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There is no grace period for Kirby Smart at Georgia. He has to win big immediately.

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The roster he inherits has question marks, but it also has a good shot at winning the SEC East in year one.

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. You better win

Ambition is fine. Aiming high can pay off. But if you aim high and miss, it can set your program back years.

The idea of Glen Mason Territory is based around that idea. Minnesota won more consistently under Mason than under any coach since the 1940s, but he struggled to clear the bar he'd set. He went 18-8 in 2002-03 but followed with 20 wins in the next three years; good for Minnesota, but not good enough. After a 6-7 2006, capped with a huge blown lead in the Insight Bowl, the Gophers dumped Mason in favor of Tim Brewster ... and went 17-33 over the next four seasons. Minnesota didn't win more than seven games until the eighth season after his ouster.

GMT™ is established when fans get frustrated with merely being successful. Once you raise the bar, you have to keep raising it. Perhaps it should be called Mark Richt Territory.

In 15 years, Richt engineered seven top-10 finishes; the Dawgs had only pulled that off 10 times in the 51 years before him. Georgia won 50 games in his final five years, complete with four S&P+ top-15 rankings and two AP top-10 finishes. The Dawgs came within an eyelash of the BCS Championship in 2012.

After the next hint of a true (and brief) drop-off -- UGA won 10 games in 2015 but fell to 32nd in S&P+ -- the school sent Richt packing. I wasn't particularly impressed.

This poor 2015 performance comes on the heels of four consecutive F/+ top-15 finishes (13th in 2011, seventh in 2012, 14th in 2013, fourth in 2014).

Here are the other programs that pulled that off in that same span: Alabama. That's it. Florida State didn't do it. Oregon didn't. Ohio State didn't. But Richt even pulled it off in 2013, with a brutally young defense and receivers exploding like Spinal Tap drummers.

This reminds you of how randomness plays a role in this sport. And while we can say Georgia is a sleeping giant, and that the program should expect better results, here's a dirty little secret: almost no team gets to constantly win at the level we think it should achieve.

Everybody has setbacks and down years and disappointments and random losses and frustration against rivals. But Nick Saban does it far less frequently than anybody else, and that makes people -- especially SEC rivals -- lose their damn minds.

Saban's impossible consistency has driven fanbases and administrations throughout the SEC insane. Richt was fired for not being as successful as him, and LSU's Les Miles nearly suffered the same fate.

Following this line of thinking, it makes sense that Georgia would replace Richt with what they hope is the Next Saban: longtime Alabama defensive coordinator (and UGA grad) Smart.

The 40-year-old product of Bainbridge has an impeccable résumé. He was a defensive coordinator at Valdosta State at age 25, spent two years under Bobby Bowden at Florida State, briefly worked in the NFL, and spent the last nine seasons with Saban. He knows how Saban works, breathes, eats, and operates. He will operate in one of the most fertile recruiting areas of the country, and he will get complete, desperate support from the athletic department and the state government.

And he better win. Immediately.

He inherits a squad that returns two experienced quarterbacks and a blue-chip freshman, one of the best running backs in the country (and one of the better backups), five of last year's top six receiving targets, four offensive linemen with starting experience (plus a three-year FCS starter), an exciting secondary, an athletic defensive front seven, and a schedule that is one of the more manageable in the SEC.

This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the SEC so far!

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 30 | Final S&P+ Rk: 32
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep UL-Monroe 121 51-14 W 94% 100% +9.9 +1.0
12-Sep at Vanderbilt 83 31-14 W 79% 98% -5.5 -3.5
19-Sep South Carolina 88 52-20 W 95% 100% +17.6 +15.0
26-Sep Southern U. N/A 48-6 W 84% 100% -16.9
3-Oct Alabama 1 10-38 L 15% 0% -16.6 -30.0
10-Oct at Tennessee 18 31-38 L 47% 28% -4.0 -10.0
17-Oct Missouri 75 9-6 W 65% 89% -10.2 -13.0
31-Oct vs. Florida 27 3-27 L 9% 0% -20.6 -21.0
7-Nov Kentucky 91 27-3 W 94% 100% +6.9 +10.0
14-Nov at Auburn 33 20-13 W 64% 78% +4.8 +9.0
21-Nov Georgia Southern 48 23-17 W 88% 96% +2.0 -7.5
28-Nov at Georgia Tech 64 13-7 W 77% 96% -0.4 +1.0
2-Jan vs. Penn State 47 24-17 W 62% 70% +8.2 0.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 28.5 71 18.4 11
Points Per Game 26.3 85 16.9 8

2. Funk and recovery

We can say Richt was fired after a disappointing 2015, but really, he was fired for a disappointing October.

