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Let's not overthink this. Georgia is the best bet to win the SEC East.

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Tennessee has a ton of upside. Missouri has the title belt. Florida has an elite defense. But there's no question who the division favorite is.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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1. I get it

Georgia blew it last year. Badly.

Mark Richt's Bulldogs spent most of the last two months playing at an absurdly high level. They crushed Missouri in Columbia, then bolted out to a huge lead and hit cruise control in Little Rock against Arkansas. They laughed at any sort of upset bid Kentucky thought it could make in Lexington, then made the most of a revenge attempt against Auburn. And in the Belk Bowl, they shoved Louisville around like a set of 11 rag dolls.

Combined with a season-opening pasting of Clemson, Georgia had the distinction of being one of the most frequently awesome teams in the country, despite losing surefire Heisman candidate Todd Gurley pretty early.

This frequently awesome team also got thumped by Florida, 38-20, thereby blowing the SEC East.

Hell, it might have been the most befuddling result of 2014. A team that allowed 443 combined rushing yards against Missouri, Louisville, Clemson, Tennessee and Arkansas, gave up 418 to Florida. Florida! A team that otherwise rushed for 167 per game!

It's hard to get that out of our heads, just like it's hard to get the thought of Tennessee pantsing Iowa in the bowl game out of our heads. And we've spent the offseason convincing ourselves the East race is a tossup. We're thinking too hard.

Could someone besides Georgia win the East? Of course. Tennessee's got loads of young talent and a potentially nasty defense. And since Missouri has one of the easier slates in the East, throw Missouri into the "could happen" pile, too. And hey, maybe Florida has some massive first-year magic under Jim McElwain. And just think of the "Steve Spurrier's greatest comeback!" potential if he pulls off his own East run at South Carolina!

All of these are possible. But Georgia's odds of winning a division title are as strong as almost anybody's in the country. Let's go ahead and walk through some rebuttals.

But Tennessee's been recruiting so well for two years. So has Georgia. For more than two years. Tennessee peaked with a No. 4 ranking in this year's 247Sports Composite. Georgia's recruiting average over the last five years ranks sixth.

But Georgia has to play at Tennessee. True. Auburn, too. And Tennessee has to play at Alabama, Missouri, and Florida. In this year's Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (college-only version available for only $6 in PDF form), Georgia's projected conference strength of schedule ranks 20th in the country; Tennessee's ranks ninth.

But Missouri's won back-to-back East titles. True. And the Tigers' conference SOS ranks only 35th. But no one's won an SEC division three times in a row in nearly 20 years (Florida, 1994-96), and the Tigers' defensive line, such a strength in recent years, is rebuilding.

But the Dawgs choke every year. No, they really don't.

  • 2005: Won it
  • 2006: Lost out to a better team, eventual national champion Florida
  • 2007: Blew it with a dumb loss to South Carolina
  • 2008: Lost out to a better team, eventual national champion Florida
  • 2009-10: Weren't good enough to blow anything
  • 2011-12: Won it
  • 2013: Lost out to a better team, Missouri
  • 2014: Blew it with a dumb loss to Florida

Georgia has been the best team in the East five times in the last 10 seasons and has won the East three times. I realize that means they should have won five times, but I'll take those odds.

But Mark Richt lost his offensive coordinator and replaced him with Brian Schottenheimer. Well ... true.

And Georgia's starting a new quarterback! Tennessee and Missouri are not. True again.

I get that picking Georgia makes you nervous. And maybe it should. But even with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator, the Dawgs are the second-surest thing in the SEC behind Alabama. And considering they play in the weaker of the two divisions, maybe that makes them the surest, period.

The Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 projects the Dawgs fourth overall -- ahead of Baylor, Auburn, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and other national favorites -- and gives them a 77 percent chance of 6-2 or better in the SEC. For other teams in the East, those are 45 percent (Missouri), 14 percent (Tennessee), 12 percent (South Carolina), and 2 percent (Florida).

