Kirby Smart returned to Athens as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs ahead of the 2016 season. Smart was tasked with taking Georgia football to the next level after it had stagnated in the final years of the Mark Richt era. And though his squad came up seconds short of Georgia's first national championship since 1980, he delivered an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in just his second season after bringing home the Bulldogs' first SEC championship in more than a decade.
Despite the unhappy end of his tenure, Richt also had success during the 2010s. He led the Dawgs to SEC East titles in both 2011 and '12, notching double-digit victories both years as quarterback Aaron Murray rewrote both the school and SEC record books. Georgia won 10 games in each of Richt’s final two seasons (2014-15) as well.
In all, the Bulldogs posted a 100-36 record during the 2010s, produced 11 All-Americans, and saw four players win national awards: Roquan Smith (Butkus), Deandre Baker (Thorpe), Brandon Boykin (Hornung), and Rodrigo Blankenship (Groza). It had its ups and downs, but the last decade was one of the most successful in Georgia football history. And to celebrate the players who had the biggest impact on that success, we offer our All-Decade Team:
QB: Aaron Murray (2010-13)
RB: Nick Chubb (2014-17)
RB: Todd Gurley II (2012-14)
AP: Sony Michel (2014-17)
WR: Malcolm Mitchell (2011-15)
WR: Tavarres King (2008-12)
WR: Terry Godwin (2015-18)
TE: Orson Charles (2009-11)
C: Lamont Gaillard (2014-18)
OL: Ben Jones (2008-11)
OL: Andrew Thomas (2017-19)
OL: John Theus (2011-15)
OL: Isaiah Wynn (2014-17)
DL: Jonathan Ledbetter (2015-18)
DL: John Jenkins (2011-12)
DL: Tyler Clark (2016-19)
LB: Roquan Smith (2015-17)
LB: Jarvis Jones (2009-12)
LB: Justin Houston (2008-10)
LB: Leonard Floyd (2013-15)
DB: Deandre Baker (2015-18)
DB: J.R. Reed (2016-19)
DB: Dominick Sanders (2014-17)
DB: Bacarri Rambo (2009-12)
K: Rodrigo Blankenship (2016-19)
P: Drew Butler (2008-11)
RS: Isaiah McKenzie (2014-16)
Toughest Decision: Brandon Boykin
A.J. Green (who played one shortened season during the decade) and Chris Conley (who is one of just five Georgia football players with 20 career touchdown receptions) would have been worthy options as receivers on our list, but the toughest call was leaving Boykin off of this team. Boykin was an excellent defensive back at Georgia from 2008-11 and finished his career with nine interceptions, 159 tackles, and 20.0 tackles for a loss. But he was squeezed out of our secondary because Deandre Baker, J.R. Reed, and Bacarri Rambo were all recognized as All-Americans, and Dominick Sanders picked off 16 passes from 2014-17 while leading the Dawgs in the category in each of his last three seasons. So Boykin couldn’t quite make the cut solely as a defensive back.
Boykin also was a candidate as an all-purpose player. In fact, as a senior in 2011, he scored three times on offense and returned a punt for a touchdown as well, winning the Paul Hornung Award as a result. Nevertheless, we felt Sony Michel had a bigger overall impact during his career and was slightly more deserving of the spot. After all, Michel ranks third in Georgia football history in rushing yardage despite never being a full-season starter, and he recorded more than 600 receiving yards as well.
Finally, Boykin could have been our return specialist, having scored four times on special teams during his career. But three of those occurred in 2009 (as did three of his interceptions, for what it's worth). Plus, Isaiah McKenzie returned a school-record five punts for touchdowns, and he added a kick return for a touchdown as well. Therefore, one of the greatest and most versatile Bulldogs of the past decade finished as the runner-up at three separate spots and missed the list entirely.
Deepest Position: Running Back
The Dawgs were stacked at several spots, including linebacker and offensive line. But the deepest group as a whole was running back. Georgia has produced at least one 1,000-yard rusher each season since 2014. In both 2017 and '18, the Bulldogs had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers — a group that incredibly featured four different players: D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield in 2018 and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in 2017.
If not for injuries and an untimely suspension, Todd Gurley might have run for 1,000 yards in all three of his collegiate seasons, instead of only his magical freshman season. Remember, Gurley was the Heisman Trophy front-runner before he was suspended in Week 6 of the 2014 season, and he finished with 911 yards and nine touchdowns after suffering a torn ACL in his return appearance four weeks later. In the previous season, Gurley missed three games and still finished with 989 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Weakest Position: Defensive Line
Don’t get me wrong; Georgia produced a lot of solid defensive lineman over the past decade. However, few were noticeably dominant or filled the stat sheet. The three on our list were the only Bulldogs who earned first-team All-SEC recognition as linemen during the decade. The only time in the last 10 years in which a defensive lineman led the Bulldogs in sacks was Trenton Thompson’s five in 2016, and no Georgia D-lineman has recorded double digits in tackles for a loss during a season since Garrison Smith in 2013 (and he too was the only defensive lineman to do so during the decade). Some of that can be attributed to scheme and rotation, but it’s also worth noting only two full-time Georgia defensive linemen were drafted during the 2010s, with the most recent being John Jenkins in 2013.