  • First 4 games:
    Record: 4-0 | Average percentile performance: 88% (~top 15) | Yards per play: UGA 8.3, Opp 4.2 (+4.1) | Performance vs. S&P+ projection: +1.3 PPG
  • Next 4 games:
    Record: 1-3 | Average percentile performance: 34% (~top 85) | Yards per play: Opp 5.5, UGA 4.8 (-0.7) | Performance vs. S&P+ projection: -12.9 PPG
  • Last 5 games:
    Record: 5-0 | Average percentile performance: 77% (~top 30) | Yards per play: UGA 5.4, Opp 4.6 (+0.8) | Performance vs. S&P+ projection:  +4.3 PPG

October was one of the worst months of Richt's career. It began with a home embarrassment at the hands of (who else?) Alabama, then continued when Chubb, averaging 149 rushing yards per game, suffered a season-ending injury early in a seven-point loss at Tennessee. Georgia scored 12 points the next two weeks against Missouri and Florida, barely eking out a win over the Tigers and getting smoked by the Gators.

Richt's fate was sealed. Georgia couldn't hit the same high notes that it did with Chubb, but was fine in November. The Dawgs beat Kentucky and Auburn, and while they were unlucky to play in close games against Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech (win expectancy, per each game's key stats: 96 percent), they still won. And with a set of interim coaches, they beat Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl to finish with 10 wins. In a rebuilding season with a monthlong funk.

October got Richt fired, but September and (to a lesser extent) November reminded us of how sturdy the program was.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.27 61 IsoPPP+ 116.4 25
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.3% 62 Succ. Rt. + 111.2 29
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.0 35 Def. FP+ 27.4 24
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.9 109 Redzone S&P+ 114.2 24
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.0 ACTUAL 18 -5.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 83 24 29 25
RUSHING 38 22 55 13
PASSING 104 27 13 35
Standard Downs 19 23 20
Passing Downs 44 54 44
Q1 Rk 36 1st Down Rk 22
Q2 Rk 23 2nd Down Rk 8
Q3 Rk 9 3rd Down Rk 12
Q4 Rk 55

3. A Jim Chaney offense

As I've written before, new Georgia coordinator Chaney is one of my personal favorites.

He was Joe Tiller's coordinator during Purdue's renaissance (1997-05), and he spent three years as an NFL assistant (2006-08). He helped to blur the lines between pro-style and spread in four years as Tennessee's O.C., and he has solid results; he improved the Vols from 108th in Off. S&P+ to 27th in 2009, and with an experienced line and two solid receivers, his last Tennessee offense ranked 10th.

Bret Bielema hired him at Arkansas, and after some first-year struggles, he was pulling the strings for a devastating Hog offense that ranked 15th in Off. S&P+.

Chaney does what his personnel dictates. He has succeeded with average quarterbacks (he had a top-30 offense with Jonathan Crompton and a top-15 offense with Brandon Allen), he runs the ball when he's got good backs, and he gets receivers open, even in power sets.

I wrote that before Pitt's 2015, and despite losing star running back James Conner before the season and being forced to lean on freshman running backs and basically a one-man receiving corps, the Panthers ranked 38th in Off. S&P+.

Georgia ranked 71st in Brian Schottenheimer's lone season. It would have ranked much higher if Chubb hadn't gone down (UGA was averaging 8.3 yards per play through the first month), but with limited quarterbacks and only one experienced option in the receiving corps, Schottenheimer couldn't figure out how to move the ball without Chubb.

Limited QBs and thin receiving corps are kind of in Chaney's wheelhouse.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Greyson Lambert 6'5, 234 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9112 162 256 1959 12 2 63.3% 11 4.1% 7.0
Brice Ramsey 6'3, 210 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9518 21 35 249 1 2 60.0% 0 0.0% 7.1
Faton Bauta 15 33 154 0 4 45.5% 1 2.9% 4.4
Jacob Eason 6'5, 235 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9973

