmons (6'0", 201)and Matt Landers (6'5", 200). Crumpton looks like he could be an electric kick returner as well. Former 2016 5 star Isaac Nauta (6'4", 240) had a big freshman year at tight end, but fell off a little last year. He's a talent in the passing game and blocks well. Charlie Woerner (6'5", 245) backs up Nauta and is pretty competent himself.
The offensive line returns 4 of 5 starters. Isaiah Wilson (6'7", 340) and Andrew Thomas (6'5", 320) have right and left tackle covered respectively. Ben Cleveland (6'6", 335) starts at right guard while Kendall Baker (6'6", 305) has the left guard spot. At center Lamont Gallard (6'2", 308) is slated to start. There looks to be pretty good depth.
On defense, defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter (6'4", 280) is the headliner upfront. Linebacker is pretty inexperienced but with talent. Monty Rice (6'1", 235) will be the leader at middle linebacker. Though the secondary lost a couple of good players, it looks pretty strong with De'Andre Baker (5'11", 185) at a corner, along with safeties Richard LeCounte (5'11", 190) and J.R. Reed (6'1", 194). All these guys on defense have a lot of experience and will bring leadership to the younger players. Baker had 3 ints last season and Reed picked off 2 passes. And Baker had an int off Fromm in the spring game that he took back to the house.
There are also some highly talented freshmen who are competing hard for a job in the starting lineup on both sides of the ball.
Rodrigo Blankenship returns at kicker. He converted 20 of 23 field goal attempts last season including a couple of plus 50 kicks. He was 2-for-2 from 50+ yards. He was 8-of-8 from 20-29 yards, 6-of-6 from 30-39 yards, and 4-of-7 from 40-49 yards. Junior Marshall Long will handle the punting duties. Hardman and Godwin will return punts. Hardman, Holyfield, and Crumpton will be kick returners.
The Dawgs open the season on Saturday, Sept. 1st versus Austin Peay at Sanford Stadium. The game kicks off at 2:30 PM CT and will be televised by ESPN. Week 2 looks colossal with a trip to Columbia, South Carolina on Sept.9th to face Will Muschamp and a talented South Carolina team. That will give us a pretty good gauge on how these 2 teams will fare this season. The game will be at 2:30 PM CT and broadcast by CBS. The Dawgs host Middle Tennessee on Sept. 15th at 6:15 PM CT on ESPN2. Then they're @ Missouri Sept. 22nd, home versus Tennessee, Sept. 29th, home versus Vandy, Oct.6th, @LSU on Oct. 13th in another massive contest. They're off on Oct. 20th, then play Florida in Jacksonville on October 27th in another key matchup. Then @ Kentucky, November 3rd, then Auburn at home in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. This will be the 123rd edition on Nov. 10th and should be a massively important contest in the SEC and national picture, UMass at home Nov. 17th and then Clean Old Fashioned Hate versus Georgia Tech at Sanford Stadium in Athens. All of these games will be on Saturdays.
Going into his third year, Kirby Smart has done a massive turnaround of a Georgia program that was running out of steam when he took over. Smart, 21-7 in 2 seasons, said after the national championship game that the Dawgs are here to stay. I believe him. I see a playoff very possible for this 2018 team if Fromm can play like he did last year, even better, or, if Fromm falters, Fields takes over and excels. And if the defense can match the physicality and opportunistic ability of the 2017 unit.