Despite three losses that left many in the Bulldog Nation viewing the 2014 football season as a disappointment, Mark Richt’s Dawgs still wound up as a Top 10 team, placing ninth in both the Associated Press media poll and the coaches poll. Georgia was, in fact, the second-highest ranked SEC team, after No. 4 Alabama.
It marked the seventh AP Top 10 finish for a Richt team in 14 years (second only to Vince Dooley’s eight Top 10 teams in 25 years at UGA)
And, even though Georgia must deal with turnover in such key positions as quarterback and offensive coordinator, the early outlook for the 2015 season is more of the same, if not better.
The Bulldogs sit at No. 8 in ESPN.com’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 — as the highest rated SEC team!
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach also provides reasons why the Dawgs might finish higher than that, or lower.
They might finish higher because “Georgia brings back four of five starters on the offensive line, as well as tailback Nick Chubb, who ran for 1,547 yards with 14 touchdowns as a freshman (after getting only 31 carries combined in the first five games). Georgia’s defense improved dramatically under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and linebackers Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Carter are coming back. Georgia’s schedule includes only four true road games and only two (at Vanderbilt and Tennessee) in the first two months of the season.”
But they might finish lower, he says, because “Georgia is going to have to find a new quarterback to replace [Hutson] Mason, who was solid yet unspectacular in his only season as a starter.” And there’s the question of whether the Bulldogs will be as explosive on offense without former coordinator Mike Bobo.
The Sporting News also has Georgia pegged at No. 8, behind Arkansas and Auburn. The paper notes that UGA “should have performed better than it did the last three seasons. The Dawgs are loaded on offense (remember that guy named Chubb?), and are fast and athletic on defense. The only question is who plays quarterback (Brice Ramsey, Jacob Park or someone else) — and how does he mesh with new OC Brian Schottenheimer? Here’s your partial answer: the new QB can’t be any less effective than Hutson Mason.”
Meanwhile, USA Today’s projected Top 25 has Georgia at No. 14 (behind Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss), but pegs the Dawgs as the favorite from the East to make it to the SEC Championship.
The paper’s assessment of the 2015 Bulldogs: “The defense will improve in its second season under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. That’s a big deal: Georgia needs more consistency on this side of the ball to win not just the SEC East Division but the conference as a whole. At the same time, the offense has identified a leader in sophomore running back Nick Chubb, the engine behind the Bulldogs’ attack. Look for Georgia to be physical on offense and aggressive on defense; that formula, when combined with the division’s highest level of talent, makes this team the favorite to reach the conference title game.”
Georgia also sits atop ESPN’s 2015 Too Early SEC Power Rankings. The reason? “The Bulldogs could be a quarterback away from making a deep run through the SEC and maybe getting to the College Football Playoff. Georgia returns a handful of players who saw significant playing time in 2014 and might have the best running back in the game in Nick Chubb ready to carry the load again. Couple that with a manageable schedule, and the Dawgs could be on top in 2015.”
In a detailed analysis of Georgia’s 2015 prospects, ESPN.com’s Edward Aschoff says the Dawgs could be “the best-equipped team in the SEC” for a playoff run.
Offensively, he says, “the Bulldogs might have the SEC’s best returning running back in Nick Chubb, along with a deep receiving corps, while the defense returns just about everyone from a group that vastly improved under first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt in 2014.”
The defensive line will need some retooling, Aschoff notes, but he thinks the return of linebackers Jenkins, Floyd and Carter is key, as well as the young but maturing secondary. “Georgia finished the year second in the SEC in pass defense (170.4 yards per game) and didn’t allow any team to pass for more than 142 yards in the final month of the regular season.”
He adds: “Georgia isn’t the perfect team, and won’t be the nation’s preseason No. 1, but the parts are there for a very big season. And if the Bulldogs fall short of at least a trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, there will be a lot of justifiably upset Dawgs fans. It’s time for Georgia to get out of its own way and go win the SEC title before ‘Georgiaing’ replaces ‘Clemsoning.’”
Bluntly put, but fair.
Aschoff sums up: “The bottom line is that this team is loaded and the road to Atlanta — and potentially beyond — sets up nicely for the Dawgs. It was set up well this season and Georgia didn’t take advantage. That can’t happen in 2015. With the state of the East and the strength of the Dawgs, it’s unacceptable for the team not to make it to Atlanta. There’s little room for excuses for the Dawgs.”
You could argue that Aschoff perhaps underplays a bit the losses on the defensive line (which got whipped in Georgia’s three losses). And it’s also worth noting that, once you get past Malcolm Mitchell, the receiving corps will be somewhat of a question mark. (Tight end Jeb Blazevich could well become Georgia’s second go-to receiver.)
And as for the schedule, it has its positives, with a lot of games in Athens early on, but Alabama will be one of those visitors, and you know that the rising Vols have Georgia’s Oct. 10 visit to Knoxville circled on their calendars.
Also, quarterback remains a major concern for Bulldogs fans. Mason might not have been a worldbeater, but he didn’t make many mistakes, and chances are Schottenheimer isn’t going to be that lucky with whichever youngster wins the starting nod.
Still, until the QB matures, you can imagine the directive will be pretty simple: Give it to Chubb.
And Aschoff is right that it’s time for Georgia to live up to all of that preseason potential. The Dawgs beat four teams that finished ranked in 2014, but managed to lose the division to a team they had pounded because of coming up short in two winnable games and suffering a beatdown from a pretty terrible Florida team.
Another season like that, and even an eighth Top 10 finish will look like underachieving.
What kind of season do you expect from the Dawgs in 2015?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill 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.