July 20, 2024

Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson (24) scores second touchdown of the game against Georgia during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Doug Benc)

Head Coach Kirby Smart has taken the Bulldogs to heights in his two years on the job that his predecessor Marc Richt never did. Finishing with a top-three recruiting class the past two years, going 12-1 during the regular season in the SEC, to a conference championship and national title game appearance has shown the quality of work Smart has put in. Now that he has raised the bar, expectations are higher than ever in Athens. The offense is loaded with talent and returns eight starters, led by true sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm. The defense lost several starters to the NFL, but remains strong with elite talent at every level of the defense.

Team strengths: The offensive line. The Bulldogs return five players with staring experience the offensive line that helped the team finish No.1 in the SEC in rushing and No. 9 nationally. Andrew Thomas, Kendall Baker, Lamont Gaillard, Solomon Kindley and Ben Cleveland have combined for 69 career starts and will open holes for the new running backs to run through and brick walls for Fromm to throw behind.

Team weaknesses: Inexperience on defense. Georgia lost seven starters, including several players on defense to the NFL. The four returning starters and all the new faces are talented, but to finish sixth nationally in total defense again it’ll take experience, production and leadership. Expect Georgia to take a big step back on defense.

Players to watch: Quarterback Fromm, wide receiver Terry Goodwin and safety J.R. Reed. Fromm made his debut in game one and never looked back. He threw for 2,615 yards and scored 27 total touchdowns, earned freshman All-America honors and was the SEC newcomer and freshman of the year. Goodwin is the teams’ leading returning receiver in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns with 38 catches, 639 yards an six scores. Reed is the team’s leading returning tackler with 79 stops, including 1.5 from behind the line of scrimmage and two sacks.

The schedule: Manageable. The game at South Carolina in week two may decide the SEC East. Georgia gets Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech at home, but have to travel to Missouri and LSU.

My take: The Bulldogs will not be as dominant on defense as last season but will still be very good. Fromm will keep the offense humming even with the loss of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to the NFL. This team was one blown coverage away from winning its first national championship since 1980. That’s enough motivation to come into 2018 with something to prove and the Bulldogs are ready.