Will 2015 see Dawgs finally live up to billing as SEC East’s ‘best team’? (Updated)

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Mark Richt's program again looks like the best in the East going into 2015. (John Kelley / UGA)
Mark Richt's program again looks like the best in the East going into 2015. (John Kelley / UGA)

Mark Richt’s program again looks like the best in the East going into 2015. (John Kelley / UGA)

The past two seasons the Georgia Bulldogs have looked like the cream of the SEC East going into the season and, thanks to injuries, suspensions, bad coaching moves and other circumstances, have managed to blow it.

Looking ahead to the 2015 season, the Dawgs again look like, as ESPN.com said this week, “the East’s best team.”

Will the third time be the charm? Can Mark Richt not only get back to Atlanta but finally notch another conference title 10 years after his last one and get his team into the College Football Playoff?

Those disgruntled fans who’ve grown tired of unrealized potential and have forever condemned Richt-coached teams to the “mediocrity” of 10-win seasons with no championship will scoff at the idea, but ESPN’s Edward Aschoff summed up pretty well the reasons for optimism as Georgia looks ahead to next season:

“Georgia, which is coming off a disappointing season in which the division was there for the taking, returns arguably the East’s best team. In fact, with so many starters returning, Georgia might be a quarterback away from a playoff run. Four offensive line starters return to block for the SEC’s best returning running back in freshman Nick Chubb (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns), and senior-to-be Malcolm Mitchell leads a young, talented corps of receivers.

“Defensively, Georgia is loaded at linebacker with Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, Lorenzo Carter and Reggie Carter all returning, and the secondary is full of young defensive backs who all have good game experience.

“With a pretty favorable schedule in 2015, Georgia has a chance at a special run through the SEC.”

OK, some might debate whether a year in which Alabama comes calling fully qualifies as a “favorable” schedule, but those are still a lot of positives.

And Saturday Down South views Georgia similarly to ESPN, saying the Bulldogs proved with their impressive bowl win that “their program still has plenty to look forward to in 2015” after they “tore apart a ranked Louisville squad in the Belk Bowl and freshman Nick Chubb showed he can be the face of the program moving forward after amassing more than 200 yards against the nation’s No. 3 run defense. The Dawgs will return many of their best underclassmen next season and if they can find an adequate starting quarterback to replace Hutson Mason they should once again be considered title contenders in the SEC East.”

Georgia fans' biggest reason for optimism: Nick Chubb. (John Kelley / UGA)

Georgia fans’ biggest reason for optimism: Nick Chubb. (John Kelley / UGA)

Yes, Richt’s program faces a number of major challenges going forward, starting with rebuilding its offensive coaching staff and determining whether 2014’s primary backup, Brice Ramsey, will be next season’s starting quarterback, or whether Faton Batau or Jacob Park is the answer. That’s a big question mark, but not nearly as big as it would be without Chubb in the backfield.

There are still holes to be filled in the defense, too, but Jeremy Pruitt, who’s getting a hefty pay increase, seems to have his side of the roster poised for a major influx of talent come signing day.

Plus, the Dawgs will return seven starters, including four of five offensive linemen. Backing up Chubb, who alone provides plenty of reason for optimism among UGA fans, will be the also very dangerous Sony Michel, and if Keith Marshall can get back to anything approaching his old pre-injury self, Georgia will have one of the nation’s strongest tailback rosters.

Of course, 2014 proved that there’s more to winning championships than talent and potential, but if Richt and his staff can somehow manage to avoid the sort of hiccups and letdowns that have plagued the program the past couple of years, Georgia looks to have as good a chance as anyone else in the SEC of being in next fall’s playoff conversation.

Feel free to share your own view of the Dawgs’ chances in 2015.

UPDATE: Mark Richt announced Wednesday afternoon that NFL veteran Brian Schottenheimer has been named UGA’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Schottenheimer has served as offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams the past three seasons after holding the same position with the New York Jets in 2006-2011.


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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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