Curtis Compton/AJC
The return of Nick Chubb (27) and presence of Jacob Eason (10) give Georgia the most top recruits in the SEC East.

Mailbag: Does the data show that Georgia should win the SEC East convincingly?

It seems every week we’re using the mailbag to put more pressure on Kirby Smart and the Georgia football team. That potentially sets an unfair level of expectations on Smart and his team, so we should stop doing that. … Starting, eh, maybe next week.

Is there enough of a blue chip talent gap between Georgia’s 2017 roster (57) and the rest of the East (UF-27, UT-32) to reasonably expect the Red and Black to not just win, but own the SEC East in convincing fashion?
– Joel Sidney Kelly

I’m not sure how you’re defining blue chip and how you’re arriving at those numbers, but your premise is backed up by looking at the recruiting rankings for the East teams over the last five years, courtesy of 247Sports:

                      Georgia        Florida       Tennessee     South Carolina
2017:               3                      10                    17                    21
2016:               6                      12                    14                    25
2015:               6                      21                    4                      20
2014:               8                      10                    7                      16
2013:               11                    3                      26                    18

Average           6.8                   11.2                 13.6                 20.0

(Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt consistently were outside the top 20.)

There were remarks about the talent base on the 2016 team, and my response was always to say there was a lot of talent on the team, it was just inexperienced. The smoking crater that was the 2013 signing class, probably the worst of the Mark Richt era, left a team largely devoid of good seniors and redshirt juniors on the team last season.

Well, that class is almost out of the system. The core of this team begins with the 2014 class, the first full one after the arrival of Jeremy Pruitt and those defensive staffers, who were very good recruiters. For all the kvetching about Georgia only having one player drafted this year – in large part because Nick Chubb and company stuck around – I have a feeling subsequent drafts will reflect a strong talent base.

While I agree that Georgia and Florida are the prohibitive favorites, I wouldn’t put Georgia that high over Florida, mainly because of the concerns the Bulldogs have.

AND WHAT ARE THOSE CONCERNS, SETH?!?!

All I seem to hear about is who’s playing the slot receiver. Do we actually have any wide receivers this year?
– Matt from Brisbane

One early takeaway from preseason camp is to buy into Terry Godwin. He’s been discounted because of his height and the tendency to pigeonhole him into a slot role. Lately the coaches also have been having him run routes from the outside, and I just get an overall feeling that Godwin is going to have a big role. My guess is he’ll be the leading receiver in catches and yards this year.

But then the question becomes how good Godwin will be – first-team All-SEC or just a guy – and how the other wideouts fall in behind him. There is a lot of potential in the group: Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, J.J. Holloman, Michael Chigbu, Jayson Stanley, Ahkil Crumpton and Mark Webb.

When Mike Bobo and Aaron Murray had the offense rolling earlier this decade, there tended to be two prolific receivers at the same time: Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell, A.J. Green and Kris Durham. This year, I could see Godwin and then a committee. I lean toward Wims being the second guy, but not with enough conviction yet.

UGA 2017 Football Terry Goodwin
Georgia receiver Terry Godwin: Time to buy in? (Steven Colquitt)

Last year, the biggest blunder was special teams. We would give away at least 10-20 yards per punt to the other teams. We also had a shaky-at-best field goal kicker. This brings me to my question: I have not seen or heard anything about special teams for a few weeks now. Any updates on who has looked good or not especially in the kicking game? Or has Smart gone into detail on the subject? We have got to get better in this facet of the game if we want to score more points per game.
– Gregory Shafer

It’s more that we in the media haven’t delved much into special teams quite yet. Speaking just for myself, I’ve been waiting for the place-kicker and punting competitions to gear up before I start checking on it. That will be soon. Smart has talked about special teams, and has said that they’re dedicating a bit more to it in practice this year.

I’ve said this before: One thing that may help special teams this year is the increased depth. They’re right at 85 scholarships, and a lot of these highly recruited freshmen aren’t going to have a spot on the two-deep yet, so they’ll be on special teams. 

