Spring practice is in full swing in Athens, and so far we’ve heard all the things you hope (and expect) to hear from coaches as the dogwoods begin to bloom and the days get longer. Everyone has a better handle on the system than last year. There’s competition at a lot of positions and that will only make us better. We’re trying to find ways to get our most talented playmakers the ball. Jon Moxon is only one man.
Okay, Kirby Smart hasn’t dropped that last one. Yet. But all the other springtime tropes have been trotted out three practices in. College football coaches deal in clichés like appliance salesmen deal in extended warranties on contraptions they just told you will last for decades. It’s a part of the job. Almost an extension of themselves.
But let’s get one thing straight. Kirby Smart isn’t preparing for just any season. If recent history is to be believed, he may be preparing for his biggest season in Athens. Georgia began 2016 with measured optimism, getting out to a 3-0 start that saw some close calls. In retrospect those were probably warning signs. After struggling to a 4-4 record the Bulldogs clawed back to 7-4 with three straight wins before their once every four years or so reminder that beating Georgia Tech requires you to play four quarters of football. Dash in a bowl win against TCU, pour over ice, and you’ve got an 8-5 season that wasn’t as bad as it could have been with a new coaching staff starting a freshman QB, a thin receiving corps, and key players coming off injury.
But it wasn’t what Georgia Bulldog fans expect. There are nuances involved, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say point blank that 8-5 is what got the last three UGA football coaches fired. Beating Tech might have kept Donnan on the job, and Goff could have extended his employment by punking Steve Spurrier a time or two in Jacksonville. But when you get right down to it Kirby Smart’s freshman season at the helm in the Classic City was good enough for a first season but not good enough for a second, third, fourth, or fourteenth.
Lucky for Smart, he’s got a roster full of talent. The simple fact of the matter is that the Georgia roster is absolutely loaded. Eason has a year of experience under his belt. Chubb and Michel are fully back from injury. The offensive line will be bigger and stronger. The young defensive front that surprised in 2016 is now a group that can be counted on. Smith and Patrick are as solid an inside linebacking tandem as the ‘Dawgs have had in recent memory, and Bellamy and Carter are as lethal on the outside as you could ask for. There’ll be youth in the secondary, but there remains a lot of talent and enough veteran leadership that you cannot call that unit a liability. The kicking game remains the kicking game, but even there Georgia returns enough pieces to potentially be very good.
Meanwhile around the SEC East Tennessee is replacing most everyone who did anything of note on the field in 2016. Florida suffered another season of attrition to the NFL and closed well on Signing Day to real in a class that was merely adequate (for most of January it looked like it would be a disaster). South Carolina returns some key pieces, including their own talented sophomore QB, but on the whole there’s little doubt that Georgia is far ahead of a Muschamp-coached team that’s still paying for a couple of Spurrier-recruited classes that weren’t very deep. In short, expect Georgia to be the most-picked team to win the SEC East this summer, and expect those media-types making that pick to have plenty of ammo to back their selection.
All of which brings us to the question of the day. What is a reasonable expectation for Georgia in year two of the Smart Era? I believe one could argue that in light of the schedule, the roster, and the natural advantage of not having to reinvent every wheel every day, 10-2 with a trip to Atlanta in December makes sense as a good watermark. But is that too ambitious? It could also be argued that Eason has yet to prove that he’s a true franchise quarterback. The offensive line will be cobbled together from guys who are bigger but less experienced than last year’s starters and starters from last year who aren’t optimally-sized for what Sam Pittman and Jim Chaney seem to want to do. And speaking of which, Chaney had some absolute head-scratchers of his own in 2016. If Georgia has 4th and goal from the 4 against Florida and needs six points to win the game, how certain are you that he won’t have Terry Godwin throwing the ball to Jacob Eason in the corner?
Or is 10-2 and an SEC East title setting the bar too low? A lot was made of several juniors (Chubb, Michel, Carter, Bellamy, Sanders) who could have turned pro choosing instead to come back. One surmises those guys didn’t do that to play in the Liberty Bowl. So cast your ballot below, and feel free to explain in the comments what you believe the reasonable expectations should be for the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs. Until later . . .
Which outcome is a reasonable expectation for the 2017 Georgia Bulldogs?
This poll is closed
9-3 regular season
10-2, SECCG appearance
11-1 or better, CFB playoff appearance
National title. This is the game plan. We have no other plan.
Other (explain in comments)