Amid college football media predictions that the SEC East is Georgia’s for the taking in 2017, many UGA fans appear more guarded in their optimism.
Yes, there are those in Bulldogs Nation who will be disappointed at anything less than the Dawgs playing for the SEC Championship this year, but quite a few fans aren’t completely sold on that outcome yet.
In fact, when I surveyed Dawgs fans on social media this past week about their confidence level coming out of spring practice, I found an equal split between those who are optimistic and those who are taking more of a wait-and-see attitude, or who expect 2017 to be on a par with the past couple of seasons. Only a few were flat-out pessimistic.
As for reasons fans express confidence in Kirby Smart’s second group of Bulldogs — or not — it’s pretty much the usual litany: They’re pretty high on the defense, particularly the defensive front, as well as Georgia’s blue-chip backfield and what they believe should be an improved receiver corps. Quite a few also mentioned a favorable schedule in what is expected to be another so-so year in the SEC East.
On the other hand, the most common concern is, as usual with UGA teams in recent years, a suspect offensive line. Meanwhile, coaching (mostly Jim Chaney’s play-calling), the uncertainty of the kicking game and the receiving corps also have some fans worried.
I liked the way Owen, a Bulldog-born-and-bred now living in LSU country, summed it up:
“I think we’re strong overall on defense, with almost all starters returning and good young players replacing backups who graduated. We are deep on the DL, solid at both inside and outside LB. A healthy Dominick Sanders gives me confidence at safety. Having two quality running backs returning (we all know their names) is big. [Jacob] Eason should be improved and the new kid [Jake Fromm] is good enough to step in if he had to. The kickers should be OK, and I like that Smart introduced competition to keep the veterans from becoming complacent.”
Concerns for Owen “are OL, receivers and overall special teams play. I hope we develop offensive balance with a stronger and more creative passing attack. We could be good enough to win the East this year, which I’d rate as ‘exceeds expectations.’ I’m doubtful we can win the SEC. However, the schedule is favorable, and I think we’re good for 10 wins, including Tech and Notre Dame. Eleven wins is possible, but I believe we’ll fall to Auburn and Tennessee and/or Florida, but not all three. I should add I’m an eternal optimist.”
My brother Tim thinks winning the SEC East is a realistic expectation because the Dawgs’ defense should be improved from last year. But, he cautioned, “My main concern after watching the G-Day game is the O-line. We can’t have another year of Cadillac running backs and an AMC Pacer line. The freshman linemen coming in are going to have to play and play big.”
My old buddy Joel believes Georgia definitely should contend for the SEC East title, “if for no other reason than the rest of the division would appear to be very weak.”
The Dawgs’ biggest question marks to him “are the offensive line (as usual) and wide receiver. We recruited a lot of great talent on the offensive line, but, of course, they’re young and maybe not ready to step in immediately, although D’Marcus Hayes (JUCO transfer), Netori Johnson and Isaiah Wilson may be ready to help. It would be great to see Ben Cleveland reach his potential, too. Time for Sam Pittman to work his magic.”
Wide receiver is another concern for Joel, “but there’s talent there with [Terry] Godwin, [Riley] Ridley, [Javon] Wims and [Mecole] Hardman. The defense should be stout, and running back is an embarrassment of riches. We should be favored to win the East, if we can beat the Gators. And that’s always a big if.”
Another lifelong UGA fan, Mike, thinks the 2017 Dawgs likely will lose a couple of SEC games but still be a contender in the East, though “not a national championship contender, which is too bad, because it will mean we completely wasted the talents of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.”
Meanwhile, Kevin is “guarded, to say the least” in his view of the coming season. “I like the young talent we have, but the OL concerns me, which will affect Eason. If we can’t run again, like last year, things could get ugly. And I’m still not sold on the defense, especially Lorenzo [Carter]. Classic underachiever, so far.”
“I’d love to go 10-2 and win the East,” he said, “but I’m worried we’re a year away and might slip to 9-3. Anything less would be a huge letdown in that division and considering the schedule. I just think it’s taking more time than anticipated to get rid of that attitude of being happy to win 10 games, not wanting to get in players’ faces, not creating an uncomfortable environment. I think the young guys get that. Maybe the vets will buy in and start to perform with a chip on their shoulder.”
Steve down in South Georgia would like to be optimistic, “but I truly can’t say I expect a lot more. Hope I’m wrong.” He believes Eason still has a long way to go, more on the mental side than the physical side, and has “no confidence” in Georgia’s special teams. “I don’t think coaches take that part of the game seriously enough.”
Blawg reader Nick thinks that “with two good quarterbacks and two great running backs, we just need the O-line and our wide receivers to shine and the sky is the limit.”
The bottom line, says another fan, John: “We go as far as the offensive line takes us.”
As for my own take on the 2017 season, I understand Georgia being seen as the class of the SEC East this year — especially with the return of Chubb and Michel, Eason having a season of experience to grow on, and what should be one of the conference’s better defenses.
However, playing in Knoxville is never easy and Jacksonville remains a big hurdle. Also, I’ll believe all the talk about Georgia’s stodgy offensive play-calling being opened up when I see it on the field.
Finally, the shaky showing of the starting offensive line in the G-Day game has me wondering whether the Dawgs might still be a year away.
If so, as noted above, that would prove to be a terrible waste of one of the best backfields in college football. Still, for fans of a program that got no titles out of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford playing in Athens, it unfortunately would be a familiar feeling.
(If there’s something you want to discuss, or you have a question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with me on Facebook or via Twitter. And don’t forget to check out past entries of the Junkyard Blawg.)