Are Jacob Eason and the Bulldogs ready to reclaim supremacy in the SEC East?
Kirby Smart’s debut as a head coach at his alma mater was filled with ups and downs as he adjusted to the team and the Georgia Bulldogs adjusted to some new moving parts. Despite surprising losses though, there were also enough impressive victories for a young squad to lend credence that 2017 could be a special season in Athens.
As a result, the Bulldogs begin the year with sky-high expectations of not only winning the SEC East but also loosening the grip that rival Alabama has on the league. There’s good reason for that too – the backfield is one of the nation’s best behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and there are loads of talented defenders all over the two-deep.
Will Georgia live up to the early billing and make it to Atlanta with the SEC title on the line? Athlon Sports polled several writers to get their take on the Bulldogs and how they see their 2017 season playing out.
Georgia Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Even though there’s reason to doubt Kirby Smart given some of the puzzling losses the Bulldogs suffered last season, winning eight games with a true freshman quarterback and a first-year head coach is still pretty impressive. Add in a (very, very) favorable schedule that sets up for an epic run in the weak SEC East, mix in some blue-chip talent all over the board and it’s easy to see why the program is all set to make a big leap in 2017.
Is that going to be enough to close the gap with Alabama and others in the SEC West? Time will tell on that front but even the ceiling for Georgia seems like it will be a little lower than either the Crimson Tide or the Tigers in the other division. Still, their hardest road game is probably at Auburn late in the year and there’s not a massive test between now and then for the most part. Yes, those trips to South Bend and Knoxville will be tricky but, on paper, this is a much better team than either the Irish or Vols.
There are concerns along the offensive line as there have been for the past five years or so but Nick Chubb, Sony MIchel and a more experienced signal-caller in Jacob Eason should give enough breathing room for the unit to round into form. The front seven is loaded with good tacklers and pass rushers plus depth that might be the best outside of Bama in the SEC. If every position makes just incremental gains, it’s hard not to see a very good team take the field.
Will Georgia be as good as it record could indicate? No. But that record could still be pretty fantastic and keep the team in the College Football Playoff hunt as a talented squad gets the right teams at the right time this season.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s a toss-up between Georgia and Florida in the SEC East, but I will give a slight edge to the Bulldogs. Coach Kirby Smart’s team lived on the edge last fall, as nine games were decided by 10 points or less. In order for Georgia to take the next step, the offense has to improve under the direction of quarterback Jacob Eason. The sophomore should be better in his second year as the starter, but the offensive line and receiving corps have to provide more support. The running back duo of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb is the best in the nation. Smart helped Nick Saban mold some of the nation’s best defenses at Alabama, and his 2017 group in Athens should rank near the top of the SEC. The Bulldogs return 11 starters, including rising star Trenton Thompson (defensive line) and linebacker Roquan Smith. The schedule does feature its share of challenges. Road tests at Notre Dame, Tennessee, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech won’t be easy. However, if the offense improves as expected, and the defense lives up to preseason hype, the showdown against Florida in Jacksonville should decide the SEC East title.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Georgia has the best quarterback in the SEC but an offensive line that may take some time to gel. Fortunately, I think the Bulldogs manage to ride their defense to get off to a solid start to the season before they run into a few hurdles in division play. Defense will be the key to the season for Georgia, but having Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to get going on the ground running the ball is a nice luxury to have. With Jacob Eason entering his second season, I think he will start to shine in the SEC once he feels confident behind an offensive line replacing as many starters as they are. Georgia is good enough to win the SEC East, but there will be some roadblocks to being able to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
This could be the year Georgia not only wins the SEC East, but also claims the conference crown. The Bulldogs' strength is their defense, which ranked 16th in the country a season ago. Georgia returns 11 starters from that unit, which could be the best in the SEC, Alabama included.
On offense, quarterback Jacob Eason returns and he will have two stud running backs behind him in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Georgia's offensive line will need to play better in 2017 as it gave up an average of 1.85 sacks per game. If Eason can get protection from his line take the next step in his development, the Bulldogs have as good of shot as anyone in the SEC.
Rob McVey (@Rob_UTVOLS)
The Bulldogs are the popular pick to win the SEC East in 2017 and with good reason. Georgia returns pretty much everyone from a defense that ranked No. 16 in the nation last season. And nothing can take you further in the SEC than a great defense. Georgia’s prospects on offense will depend heavily on the progression of sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason. The Bulldogs also must address question marks along the offensive line and at wide receiver. Question marks that could negatively impact the running game as well, despite having elite talents Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield. That said, I think someone will step up at receiver and Eason has a reliable target in tight end Isaac Nauta. The offensive line is still a work in progress, but at least marginal improvement is expected up front as well. Kirby Smart’s biggest challenge will be a schedule that is loaded with difficult road tests. Regardless, there is not a team on the slate that the Bulldogs should not be able to beat if they play to their full potential.