Tennessee, et al, might be capable of a run. Georgia simply is.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 12-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 4
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Clemson 14 45-21 W 98% 45.9 99%
13-Sep at South Carolina 38 35-38 L 61% 6.7 61%
20-Sep Troy 126 66-0 W 99% 55.8 100%
27-Sep Tennessee 24 35-32 W 68% 11.2 62%
4-Oct Vanderbilt 115 44-17 W 83% 22.0 100%
11-Oct at Missouri 20 34-0 W 98% 50.5 100%
18-Oct at Arkansas 9 45-32 W 98% 46.9 100%
1-Nov vs. Florida 32 20-38 L 29% -13.2 2%
8-Nov at Kentucky 68 63-31 W 94% 37.1 100%
15-Nov Auburn 7 34-7 W 97% 42.6 100%
22-Nov Charleston Southern N/A 55-9 W 96% 41.5 100%
29-Nov Georgia Tech 8 24-30 L 53% 1.6 22%
30-Dec vs. Louisville 23 37-14 W 93% 34.4 97%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 41.8 6 19.2 17
Points Per Game 41.3 8 20.7 16

2. Rivalry games, man

There's no question the Georgia defense was better against the pass than the run. The Dawgs ranked seventh in Passing S&P+ and a humbling 65th in Rushing S&P+.

Georgia Tech found some success (as it was wont to do) with Paul Johnson's spread option, and South Carolina was able to punch away and find a soft underbelly with big Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis (31 carries, 159 yards). Tennessee with Jalen Hurd, too (24 carries, 119 yards). When Georgia looked less than elite, the run defense was why.

Still. Florida's Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor combined for 50 carries and 389 yards. Jones only once rushed for more than 114 yards the rest of the year. Taylor's non-Georgia high was 68 yards; he had 197. Georgia defenders got popped in the mouth and had no response.

Even odder: the Dawgs were in the middle of a ridiculously good stretch. They had just taken care of Missouri and Arkansas with minimal fuss (first-half score in those two games: Georgia 58, Opponent 6). After Florida, they would pummel Kentucky and Auburn.

Again, if you want to doubt the Dawgs because of this game, I can't stop you. I have minimal explanation for it. And with turnover on the defensive line, there's no guarantee Georgia will be any better at stopping super-physical run games.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.96 16 IsoPPP+ 136.9 9
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.7% 23 Succ. Rt. + 118.7 17
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 25.8 3 Def. FP+ 108.1 4
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 18 Redzone S&P+ 121.3 14
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.6 ACTUAL 13 -4.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 30 9 11 9
RUSHING 12 6 17 3
PASSING 90 16 8 23
Standard Downs 12 16 13
Passing Downs 10 12 11
Q1 Rk 2 1st Down Rk 6
Q2 Rk 17 2nd Down Rk 7
Q3 Rk 37 3rd Down Rk 17
Q4 Rk 4

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Hutson Mason
188 277 2168 21 4 67.9% 16 5.5% 7.1
Brice Ramsey 6'3, 213 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9518 24 39 333 3 2 61.5% 0 0.0% 8.5
Faton Bauta 6'3, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8799 4 5 48 0 0 80.0% 0 0.0% 9.6
Sam Vaughn 6'3, 189 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Greyson Lambert
(Virginia)
6'5, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9112 154 261 1632 10 11 59.0% 11 4.0% 5.7

3. All you need is competence

Positive spin: Brice Ramsey was a touted recruit who acquitted himself mostly well (with a couple of picks) in clean-up duty. Faton Bauta is the rare UGA dual-threat with a pretty accurate arm. Greyson Lambert is a veteran with 336 career passes who will likely find his supporting cast more helpful than in Charlottesville. Schottenheimer has nearly a decade of NFL experience. His main job will be to tell the new quarterback to stick the ball into the belly of the running back.

Less positive spin: Ramsey threw nearly as many picks in 39 passes as Hutson Mason did in 277, Bauta's not a good enough runner to overcome a less-than-amazing arm, Lambert was demoted at UVA, and Rams fans rejoiced when Schottenheimer left.

Neither Ramsey nor his competitors have flashed many Next Aaron Murray glimpses. To me, it feels like Ramsey, with what is easily the best pedigree, should have secured the job by now. But with three weeks or so to go, Richt is still talking about playing multiple quarterbacks in the opener. That's not the most encouraging sign.

Richt's hire of Schottenheimer to replace new Colorado State coach Mike Bobo wasn't inspiring, especially not for a fan base predisposed to hating even good coordinators (see: Bobo, Mike).

