Despite plenty of preseason media hype, prominently declaring Georgia as the favorite to win the SEC East in 2017, there also were plenty of skeptics in place to question second-year head coach Kirby Smart’s ability to mold the Bulldogs into a championship-caliber team, even with a loaded roster. Through the first six games of the season, Smart has answered those critics with an unblemished record and a top-five ranking in the national polls.
In fact, aside from a close call at Notre Dame, Smart’s Bulldogs have breezed through the first half of their schedule. They have been particularly impressive in conference play, outscoring their first three SEC opponents by a combined 100 points. The question is, can they keep this momentum rolling with a difficult slate of games still lying in wait? If the answer is yes, Georgia should find itself in Atlanta playing for an SEC title. The Bulldogs may even have an opportunity to earn their way back to Atlanta in January by way of the College Football Playoff.
Offensive MVP: RB Nick Chubb
Chubb has been dominant throughout the first half of his senior campaign. He currently leads the SEC in rushing yards with 618. And his eight rushing touchdowns already match his entire total from last season. Chubb’s 138-yard performance against Vanderbilt made him just the second player in program history with more than 4,000 career rushing yards. He also scored his 36th and 37th rushing touchdowns against the Commodores, surpassing Todd Gurley and Lars Tate for second place on the Bulldog’s all-time list. He trails only the great Herschel Walker in both rushing yards and touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: DB J.R. Reed
While strong arguments can be made for both Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith here, no one has made a more consistent impact for the Georgia defense in the first six games than Reed. The Tulsa transfer currently ranks second on the team with 32 tackles. He also has a blocked field goal, an interception, four pass breakups, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and a sack to his credit.
Best Moment of the First Half: Terry Godwin’s amazing one-handed touchdown catch vs. Notre Dame
If Godwin had not made this spectacular grab in the corner of the end zone, there is a reasonable chance that Georgia isn’t sitting pretty at 6-0 right now. The third down play with 6:45 remaining in the second quarter was originally ruled an incomplete pass. However, the correct call was made upon review allowing the touchdown to stand. More importantly, it kept the Bulldogs from settling for a field goal, ultimately the difference in a 20-19 victory over the Fighting Irish in South Bend.
Best Newcomer: QB Jake Fromm
It’s not really a surprise that the Bulldogs have a perfect record at the mid-point of the season, but no one expected a true freshman to be the quarterback to lead them there. While Fromm’s numbers haven’t been spectacular through the first six games, his efficiency and poised demeanor have been instrumental in Georgia’s success on offense. His 164.4 quarterback rating currently ranks second in the SEC. True freshman running back, D’Andre Swift, deserves a mention for this category as well.
Biggest Surprise: Offensive Line
It was widely anticipated that the Georgia offensive line would once again be the team’s biggest liability heading into the 2017 season. So far, that has not been the case. The Bulldogs’ front has paved the way for a ground attack that currently ranks second in the SEC with 1,610 rushing yards. The line also has held up surprisingly well in pass protection, allowing just seven sacks through the first six games.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. The pressure cooker
Tennessee was the preseason favorite to win the SEC East in 2016. But a rash of injuries, coupled with player adversity and the mounting pressure of being undefeated, ultimately led to the Volunteers folding like a cheap tent in the second half of the season after an impressive 5-0 start.
Fortunately, this Georgia team doesn’t seem to be quite as fragile. And there is plenty of depth in place to avoid a meltdown if injuries do occur. There aren’t any team chemistry issues or scandals to contend with right now either. However, the pressure that comes with being undefeated deep into the season can take a steep toll on a team all on its own. And that is a challenge that Georgia will have to overcome.
2. Can Georgia run the table?
It’s a tall order for any team to go undefeated (mainly due to the reason listed above). But it can be even more daunting for a team in the SEC, especially one that still has to play Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech on the road. But the Bulldogs have shown the kind of potential that would allow them to give any team in the country a serious run for its money. That includes the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide, assuming Georgia and Alabama both make it to the SEC title game unscathed.
3. Fromm or Eason?
Jake Fromm’s perfect record as Georgia’s starting quarterback seems to have solidified his role in that regard for the time being. But with the schedule growing increasingly difficult as the season progresses, the chance for Fromm to struggle also increases. If that does happen, will Kirby Smart stick with the freshman or will he opt to return to the potential upside that a healthy Jacob Eason may bring to the table?
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 11 at Auburn
This is without question the biggest obstacle that remains on the Bulldogs’ regular season schedule. Georgia has won three straight games against Auburn in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. However, each of the last two contests have been decided by no more than a touchdown.
Even if the Bulldogs manage to win the SEC East, this matchup will go a long way in deciding Georgia’s fate in the all-important College Football Playoff race. And a win isn’t going to come easy on the road against an Auburn team that seems to get better each week.
2. Oct. 28 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
This is always an important matchup on the Bulldogs’ schedule, but it will likely take on added significance this time around. This game could very well decide the SEC East. Georgia’s perfect record and playoff aspirations also could be on the line. The Bulldogs have not beaten the Gators since 2013. And while Georgia has been much better than Florida to this point in the season, that may not count for much in this heated rivalry.
3. Nov. 25 at Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is yet another hated foe on the back end of the schedule that could stand in the way of Georgia’s dream season. The Yellow Jackets currently rank second in the nation in rushing offense (396 ypg) and their triple-option attack always seems to give the Bulldogs fits. So much so, that Georgia has lost two of the last three meetings against its in-state rival. The 2017 Bulldogs appear to be well-equipped to get back into the win column against the Yellow Jackets, but it won’t come without a fight.
4. Nov. 18 Kentucky
At 5-1 and 2-1 in conference play, Kentucky is currently right in the thick of the SEC East race. If the Wildcats can maintain that status, this matchup will take on significant meaning. Kentucky gave Georgia all it could handle last season in Lexington. And while a much-improved Georgia team will come into this year’s meeting in Athens as the clear favorite, this is not a team that the Bulldogs can afford to overlook.
5. Nov. 4 South Carolina
Will Muschamp has the Gamecocks' defense on the rise. A South Carolina offense, led by quarterback Jake Bentley, is dangerous as well. That makes this another division rival that Georgia would be ill-advised to look past. That said, the Bulldogs should have more than enough firepower to secure the win at home.
6. Oct. 14 Missouri
This looked like a game that Georgia might win by 60 or 70 points. But that was before a dangerous Missouri offense regained its footing in a near upset of Kentucky this past Saturday. The problem is that the Mizzou defense continues to be really bad, which means that the Bulldogs probably still win by a significant amount.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.