If you had “Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to stay for their senior seasons” on your Christmas wish list, congratulations! You got to unwrap that present a few weeks early. But just because it’s Christmas Day and most of the gift-giving is now finished, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few things UGA will hoping to receive belatedly. Here’s five gifts that UGA could receive in the near future or early in 2017 that could be a boon for the future of the Bulldogs.
5. A Liberty Bowl victory
I know, obvious answer is obvious. But there is no better way to end one season and gear up for the next than by winning your bowl game. The Liberty Bowl also seems to be carrying a little more importance than it did only a few weeks ago. The decisions by Chubb, Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, along with a hot streak for Kirby Smart on the recruiting trail, has UGA fans feeling good about the future after a poor end to the regular season. That momentum would be upended by a loss to TCU, but it could be magnified with a victory.
4. Jacob Eason progresses from good to damn good in the Liberty Bowl
For a true freshman facing SEC defenses, you have to commend Eason on the work he’s done this season. The freshman passed for 2,226 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first campaign and looked stellar in late-game situations all year. There’s always been something seemingly missing, though. He lacks touch on passes and has seemed too afraid to stand in the pocket and take a hit, instead opting to throw it away and leave Georgia in bad situations. TCU has an average-at-best secondary, so Eason will get a chance to have a good day in the Liberty Bowl. With a few weeks of practice to study a single opponent, we may see him progress based solely on better game prep. Just imagine the gains he’ll make in 2017, when he has an entire offseason to study film and analyze opponents.
3. Someone steps up in the secondary
The loss of a slew of backup defensive backs to transfers has left Georgia shorthanded in the secondary. Although none of the players were stars, or seemed destined to become stars, the loss is no doubt a blow, if only because the Bulldogs are now incredibly thin at the position. But this crisis is also an opportunity. Former 5-star Mecole Hardman has struggled to find much playing time in his first season after switching to corner. With less bodies in the back, Hardman has to play significant minutes in the Liberty Bowl. A big game against a vulnerable TCU passing offense — QB Kenny Hill has thrown 13 interceptions this season — could be a confidence booster that kickstarts his sophomore campaign, and adds another talented cog to a defense that could be one of the SEC’s best next season.
2. The recruiting cycle ends in a bang for the Bulldogs
December has been a huge month for UGA, recruiting-wise. Five-star OT Isaiah Wilson shocked recruitniks with his decision to spurn Michigan in favor of Georgia, and the Bulldogs also received commitments from a pair of in-state 4-stars that helped bump them to the No. 3 class in the country. That’s well ahead of any other team in the SEC East, and second to only Alabama in the SEC. And Kirby Smart doesn’t seem finished yet. Lots of big-name prospects still could fall UGA’s way: DB DeAngelo Gibbs, LB Nate McBride, ATH Tray Bishop, DT Aubrey Solomon. If Smart holds all current commits and lands even a fraction of the guys remaining on his big board, it’ll be UGA’s best class in years, and, perhaps, a cornerstone for future success under Smart.
1. UGA hoops makes it back to March Madness
Moving away from football, the hoops team could use some Christmas love, too. Mark Fox’s teams have won at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons, but only made the NCAA tournament once. With Yante Maten, legitimately one of the best players in the SEC, and J.J. Frazier leading the charge, the Bulldogs have a good chance. UGA has only four losses right now, and two of those (Clemson, Kansas) were to teams currently in Joe Lunardi’s projected field of 68, and the other two were to teams with at least nine wins (Marquette, Oakland). Those losses will sting come the selection process, but a good run in the SEC with some big wins in conference (fingers crossed for a Kentucky upset) should be enough to get Georgia in if it can win 20 or more games in the regular season and SEC tournament.