Last Updated: 2018-07-18
It looks like the decision to get rid of long-time head coach Mark Richt might end up paying big dividends for the Georgia Bulldogs. Many questioned the administration’s decision to get rid of the eminently likable Richt who had kept the program in a state of “very good, but not great” for 15 years. They seemed to have a point after Kirby Smart went 8-5 in his first season, but Georgia’s wildly successful 2017 campaign has turned that idea on its head.
Now, the Bulldogs enter the 2018 campaign as one of the favorites to win the CFP National Championship. They came within a hair of claiming just their second national title last season, only to be foiled by Alabama, and they are big favorites to win the SEC East this year.
Georgia has some of the shortest national championship odds on the board. BetOnline currently has the best price available on the Bulldogs to win the national championship, giving bettors +900 odds. BetOnline also is the best place to bet Georgia to win the SEC, with odds of +350. The Bulldogs have one of the highest win totals on the board. Both BookMaker and 5Dimes set their over/under at 10.5, and both books have slight leans toward the over. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
||@ SOUTH CAROLINA
||MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
Jacob Eason was supposed to be the starting quarterback heading into 2017, but true freshman Jake Fromm took over after Eason was injured in the opener and never looked back. Fromm was very efficient with the ball, completing 62.2 percent of his passes and averaging nine yards per throw en route to Freshman All-American honors.
Fromm should be even better as a sophomore and having a full offseason under his belt will help his familiarity with the offense. He is a deceptively agile runner, so don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Jim Chaney showcase his wheels more, especially in close games. There is plenty of talent in the depth chart too, as Georgia was able to land top recruit Justin Fields.
Few programs have produced as many talented running backs as Georgia, and last year’s tandem was one of the best in the school’s history. Both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were 1,000-yard rushers, and both players were selected early in the NFL Draft. Losing them hurts, but the position is not barren. D’Andre Swift made a name for himself as a big play back last year, and he will be the team’s top choice this season. Elijah Holyfield should also see plenty of time.
The wide receivers didn’t put up big numbers in 2017, but they should take on a bigger role this season as Fromm grows into the offense. Terry Godwin shined at points last season, and he is likely to be the team’s top receiver. Keep an eye on tight end Isaac Nauta too. Nauta has athleticism you rarely see in a player his size, and he will be utilized more in 2018.
Georgia brings back four starters along the offensive line, but the Bulldogs will be mixing things up at the tackle positions. Andrew Thomas will move over from right tackle to left tackle to protect Fromm’s blindside, and multiple five-star recruits will vie for the open right tackle spot. This unit should be one of the top lines in college football once more in 2018.
The Bulldogs had one of the best defenses in the country in 2017, but there are some gaps to fill this year. Georgia must replace one of the most talented linebackers in the country in Roquan Smith and another very good linebacker in Lorenzo Carter.
Natrez Patrick is the only returning starter in the linebacking corps this season, and he will be flanked by two somewhat inexperienced underclassmen in Monty Rice and Walter Grant. Patrick has been dealing with offseason issues though, and although he is expected to be reinstated to the team, Smart hasn’t made it official yet.
Defensive line should be a strength for the Bulldogs this year. Georgia only returns two of their four starters from last year, but they have loads of talent at the position. Jonathan Ledbetter and Tyler Clark were both able to play the run and pass effectively in last season, and there is plenty of talent to rotate in and out of the game.
The secondary loses half of their starters from last season, but they got a big boost when DeAndre Baker announced that he would return to Athens instead of moving on to the NFL. He should be a lockdown cornerback this season, especially in a conference that doesn’t have much in the way of star quarterbacks.
Georgia might have the best kicker in the country in Rodrigo Blankenship. Blankenship has yet to miss an extra point during his time on campus, and he is 34-41 on his field goal attempts. He showed off his big leg with two 50-yard field goals during the Bulldogs run through the College Football Playoff, and he should be a contender for the Lou Groza Award.
The Bulldogs followed up a wildly successful season by winning even more in the offseason. Georgia put together one of the best recruiting classes we have ever seen in 2018, hauling in seven five-stars and 15 four-stars. That is an absurd collection of talent, and those players will give the team great depth.