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Sony Michel TB 5'11, 222 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9902 220 1161 8 5.3 7.2 31.8% 5 1
Nick Chubb TB 5'10, 228 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9835 93 747 7 8.0 8.7 47.3% 1 0
Keith Marshall TB 68 350 3 5.1 3.3 45.6% 0 0
Brendan Douglas TB 5'11, 213 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7988 36 140 0 3.9 3.8 27.8% 0 0
Greyson Lambert QB 6'5, 234 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9112 18 44 1 2.4 2.8 33.3% 5 1
Isaiah McKenzie WR 5'8, 175 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8917 11 117 2 10.6 8.0 72.7% 5 3
Terry Godwin WR 5'11, 185 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9871 7 37 1 5.3 6.8 57.1% 1 0
Quayvon Hicks FB 4 9 0 2.3 1.2 25.0% 0 0
Christian Payne FB 6'1, 242 Jr. NR NR
Elijah Holyfield RB 5'11, 215 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9266







4. Hey, Nick :)

College football has been blessed with running back depth over the last couple of seasons. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon rushed for nearly 2,600 yards in 2014, and the 2015 national roster was so loaded that Florida State's Dalvin Cook averaged 7.4 yards per carry and didn't even end up a Heisman finalist.

Cook ... LSU's Leonard Fournette ... Stanford's Christian McCaffrey ... Oklahoma's Samaje Perine ... Oregon's Royce Freeman ... San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey ... college football is stocked with incredible backs.

Before he got hurt, Chubb might have been the best of the bunch.

Let's put it this way: 189 FBS backs rushed at least 90 times in 2015. Nine had an opportunity rate of at least 47 percent, 11 averaged at least 8.5 highlight yards per opportunity, and only Chubb did both. Granted, he did a lot of damage against ULM and Southern (combined: 31 carries, 251 yards), but he did even more damage against top-20 Vanderbilt and Alabama defenses (39 carries, 335 yards).

Chubb's return would have made this a viable offense even with Schottenheimer still in charge. He's that good. And it appears he will be pretty close to 100 percent when the season begins.

He will need to be. Georgia's schedule features North Carolina, Missouri, Ole Miss, and Tennessee among the first five games, and quarterback is still unsettled. The options are either last year's iffy duo (Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey, who did average a tolerable 7 yards per attempt) or this year's new toy, five-star freshman Jacob Eason. Eason appears to have the upper hand and boasts every tool imaginable. But true freshmen tend to look like true freshmen, and that's one hell of an early slate.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Malcolm Mitchell WR-X 92 58 865 63.0% 29.8% 9.4 67.4% 54.3% 1.53
Terry Godwin SLOT 5'11, 185 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9871 57 35 379 61.4% 18.4% 6.6 45.6% 38.6% 1.54
Sony Michel TB 5'11, 222 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9902 34 26 270 76.5% 11.0% 7.9 58.8% 55.9% 1.26
Jeb Blazevich TE 6'5, 242 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9381 26 15 144 57.7% 8.4% 5.5 46.2% 42.3% 1.13
Reggie Davis WR-Z 6'0, 170 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8778 23 12 187 52.2% 7.4% 8.1 65.2% 43.5% 1.71
Isaiah McKenzie WR-Z 5'8, 175 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8917 17 10 123 58.8% 5.5% 7.2 23.5% 47.1% 1.50
Jay Rome TE 13 8 88 61.5% 4.2% 6.8 69.2% 46.2% 1.31
Jackson Harris TE 6'6, 247 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9187 7 4 50 57.1% 2.3% 7.1 42.9% 57.1% 0.96
Keith Marshall TB 6 4 28 66.7% 1.9% 4.7 33.3% 50.0% 0.83
Michael Chigbu WR-X 6'2, 213 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8838 4 4 28 100.0% 1.3% 7.0 75.0% 75.0% 0.76
Jayson Stanley WR 6'2, 207 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9055 4 2 23 50.0% 1.3% 5.8 100.0% 50.0% 1.02
Jordan Davis TE 6'4, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8675 2 1 24 50.0% 0.6% 12.0 100.0% 50.0% 1.77
Aulden Bynum TE 6'5, 292 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640
Javon Wims WR 6'4, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9025
Isaac Nauta TE 6'4, 246 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9903
Charlie Woerner TE 6'5, 251 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9369
Riley Ridley WR-X 6'2, 197 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9108
Tyler Simmons WR 6'0, 206 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8822

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 107.7 2.93 3.37 38.0% 54.5% 19.5% 151.0 3.1% 6.0%
Rank 36 59 54 81 119 70 25 28 38
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
John Theus RT 13 48 2015 1st All-SEC
Brandon Kublanow C 6'3, 293 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9204 13 26 2015 2nd All-SEC
Greg Pyke RT 6'6, 325 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8818 10 23 2014 2nd All-SEC
Kolton Houston LG 13 32
Isaiah Wynn LT 6'2, 280 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9456 13 13
Hunter Long C 2 2
Dyshon Sims LG 6'4, 309 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9084 1 1
Tyler Catalina
(Rhode Island)
LT 6'6, 314 Sr. NR NR 11 33
Kendall Baker RT 6'6, 305 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8997 0 0
Lamont Gaillard RG 6'2, 301 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9358 0 0
Pat Allen RT 6'4, 298 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9131