Are you aware of any indication that Chaney will be utilizing their strength at TE? One would assume that with the O-Line being so suspect (only returning two starters from a weak unit a year ago), Chaney could utilize his TEs, as they add strength and experience to the line when they are on the field. UGA has a habit of recruiting stud athletes with seemingly endless potential who are often underutilized. Many believe this was the case last year with Chubb and Michel. Michel should have been utilized in the slot as an option to catch the ball out of the backfield to complement Chubb. Having an automatic read in place would give the offense a little bit more flexibility. Thoughts?
– James Myrick

That covers a lot of the criticisms that were levied at Chaney since last season, and they were certainly fair. When Chaney was hired, Smart said he was excited at the different ways Chaney had used the tight ends at Arkansas and Tennessee. But it was a disappointment last season, other than Isaac Nauta.

This year, to answer your question, there’s every indication Chaney is trying to find ways. There’s the slot receiver work they’ve been doing every practice – which includes the tight ends. There’s the mantra, expressed by everybody in interviews, that the emphasis is on “getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers.”

But, the proof will be when the games begin and when in-game adjustments have to be made. It’s easy to say one thing is the plan, and point of emphasis, but I’ve covered this beat long enough to remember a lot of abandoned points of emphasis. We’ll see this time.

Does the App State opener make you as nervous as it does me? Are they a legit upset worry? I just can’t forget the blocked field goal in the Big House!
– John Vaughn

There’s a couple different ways to look at this. More than a couple, actually. And it probably depends on who you’re talking to.

Are some people overlooking Appalachian State because they’re looking ahead to Notre Dame, and are these people idiots? App State has most starters back from a team that went 10-3 last year, including quarterback Taylor Lamb, who has 27 wins as a starter. And it nearly knocked off Tennessee to open last season.

But are other people talking too much about App State because this is the program that pulled off the most famous upset in modern college football history? That was 10 years ago, after all. And, yes, the Mountaineers nearly won at Tennessee last year, but two weeks later they were thumped at home, 45-10, by another high major (Mark Richt’s Miami Hurricanes).

Here’s the way I look at it: It depends on how Georgia plays. App State seems like a good enough team that if the Bulldogs are looking ahead or caught napping, as they were last year against Nicholls State, then it could get dicey. And the potential is there with Notre Dame next on the schedule. But I’d be more worried if the game was tucked away someplace else in the season, rather than the opener. It’s hard to have a letdown in your first game.

I also tend to think the name on the other team’s jersey will help Georgia avoid overlooking this one. If it were any other high-tier Sun Belt team, maybe there’d be some danger of that. But while that Michigan upset was a long time ago, it means coaches, media members and fans have been asking Georgia players about it all offseason. And especially that week. I think App State will have Georgia’s attention.

NOW, SPEAKING OF NONCONFERENCE GAMES …

Let’s discuss scheduling. Two problems, the first of which is Georgia’s determination to schedule creampuff games against teams that can’t even be competitive at their own level. While I certainly understand the financial importance of finding opponents who don’t demand a return trip, is it truly necessary for UGA to keep scraping the very bottom of the barrel?

Second, in looking at future schedules across all of college football, more and more BCS schools are booking games against other comparable BCS programs. So what’s in store? Can we count on Georgia to get on board lining up intriguing home-and-home matchups in order to impress the playoff committee, or should Georgia fans just resign themselves to seeing half our home schedule composed of cannon fodder for the foreseeable future? 

Right now, Georgia talks like it wants to be Alabama and LSU, but it schedules like South Carolina and Kentucky. What’s it going to be?
– Mike Floyd

That sums up the comments I’ve heard from a lot of fans: They like the Notre Dame series and the UCLA series lined up next decade, and would like one of those to look forward to every year. (The game against Virginia in 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, seems to elicit an “eh” from most fans.)

Georgia is somewhat hamstrung, to be fair, by a few factors. For one, the Georgia Tech game is locked in, something Alabama and Auburn don’t have, but teams such as Florida do. The goal to have as many home games as possible is as much economic as it is competitive, not only with the revenue it brings UGA in tickets and concessions, but to local Athens businesses.

So it might be nice for Georgia to set out and say: We’re going to have a second high-major nonconference opponent every year. It’s another to find a dance partner and then make it fit the schedule.