Pick: Under 10.5 (+100, BookMaker)
It’s not hard to fall in love with this Georgia team, but they must prove it in consecutive seasons before I fully trust them. The Bulldogs must replace a lot of talent from a great defense, and the new recruits will need time to find their footing. A 10-win season seems like the most likely outcome to me.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Is it hard to fault a program like Georgia for wanting to shake things up? Mark Richt won 145 games during his tenure in Athens, but the Bulldogs never got over the hump to win the National Championship and only won two SEC Championships from 2001-2015. With the amount of talent that has won a Bulldogs uniform over the years, the athletic department felt that Richt’s contributions weren’t enough. That meant a coaching change and that meant the hiring of former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
The Bulldogs were strong on defense last season, which has been a hallmark of this program for a while, but the offense had its worst output in a very long time. The writing was on the wall with that, since the team only managed 26.3 points and 377 yards per game during Richt’s final year at the helm. Was 2016 a transitional year with Smart? Does this offense have what it takes to get markedly better and challenge Florida for the SEC East and possibly challenge the SEC West winner in Atlanta?
Over at 5Dimes Sportsbook, expectations for the Bulldogs are fairly high. The season win total sits at 8.5, with an extra 10 cents of juice on the over at -120. Four of Richt’s last five seasons resulted in double-digit wins. Last season, the Bulldogs went 8-5. Can a happy medium be had? Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
||@ Notre Dame
||Florida (N – Jacksonville)
||@ Georgia Tech
Total Expected Wins: 9.04
It was pretty clear from the jump that last season was going to be a year of transition for Georgia. After all, the Bulldogs nearly lost at home as a 53-point favorite to Nicholls State in Week 2. True freshman quarterback Jacob Eason got a lot of growing pains out of the way. This season, he’ll be pushed by true freshman Jake Fromm. The biggest thing is that there is a ton of untapped potential at this position. We’ll see if the offensive line can provide a little more help and the wide receivers can make some strides, but the passing game certainly has upside. Eason has a big arm and Fromm had a dynamic high school career. It may not translate to success this season. If it doesn’t, perhaps UGA will fall short of expectations.
Even still, the running game will be the focal point of this offense. With seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, why wouldn’t it be? That duo fell just short of 2,000 combined yards last season, but Chubb was coming off of a torn ACL and Michel had injury concerns of his own. Apparently both guys felt that they had something left to prove since they turned down the NFL for one more season in Athens. The offensive line lost a lot of experience, but there’s always talent with this group and Georgia should be more effective running the rock.
The Bulldogs defense allowed just 316 yards per game in SEC play and held opponents to 3.2 yards per carry. Sure, the Bulldogs avoided Alabama and LSU, which is always a big help in terms of rushing stats, but this was a formidable defense and should be again with 10 starters back on that side of the ball. It will be Year 2 under Kirby Smart, who got a head coaching job because of his defensive pedigree, and Mel Tucker, who was an NFL defensive coordinator for a long time. Basically everybody of consequence is back for Georgia and the starting lineup is littered with seniors.
That means that the Smart recruiting classes, which are comprised of freshmen and sophomores, don’t have to occupy huge roles. In the SEC, where roster turnover is an occupational hazard, the Bulldogs will have the most experienced defense in the conference. Just like last year, the opponents on the schedule aren’t blessed with a ton of upside at the quarterback position. This group had stronger numbers than the points per game would suggest. That could come through this season.
The Georgia schedule does get a little bit tougher this season. Instead of hosting Auburn, the Bulldogs go to Jordan-Hare. Notre Dame is slightly more formidable than last year’s Week 2 opponent Nicholls State. Florida is improved. South Carolina is improved. Mississippi State should be improved. Appalachian State is a fun little test in Week 1.
Win Total Pick: Over 8.5
My numbers point towards the over with the Georgia Bulldogs. I won’t be surprised if they fall flat and squander all of the talent that they do have, but Georgia will be favored in a lot of its games this season. Avoiding Alabama and LSU is certainly nice and drawing Mississippi State, who is good, but not great, is a good draw from the other division. I may be buying too much into the experience level of the defense and too much in the promise of Eason, but this is still a team with a very high floor, so that gives me some confidence.
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