Ben Cleveland OL 6'6, 341 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9528

Chris Barnes OL 6'3, 301 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8696

Solomon Kindley OL 6'4, 336 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8408

5. Nobody get hurt

Whoever wins the QB job will have a receiving corps that is both experienced and unproven. Including backup running back Sony Michel -- a nice and oft-used weapon out of the backfield -- five of last year's top six targets return, but they only averaged 7 yards per target with a 45 percent success rate. The athleticism is off the charts, but for now the corps has barely proven more than its freshman quarterback.

Perhaps the biggest concern is what the heck happens if someone gets hurt up front. In Brandon Kublanow and Greg Pyke, UGA boasts two linemen who have earned all-conference honors, and left tackle Isaiah Wynn  is solid and experienced. Rhode Island transfer Tyler Catalina adds depth, but if any of the top six players goes down, Georgia will have almost no choice but to throw a youngster into the fire.

Georgia's line was decent but frustrating last year. It helped to create opportunities, especially for Chubb (which isn't the hardest thing in the world), but even with Chubb there was no short-yardage push. And it seemed for many UGA fans that the hire of Bret Bielema's well-regarded line coach, Sam Pittman, was as important as Chaney.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 77 IsoPPP+ 113.8 29
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 32.3% 3 Succ. Rt. + 114.6 23
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.5 20 Off. FP+ 32.7 16
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.4 9 Redzone S&P+ 104.2 48
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.6 ACTUAL 22.0 +2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 7 19 23 29
RUSHING 42 19 15 30
PASSING 1 28 41 26
Standard Downs 17 21 16
Passing Downs 28 32 42
Q1 Rk 15 1st Down Rk 24
Q2 Rk 82 2nd Down Rk 13
Q3 Rk 5 3rd Down Rk 64
Q4 Rk 73

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 99.1 2.73 3.10 32.5% 57.5% 20.4% 86.9 2.6% 9.3%
Rank 66 41 53 8 22 58 86 116 27
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Sterling Bailey DE 13 29.5 4.4% 2.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Chris Mayes NT 12 28.5 4.2% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
James DeLoach DT 13 16.5 2.4% 3.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Trenton Thompson DT 6'4, 309 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9991 12 16.5 2.4% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
John Atkins NT 6'4, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8804 10 7.0 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Josh Dawson DE 13 4.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chauncey Rivers DE
4 3.5 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Ledbetter DE 6'4, 269 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9670 7 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Barnett DE 6'4, 292 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9049 7 2.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle NT 6'4, 320 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8570 10 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Julian Rochester DT 6'5, 316 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9648
Michail Carter DL 6'3, 293 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9430
Tyler Clark DL 6'4, 305 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9066








6. Nobody get hurt, part 2

The state of Georgia's post-Chubb offense was poor enough that it distracted us from one hell of a defense. It didn't appear coordinator Jeremy Pruitt got along particularly well with Richt, but after improving UGA's ratings from 36th to 17th in Def. S&P+, he pulled the Dawgs up to 11th. Georgia was efficient, particularly against the run, and basically the only weakness was an iffy early-downs pass rush.

Smart and new coordinator Mel Tucker inherit a lineup that is stocked in the back but potentially thin up front. Five of last year's top seven tacklers on the line are gone, and while the two returnees (Trenton Thompson, John Atkins) are enormous and talented, no other lineman recorded more than 3 tackles in 2015. It's possible that the rotation will feature only one upperclassman (Atkins, a junior), and while there are plenty of blue-chippers, experience is a good thing.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jake Ganus MIKE 13 73.0 10.8% 5.0 1.0 2 0 0 0
Leonard Floyd SAM 13 55.5 8.2% 10.5 4.5 0 3 0 1
Tim Kimbrough WILL