Ultimately, I don’t think we have evidence yet that any SEC team is going to be hurt by weak scheduling. The league itself is too strong. And the guarantee of big home crowds takes away the motivation to do more than get at least two or three home guarantee games every year. One thing I do wonder about, however, is whether more Georgia fans would be interested if they were small schools they knew about, and/or were in-state. I wrote about that this summer, as it seems like Georgia is choosing to schedule Kent State, for instance, over continuing to play Georgia Southern.

LIGHTNING ROUND …

I have been wondering lately, how is Rashad Roundtree doing in camp? He was so highly touted out of high school as a safety, but the last I heard his name mentioned was when they moved him to ILB last year because of a lack of depth there. I haven’t heard anything about him since then. It just seems like if he isn’t going to get much playing time at linebacker, move him back to safety. He has the potential to be the best free safety on the team with his build and athleticism. Thoughts?
– Will from Dalton

Roundtree actually moved back to safety in the spring, but I don’t blame you for not hearing about it, as not much was written. Honestly, it’s never a great indication when a guy is moved around. It ultimately could work out for someone such as Tae Crowder, who has put on some weight and is at least pushing to be on the two-deep at inside linebacker. Roundtree, a junior, also went to ILB but has moved back and, as far as I can tell, isn’t in the mix yet for meaningful playing time. I guess you never know.

Dominick Sanders was only a 3-star but is set to be a four-year starter. (Josh Jones/file photo)

Who’s the best 3-star player on the roster?
– King of the South, via DawgNation Forum

Right now it would have to be Dominick Sanders, whom Jeremy Pruitt plucked from 3-star obscurity in 2014 and made a starter as a freshman. Down the line, freshmen Monty Rice and Ameer Speed are guys I’d keep an eye on.

Not sure how to word the actual “question” but maybe an in- depth “review” of D’Andre Swift. With the commitment of Zeus, it seems a few UGA fans are forgetting what a dynamic player he has the potential to be. I do believe, barring injury, this kid has a GREAT career at UGA.
– Amjadawgs, via DawgNation Forum

Swift and Zamir White together on the team should be nothing that Georgia fans haven’t already seen: Chubb and Michel, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, etc. There’s enough room for two dynamic tailbacks, and their skills play off each other that way. Swift could be used in a Michel-type role, getting the ball to him in space. White is also dynamic but could be used more out of the backfield. They’ll find time to get them both the ball – and Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield, too.

Seth, as a reporter, what time of year is the hardest/least favorite to cover and what time of year is the easiest/most enjoyable?
– Tkf Fanboy, via DawgNation Forum

In a way, right now is the hardest, because the preseason is a grind, with practice nearly every day, and demand for stories such that we’re writing every day, whether we’re at practice or interviews. The most enjoyable time is bowl week. You’re working, and writing every day, but you’re also (usually) at a nice location, and players and coaches are more relaxed.

With UGA going to ND this fall, what other team would you like to see UGA schedule an away game with?
– Tkf Fanboy, again

Michigan springs to mind, because my wife went there and I’d love to cover a game in the Big House. I’m glad Georgia has scheduled UCLA, as that means a warm getaway, albeit a long time from now. There are a lot of other places I’d like to go, just for someplace different, mainly Pac-12 and Big Ten schools.

Did any of last year’s O-linemen make an NFL team?  I ask because if none of them were good enough to go pro, it’s reasonable to think their replacement would be at least a little better. We should be a little better at many positions this season, as well as coaching, which would lead to great results. 
– David

P.S. Parrish is our lockdown CB. 

Tyler Catalina is in camp with the Washington Redskins, and Greg Pyke is in camp with the Buffalo Bills. Both are trying to make it as undrafted free agents. I don’t believe Brandon Kublanow hooked on anywhere.

P.S. – I doubt it. I may be wrong, but I doubt it. Parrish and Baker are very solid SEC starters, though.

FINALLY, THE QUESTION I’M SURPRISED NO ONE ASKED, SO I’LL ASK MYSELF

Where did you eat lunch this week: Subway? Dreamland? Pulaski Heights? Butt Hutt?

None of the above. Especially not Dreamland, as it’s too far a drive. Just a lot of Zaxby’s. And, yes, they’re a sponsor. I also really like their salads.