Preview 2017: Georgia, It’s Your Turn
After years of being great, it’s Georgia’s turn to win the East again.
It’s Georgia’s turn.
But it’s been Georgia’s turn before, and that didn’t mean a whole lot.
For all the great players and all the spins of the wheel, the program last won an SEC Championship in 2005 and hasn’t been to one since 2012. With what’s being built, though, taking the East might be a yearly occurrence, starting now.
It might only be Year Two under Kirby Smart, but with the experience and talent returning, the lack of offense at Florida and South Carolina, Tennessee still being Tennessee, and with Missouri and Kentucky not quite up to SEC East-winning snuff, Georgia, get it done.
Get to the SEC Championship.
Of course, last year’s team should’ve gone to Atlanta, too, considering the weakened division and the talent Smart inherited. But this year, there really isn’t any excuse, except that it’s Georgia, and for whatever reason, having a lot of talent, a lot of experience, the right schedule, the right coaches, and on and on and on haven’t ensured much of anything.
It always seems like it should be Georgia’s year – and then it isn’t.
Under Mark Richt, and now Smart, the Bulldogs haven’t fallen into any sort of 4-8-like abyss like everyone else in the SEC East has at some point over the last few decades – the last losing season since 1996 was 2010, and that was a 6-7 year with a bowl game loss. But there haven’t been the mega-highs, either, for a long while now.
That should be changing this season. Just being okay won’t be good enough this time around.
In a season-was-half-full way, Georgia could’ve had a total disaster, surviving Nicholls State in a 26-24 dogfight, pushing past North Carolina late, coming back to beat Missouri by one, beating Kentucky by three and Auburn by six. In all, the Bulldogs won five games by a touchdown or less.
On the other side, the season could’ve been far, far stronger. If you believe that good teams find ways to win close games, then Georgia managed to pull off those other tight battles, and had bad luck in the Hail Mary loss to Tennessee and the one-point losses to Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt.
But Georgia is supposed to be better than Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt, and it’s not supposed to need a close shave to get by the mediocre teams. And this year, Smart has the team to do it, and keep it going for a long, long time.
The Bulldogs had Scout’s No. 2 recruiting class this year after checking in at tenth in 2016 and fourth in 2015 to build on an already great base of talent. Now there’s incredible upside among the young players looking to push for time for a team with 21 starters back.
The offense that couldn’t score and struggled with its consistency has two great quarterback options in rising-star Jacob Eason trying to hold off fellow rising-star Jake Fromm, and they’ve got good receivers and potentially elite tight ends to throw to.
The rushing tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel is special, but they need the line to rock with three new starters. If the blocking is there, the offense will take off, and the East is over.
Ten starters return to a defense that was great, but could stand to be stronger in the bigger games and need a better pass rush. The linebacking corps should be among the nation’s best, the tackle situation is terrific, and the secondary has veteran playmakers to count on.
It’s going to be a new era for the SEC Championship as it moves from the Georgia Dome to the spiffy new Mercedes-Benz Stadium right next door. Georgia, you really want Florida or Tennessee or South Carolina to open up SEC Championship 3.0 – the first two title games were in Birmingham – in your city?
Go ahead, Bulldogs. Win the East. Get into the College Football Playoff discussion. Be the powerhouse of the division.
It’s been a great run for a long, long time for Georgia. Now it’s about to be better.