But here's where I remind myself the job of both the quarterback and the offensive coordinator will be pretty easy. All UGA needs is competence, and the running game will take it from there.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Nick Chubb TB 5'10, 220 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9835 219 1547 14 7.1 7.9 45.7% 4 2
Todd Gurley TB
123 911 9 7.4 7.9 45.5% 0 0
Sony Michel TB 5'11, 212 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9902 64 410 5 6.4 5.2 48.4% 2 2
Brendan Douglas TB 5'11, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7988 55 230 2 4.2 2.8 36.4% 1 0
Hutson Mason QB
26 109 4 4.2 2.1 38.5% 3 0
Keith Marshall TB 5'11, 212 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9918 12 24 0 2.0 0.8 16.7% 0 0
Quayvon Hicks FB 6'2, 251 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8795 9 85 2 9.4 11.5 44.4% 1 1
Isaiah McKenzie WR 5'8, 170 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8917 8 78 0 9.8 10.4 62.5% 3 0
Kyle Karempelis TB
7 27 0 3.9 1.3 42.9% 1 1
Faton Bauta QB 6'3, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8799 6 16 2 2.7 1.7 16.7% 0 0
A.J. Turman TB 6'0, 204 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9081
Christian Payne FB 6'1, 232 So. NR NR







4. Lose Gurley, replace him with Gurley Jr.

Schottenheimer has proven creative at creating power and deception in the run game. Odds are good that he won't overthink this offense.

What Georgia pulled off last year, losing Gurley (first to suspension, then to injury) and replacing him with somebody who was basically his equal, was mind-blowing.

Gurley gained at least five yards on 45.5 percent of his carries and showed major explosiveness in the open field. Chubb, his freshman replacement, gained five yards on 45.7 percent and duplicated Gurley's explosiveness. In a 5'10, 220-pound package that hadn't gotten much time in a college weight room.

As unlikely as the Florida loss was, this might have been even less likely.

Chubb's back for a full-season, and he's got maybe the most intriguing set of backups in the country. Sony Michel was actually a more touted recruit and, when given the opportunity, showed prowess. Redshirt sophomore A.J. Turman seems to be raising his game in camp. Throw in oft-injured former blue-chipper Keith Marshall and Brendan Douglas, and you've got plenty of fun options.

You've also got a mean line that has spent a couple of seasons developing for this season. Georgia returns four players with a combined 80 career starts. That includes all-conference guard Greg Pyke and former blue-chipper John Theus. The line's job was probably pretty easy thanks to the backs it was blocking for, but it still did that job with aplomb.

Georgia ran two-thirds of the time on standard downs last year and nearly half the time on passing downs. It wouldn't surprise me if the quarterback of choice were to pass more frequently early in the season (three of the first four games are against UL-Monroe, Vandy, and Southern), both to save the backs and to see what they've got in the passing game. But when it's time to run, Georgia should do it as well as anybody in the country.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Michael Bennett WR-X
55 37 404 67.3% 17.8% 74.5% 7.3 -39 7.6 68.2
Chris Conley WR-Y
53 36 657 67.9% 17.2% 47.2% 12.4 226 12.7 110.8
Malcolm Mitchell WR-X 6'1, 195 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9802 46 31 248 67.4% 14.9% 65.2% 5.4 -123 5.7 41.8
Jeb Blazevich TE 6'5, 248 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9381 24 18 269 75.0% 7.8% 62.5% 11.2 57 10.9 45.4
Nick Chubb TB 5'10, 220 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9835 21 18 213 85.7% 6.8% 47.6% 10.1 6 9.8 35.9
Todd Gurley TB
13 12 57 92.3% 4.2% 53.8% 4.4 -80 4.5 9.6
Jonathon Rumph WR
12 11 176 91.7% 3.9% 75.0% 14.7 51 14.2 29.7
Isaiah McKenzie WR-Y 5'8, 170 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8917 12 6 67 50.0% 3.9% 66.7% 5.6 -9 5.2 11.3
Jay Rome TE 6'6, 250 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9714 12 10 59 83.3% 3.9% 66.7% 4.9 -57 4.9 10.0
Reggie Davis WR-Y 6'0, 170 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8778 11 6 63 54.5% 3.6% 45.5% 5.7 -12 5.7 10.6
Kenneth Towns WR-X 6'3, 202 Jr. NR NR 10 6 45 60.0% 3.2% 60.0% 4.5 -29 4.5 7.6
Sony Michel TB 5'11, 212 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9902 8 7 106 87.5% 2.6% 62.5% 13.3 26 13.5 17.9
Quayvon Hicks FB 6'2, 251 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8795 8 4 31 50.0% 2.6% 87.5% 3.9 -20 2.9 5.2
Shakenneth Williams WR-X 6'1, 199 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8929 7 3 61 42.9% 2.3% 85.7% 8.7 21 5.9 10.3
Justin Scott-Wesley WR-X 5'11, 201 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8993 4 3 52 75.0% 1.3% 50.0% 13.0 17 13.9 8.8
Jordan Davis TE 6'4, 235 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8675 3 3 66 100.0% 1.0% 66.7% 22.0 32 21.5 11.1
Matt Price WR-Y 6'0, 197 RSFr. NR NR
Charlie Hegedus
(NC State)
WR 6'2, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8426
Terry Godwin WR 5'11, 174 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9871
Jackson Harris TE 6'6, 247 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9187
Jayson Stanley WR 6'2, 204 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9055

