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SEC Preview: Georgia

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith previews the 2020 Georgia Bulldogs.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Kirby Smart – fifth season at Georgia and overall (44-12 overall, 25-7 SEC)
Offensive Coordinator: Todd Monken (first season)
Defensive Coordinator: Dan Lanning (second season)
2019 Recap: 12-2 (7-1 SEC); defeated Baylor in Sugar Bowl
While Georgia’s defense went from very good to great a year ago, the offense took a sizable step back. An 11-1 regular season was low-lighted by an overtime home loss to 4-8 South Carolina, in which quarterback Jake Fromm threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for the Gamecocks’ only touchdown in the final three quarters of the game. When the defense struggled in the SEC Championship Game against LSU, the offense had no counter attack, and the ‘Dawgs were blitzed in their own backyard. A focus that was lacking in the previous season’s Sugar Bowl loss to Texas allowed Georgia to close on a high note with a win over Baylor, but the 12-2 season wasn’t good enough by the high standards in Athens.

2020 Schedule
Sept. 26 – at Arkansas (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Oct. 3 – AUBURN (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Oct. 10 – TENNESSEE
Oct. 17 – at Alabama (8 p.m. ET, CBS)
Oct. 24 – at Kentucky
Oct. 31 - Idle
Nov. 7 – vs. Florida (at Jacksonville) (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Nov. 14 – at Missouri
Nov. 21 – MISSISSIPPI STATE
Nov. 28 – at South Carolina
Nov. 28 – VANDERBILT

Under Center
A competition between Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman and USC transfer J.T. Daniels is no more after Newman opted out of the season earlier this month. Newman had an edge, as Daniels has been eased back into practice as he continues to fully recover from a September 2019 ACL tear, but that’s a moot point now. Daniels is expected to be cleared by the start of the season, but there will be an element of uncertainty with him until he sees his first game action in more than a year.

Daniels was a 5-star recruit when he landed at USC. He played as a true freshman, but was Wally Pipped in 2019 after freshman Kedon Slovis put up huge numbers in place of Daniels. His mobility is limited, but Daniels has all the tools to flourish in a modern passing offense that new coordinator Todd Monken will unleash after last season’s struggles for the Bulldogs. Behind Daniels, junior Stetson Bennett and redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis are adequate backups, but the drop-off from Daniels is steep.

In The Trenches
Georgia’s offense line was gutted last season after three departures to the NFL and one to the transfer portal. Center Trey Hill is the only primary starter back for new position coach Matt Luke’s unit, while senior Ben Cleveland has seen some starting work. The two names to watch are junior Jamaree Salyer and redshirt freshman Clay Webb. They were monster signings for the Bulldogs as recruits, and now it’s time for them to win starting roles and ensure this group reloads rather than rebuilds.

The front seven will again be terrific. Jordan Davis and Malik Herring don’t get a ton of national buzz, but they’re all-SEC caliber players in front of what is likely the best linebacking corps in college football. Tae Crowder (the last player selected in the NFL Draft) is the only loss from the second level, but sophomore Nakobe Dean is a former 5-star recruit who can slide into Crowder’s vacant spot. Sophomores Azeez Ojulari and Nolan Smith are the team’s best pass-rushers.

On The Edge
Wide receiver was a mess last season for the Bulldogs. Lawrence Cager was the most reliable option and made some huge catches in big wins over Notre Dame and Florida, but he battled injuries and was limited to just 33 receptions. Sophomore George Pickens came on late in the season and enters the fall as the clear No. 1 option. Fifth-year senior Demetris Robertson is about out of time to take a big step forward. The tight end position is a bit of a concern.

D’Andre Swift is off to the NFL, but Zamir White and James Cook have the ‘Dawgs sitting just fine at running back. The secondary is even better off after safety Richard LeCounte postponed his NFL career to play his senior season. The cornerback group is excellent with veterans Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell joined by 5-star recruit Kelee Ringo.

Ranking The Units
1.   Linebackers
2.   Defensive Backs
3.   Running Backs
4.   Defensive Line
5.   Quarterbacks
6.   Offensive Line
7.   Receivers

Schedule Analysis
Considering the added games were Arkansas and Mississippi State, this schedule is actually less than ideal for Georgia. The big games come right out of the chute, as the Bulldogs will face Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee in the first four games. That’s not ideal for a team going through an offensive makeover without having had spring practice. A trip to Kentucky follows that stretch, but if the ‘Dawgs can get to the idle week at 4-1, they will likely be just a fourth straight win over Florida from ensuring another trip to the SEC Championship Game. The final four games are quite cushy.

Season Prediction
Georgia still has one of the most talented rosters in the country, and the defense will be a top-five unit in college football. Whether Georgia can make an LSU-type leap from bridesmaid to bride comes down to the offense and whether or not Daniels and Monken can click right away behind an inexperienced line. I do think Georgia gets to the halfway mark at 4-1, but I’m going to begrudgingly go against recent trends and call for Florida to knock off the Bulldogs in Jacksonville. 8-2 probably won’t be good enough for a playoff berth, but it’s not completely out of the question.

Record: 8-2
CFP Ranking: 5
Bowl: Orange Bowl vs. Notre Dame

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.