The warnings have been clear: Don’t have too high expectations for Georgia this season. The Bulldogs might need another year, some believe. They have too many questions on defense, most believe.
Yet the biggest skeptic I know when it comes to the Bulldogs -- me -- is feeling oh so positive about this season’s team. My friends wonder what Kool-Aid I’ve been drinking, after all these years of being Larry Munson-like in simply needing to see Georgia be good before believing it.
This Georgia team has a chance to be really, really good. Yes, this season. Worry about next year next year. There are just too many positives, even with the things that seem to be negative, to not believe this could be a special season for the Bulldogs.
They have a fourth-year starting quarterback in Aaron Murray. They have the best duo of running backs in the country in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. They have all five starting offensive linemen back from last season and the best depth behind those five starters in years. They have the best group of receivers in a while, and the tight end (Arthur Lynch) is a preseason first-team All-SEC selection.
Georgia scored 37.8 points per game last season. Could the Bulldogs score the same or more this year? Absolutely. The offense should be better. They’ll score at will Saturday against Clemson, a team that doesn’t have a Jadeveon Clowney to make Murray look more like Joe Cox.
But can Georgia stop Clemson, a team that scored 41 points per game last season? Georgia will have a ton of new names, and we might not even know until halftime Saturday who is who. While everyone is rightfully giddy about Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, are they forgetting that running back Andre Ellington and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins are now in the NFL?
Ellington and Hopkins combined for 2,718 yards last season. So it’s logical to wonder, even with the Boyd-to-Watkins combo being one of the best in the nation, if Clemson will be as good as it was last year on offense.
The Bulldogs must put pressure on Boyd, especially with issues in the secondary. The depth on Georgia’s line of scrimmage is very good, or at least potentially very good. Seven players could see time on the defensive line, and that will help if the Bulldogs get into a track meet this Saturday. Many of those are new players, but the talent is there.
Might Leonard Floyd be the breakout player? He has come out of nowhere this month to become the wildcard. The former Dodge County star seems to be the pass rusher Georgia has needed in Todd Grantham’s defense. If Floyd is the real deal, Georgia’s defense is going to be very dangerous.
It, however, should be, anyway. Yes, last year’s defense had a ton of players who moved on to the NFL. But was Georgia’s defense really that dominating last year? It gave up some big plays to Buffalo and Florida Atlantic, two teams that shouldn’t have gotten anything on offense. Tennessee scored 44 points against Georgia, and we all know what South Carolina did that very next week. Kentucky had 24 points against the Bulldogs, and they had the sixth-worst offense in the country. And we all have vivid memories of the ease with which Alabama ran the ball against the Bulldogs in the SEC title game.
Maybe all those future pros were simply looking ahead to the big paychecks of the NFL, but this group of young players on this year’s team could be much hungrier and might simply be better college football players. It might take them a while, and that could determine the season, but there is a ton of talent for Grantham to work with this season.
They’ve got to learn quickly, with Georgia’s tough September schedule that no team would trade for. But here’s saying the Georgia defense will be good enough to allow the offense to simply outscore teams. Clemson won’t stop Georgia this Saturday, while the Bulldogs might contain the Tigers enough to win.
Sure, if Georgia loses Saturday, you might get a column next week calling for Mark Richt’s job (kidding). But he has the talent, as well as perhaps the best depth he has ever had. It’s just a matter of whether this is the year everything clicks for a program that is well overdue to be the next SEC champion to win it all.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Shanks at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.