5. The least certain UGA receiving corps in quite a while

For years, Georgia has been loaded in the receiving corps. The 2012 unit had Tavarres King, Malcolm Mitchell, Marlon Brown, Michael Bennett, and Chris Conley. In 2013, Justin Scott-Wesley hinted at a breakthrough, and Georgia passed well despite everybody getting hurt. In 2014, with the run rates dialed up in Murray's absence, Conley averaged 12.4 yards per target while Bennett and Mitchell proved solid in the possession game.

This fall, Mitchell's still around. A big-play threat in 2011-12 before injury, he could be used in a variety of ways. Plus, Jeb Blazevich was a lovely weapon as a true freshman, Scott-Wesley is a year removed from his latest injury, and big things are expected of four-star sophomore Isaiah McKenzie and five-star freshman Terry Godwin (assuming they both shake off fall injuries).

Odds are in Georgia's favor when it comes to finding receivers to take advantage of serious play-action opportunities. Still, there is less certainty than there would have been at any other point this decade. It felt like Conley and Bennett had been in Athens since about 2002, and the potential-to-production ratio has shifted more toward the former. That only adds to hand-wringing about the QBs.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 125.7 3.29 3.8 44.0% 65.3% 15.5% 116.5 5.0% 6.5%
Rank 4 24 17 21 83 18 45 74 47
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
David Andrews C 40 2014 2nd All-SEC
Greg Pyke RG 6'6, 313 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8818 13 2014 2nd All-SEC
John Theus LT 6'6, 303 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9911 35
Kolton Houston RT 6'5, 285 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9192 19
Brandon Kublanow LG 6'3, 282 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9204 13
Mark Beard LT
2
Hunter Long C 6'4, 303 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8292 0
Dyshon Sims LG 6'4, 293 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9084 0
Isaiah Wynn LG 6'2, 278 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9456 0
Watts Dantzler RT
0
Aulden Bynum LT 6'5, 268 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640 0
Thomas Swilley RG 6'3, 295 So. NR NR 0
Lamont Gaillard LG 6'2, 298 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9358
Kendall Baker RT 6'6, 310 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8997
Jake Edwards RG 6'4, 284 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8665
Pat Allen OL 6'4, 297 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9131

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.75 14 IsoPPP+ 121.8 19
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.5% 57 Succ. Rt. + 103.7 51
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 34.5 5 Off. FP+ 106.0 15
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 100 Redzone S&P+ 92.8 93
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.6 ACTUAL 29.0 +4.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 17 29 46 19
RUSHING 63 65 70 59
PASSING 5 7 15 7
Standard Downs 23 42 10
Passing Downs 47 51 46
Q1 Rk 18 1st Down Rk 19
Q2 Rk 23 2nd Down Rk 13
Q3 Rk 64 3rd Down Rk 31
Q4 Rk 57

6. Opponents did not want to pass

Coaches aren't big into advanced stats, but you didn't need Excel skills to understand that running the ball was the way to go against Georgia in Jeremy Pruitt's first year as coordinator.

Opponents completed just 54 percent, with more picks than touchdowns and a passer rating that barely crept into the triple digits (105.8). Pruitt dialed up decent pressure on passing downs, but his prowess as a defensive backs coach paid the most dividends.

The Georgia secondary in 2013 was young, injured, and inconsistent. And because of dismissals and transfers, the 2014 secondary was only marginally more experienced. Damian Swann and Corey Moore were seniors, but three other regulars (Quincy Mauger, Aaron Davis, Dominick Sanders) were freshmen. Didn't matter. Georgia offered quarterbacks tiny windows, and only a few could do any damage. Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee combined to complete 64 percent with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. The other 10: 49 percent, four touchdowns, 13 picks.

It was obvious that running was the only feasible method of attack, and the run rates prove it: opponents ran 7 percent more frequently than the national average on standard downs and 2 percent more on passing downs (despite an only decent pass rush).

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 100.9 3.10 3.34 40.2% 80.4% 16.9% 95.3 4.0% 8.8%
Rank 58 87 73 83 122 102 76 83 40
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ray Drew DE
13 27.0 3.7% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Mike Thornton DT
13 21.0 2.8% 1.0 0.5 0 1 0 0
Toby Johnson DT
13 20.5 2.8% 5.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Sterling Bailey DT 6'3, 282 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8873 13 17.5 2.4% 0.5 0.5 0 2 0 0
Josh Dawson DE 6'4, 273 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9055 13 13.0 1.8% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
John Atkins NT 6'4, 300 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8804 10 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Chris Mayes NT 6'4, 323 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8528 8 4.5 0.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
James DeLoach DT 6'3, 284 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8684 7 4.0 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joseph Ledbetter DE 6'4, 240 So. NR NR
Keyon Brown DT 6'3, 249 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9333
Trenton Thompson DT 6'4, 307 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9991
Jonathan Ledbetter DE 6'4, 251 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9670
Chauncey Rivers DE 6'3, 272 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9312
Michael Barnett DE 6'4, 276 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9049








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ramik Wilson MIKE
13 83.0 11.2% 7.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Amarlo Herrera WILL
13 79.5 10.8% 10.0 3.0 1 1 1 0
Jake Ganus
(UAB)
WILL 6'2, 227 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7100 12 58.5 9.1% 16.5 6.0 0 1 0 1
Jordan Jenkins JACK 6'3, 253 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9833 13 51.0 6.9% 9.5 5.0 0 1 2 0
Leonard Floyd SAM 6'4, 231 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9167 12 38.0 5.1% 8.5 6.0 0 0 3 0
Lorenzo Carter SAM 6'6, 242 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9911 13 29.5 4.0% 7.0 4.5 0 0 0 0
Tim Kimbrough WILL 6'0, 226 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9292 13 24.5 3.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Reggie Carter MIKE 6'1, 228 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8968 12 23.0 3.1% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Kosta Vavlas WILL
13 14.0 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Davin Bellamy JACK 6'5, 241 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8937 10 11.5 1.6% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ryne Rankin WILL 6'1, 218 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8778 12 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Johnny O'Neal JACK 6'2, 231 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9023
Chuks Amaechi SAM 6'3, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8574
Natrez Patrick MIKE 6'3, 248 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9566
Roquan Smith LB 6'1, 217 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9764
D'Andre Walker LB 6'3, 224 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9427








7. A lot to prove up front

When you're able to render an opponent one-dimensional, that should work to your advantage. It often did for UGA; the D did rank 17th in overall Def. S&P+, after all, allowing greater than 5.4 yards per play just twice. But if you had girth, you could punch the Dawgs in the mouth.

That was also before the Dawgs lost five starters in the front seven. New blood might not hurt, and goodness knows UGA has plenty of young blue-chippers to throw at the problem. Of the 24 linemen and linebackers listed above, 17 are former four- or five-star recruits. Still, you don't usually solve a problem by getting younger. Georgia bears the burden of proof when it comes to defending power running.

If it's a battle of pure athleticism, Georgia will win almost every time. The linebacker trio of Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, and Lorenzo Carter all go between 6'4 and 6'6 and 231 and 253 pounds, and all have nearly safety-level speed. They combined for 15.5 sacks (and, yes, very few run stops) last season.

But a couple of smaller inside guys could make the biggest difference. Some combination of Reggie Carter, Tim Kimbrough, and UAB transfer Jake Ganus will be tasked with replacing the best run stoppers on the team, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. And that task will be determined by the line.

There is plenty of experience up front, with up to four seniors likely to fill spots on the two-deep. But if Georgia is to improve its run defense, it might be because of younger guys: sophomore John Atkins, redshirt freshman Keyon Brown, or even true freshmen like all-world signee Trenton Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter. The potential is obvious, but the potential was there last year, too.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Damian Swann STAR
12 50.0 6.8% 4.5 2 4 8 4 1
Quincy Mauger FS 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8500 13 42.5 5.8% 1 0 4 4 0 0
Aaron Davis CB 6'1, 190 So. NR NR 12 33.5 4.5% 1 0 1 5 0 1
Dominick Sanders SS 6'0, 189 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8492 13 29.5 4.0% 1.5 0.5 3 5 0 1
Corey Moore FS
12 23.0 3.1% 2 0 1 2 0 0
Devin Bowman CB 6'0, 182 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8622 12 15.5 2.1% 0 0 1 3 0 0
Malkom Parrish CB 5'10, 188 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9659 11 15.0 2.0% 1 0 0 0 1 0
J.J. Green FS
8 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tramel Terry CB 6'0, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9428 10 4.5 0.6% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Rico Johnson CB
4 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Devin Gillespie CB 5'10, 179 Jr. NR NR 5 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Shattle Fenteng CB 6'2, 185 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8864
Reggie Wilkerson CB 5'11, 176 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9087
Rashad Roundtree S 6'1, 205 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9393
Rico McGraw CB 6'0, 192 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9333
Juwuan Briscoe DB 5'11, 193 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8777
Johnathan Abram FS 6'1, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8579
Jarvis Wilson SS 6'2, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8514

8. Not much to prove in the back

Georgia does have to replace its best playmaker in the back. Swann pulled off a rare combination: 4.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and 12 passes defensed. He was always around the ball, playing a key role at both corner and nickel back.

Still, I can't pretend to worry about this unit. Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders are back at safety after combining for 2.5 tackles for loss and 16 passes defensed. Corners Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman held their own, too. And since this is Georgia, it goes without saying that plenty of former four-star recruits are waiting, be it corners Malkom Parrish, Tramel Terry, Shattle Fenteng, or Reggie Wilkerson or safety Rashad Roundtree.

Depth could be a concern -- the Dawgs are only a couple of injuries away from playing a few more freshmen than would be preferred -- but there's both potential and proven production.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Collin Barber 6'2, 208 Sr. 34 39.3 1 13 11 70.6%
Adam Erickson 9 32.7 0 3 6 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Marshall Morgan 6'3, 194 Sr. 98 61.0 31 0 31.6%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Marshall Morgan 6'3, 194 Sr. 67-68 12-14 85.7% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Isaiah McKenzie KR 5'8, 170 So. 11 28.1 1
Todd Gurley KR 4 44.8 1
Isaiah McKenzie PR 5'8, 170 So. 19 12.1 2
Reggie Davis PR 6'0, 170 Jr. 12 7.9 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 9
Field Goal Efficiency 48
Punt Return Efficiency 8
Kick Return Efficiency 27
Punt Efficiency 58
Kickoff Efficiency 27
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 30

9. Few worries in special teams

Isaiah McKenzie is the Chubb of return men: as a freshman, he replaced Gurley with little to no drop-off. McKenzie's legs and Marshall Morgan's feet were the main reasons for Georgia's No. 9 special teams ranking, and both return. So does punter Collin Barber, whose punts weren't incredibly long but were quite high.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep UL-Monroe 102
12-Sep at Vanderbilt 83
19-Sep South Carolina 31
26-Sep Southern U. NR
3-Oct Alabama 1
10-Oct at Tennessee 20
17-Oct Missouri 23
31-Oct vs. Florida 29
7-Nov Kentucky 52
14-Nov at Auburn 5
21-Nov Georgia Southern 67
28-Nov at Georgia Tech 19
Five-Year F/+ Rk 38.4% (8)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 10 / 6
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 16 / 7.0
2014 TO Luck/Game +3.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (7, 5)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 10.4 (-0.4)

10. Don't overthink this

Georgia has enough legitimate questions to make you doubt. The quarterback situation has not sorted itself out yet, the new offensive coordinator isn't the slam dunk that Pruitt appeared to be a year ago, and the run defense was downright bad at times last fall.

Still, the other East contenders have at least as many concerns and lower upside. Tennessee's offensive line isn't guaranteed to improve, and there are serious depth concerns throughout. Missouri is starting from scratch at receiver and on the defensive line. Florida barely has enough offensive linemen to fill a two-deep and has the same quarterback questions as the Dawgs, with fewer potential answers.

Georgia is not a sure thing, but the Dawgs are easily the safest bet in the East. And just because they blew it last year doesn't mean they will do it each year. Remind yourself of that, even as visions of Kelvin Taylor running wild fill your head.