12 47.5 7.0% 5.5 1.0 0 1 1 0
Jordan Jenkins JACK 12 43.5 6.5% 10.5 4.0 0 0 2 0
Davin Bellamy JACK 6'5, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8937 10 23.5 3.5% 5.5 3.0 0 1 2 0
Reggie Carter
(2014)
MIKE 6'1, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8968 12 23.0 3.1% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Natrez Patrick WILL 6'3, 238 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9566 11 17.0 2.5% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Lorenzo Carter SAM 6'6, 242 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9911 13 15.0 2.2% 0.0 0.0 0 1 2 0
Roquan Smith MIKE 6'1, 225 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9764 12 14.5 2.2% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
D'Andre Walker SAM 6'3, 223 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9427 13 8.0 1.2% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Ryne Rankin WILL 6'1, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8778 12 6.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Juwan Taylor LB 6'1, 214 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8575 9 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chuks Amaechi JACK 6'3, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8574 13 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Johnny O'Neal JACK 6'2, 238 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9023 5 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Keyon Brown OLB 6'3, 257 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9333
Chauncey Manac OLB 6'3, 243 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9439
Jaleel Laguins OLB 6'2, 220 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9106
David Marshall OLB 6'3, 273 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8712

7. All you need is a pass rush

If the line holds up, the rest of the defense should thrive. UGA must also replace three of last year's top four tacklers at linebacker, but that's a little bit misleading. Davin Bellamy, Natrez Patrick, Lorenzo Carter, and Roquan Smith all recorded at least 14.5 tackles in 2015, and Reggie Carter returns to the rotation after missing the fall with injury. Last year's freshmen and sophomores are this year's sophomores and juniors; this unit should be fine.

The pass rush could stand to improve, though. Georgia's pass rush was pretty good on passing downs, but there was very little invasiveness otherwise.

The Saban-Smart defense at Alabama didn't always boast a top-level pass rush; the Crimson Tide were so good at pursuit and gang tackling that they didn't need to take many chances. But that changed in 2015; Bama attacked a bit more and ended up ranked No. 2 in Adj. Sack Rate. Extra aggressiveness seems to have been part of the adjustment Saban and Smart made to the no-huddle attacks that had given them random fits.

We'll see if Smart thinks he has the pieces at linebacker to attack. As long as the line isn't a major liability, I bet he will.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quincy Mauger SS 6'0, 206 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8500 13 49.0 7.3% 3.5 0.5 0 5 0 0
Aaron Davis CB 6'1, 189 Jr. NR NR 13 38.5 5.7% 3.5 1 1 3 0 0
Dominick Sanders FS 6'0, 193 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8492 13 36.5 5.4% 5 1 6 6 0 0
Malkom Parrish CB 5'10, 185 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9659 13 36.0 5.3% 6.5 1 2 2 0 0
Johnathan Abram FS 10 18.0 2.7% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Rico McGraw STAR 6'0, 194 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9333 9 17.5 2.6% 0.5 0 0 4 0 0
Reggie Wilkerson STAR 5'11, 173 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9087 13 9.0 1.3% 2 0 1 0 0 0
Juwuan Briscoe CB 5'11, 192 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8777 9 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Rashad Roundtree SS 6'1, 204 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9393 12 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Devin Bowman CB 5 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tramel Terry CB 3 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Kirby Choates DB 6'0, 194 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8307 11 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jarvis Wilson FS 6'2, 199 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8514 11 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Shattle Fenteng CB 6'2, 193 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8864
Mecole Hardman DB 5'11, 183 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9902








8. The SEC has a lot of exciting safeties

Already in this year's SEC previews, I've written about Mizzou's Anthony Sherrils, Vanderbilt's Oren Burks, Auburn's Johnathan Ford, and Texas A&M's Armany Watts, Justin Evans, and Donovan Wilson. The SEC is loaded at safety, and Georgia's make that even more true.

Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders combined for 8.5 tackles for loss, six INTs, and 11 break-ups last season, and if nickel back Rico McGraw builds off of a promising freshman campaign, Georgia will have one of the best safety units in a great safety conference.

If you've got an improved pass rush and a great set of safeties, your cornerbacks have a reasonably easy job. And in theory, juniors Aaron Davis and Malkom Parrish should be up to this less-than-impossible task. They made a lot of plays near the line themselves, and sophomore Juwuan Briscoe should provide a little bit of depth.

[Update: Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith has transferred to Georgia for his senior season, and is eligible immediately.]

Plus, there's a wildcard in Mecole Hardman, a blue-chip freshman who has yet to occupy a defined position but could be used in the secondary, in the receiving corps, and as a kick-blocking weapon on special teams.

This defense's only concern is youth up front. The back eight could be dynamite.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Collin Barber 41 39.9 6 10 12 53.7%
Brice Ramsey 6'3, 210 Jr. 25 41.9 1 9 6 60.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Marshall Morgan 59 62.5 17 0 28.8%
Collin Barber 11 61.7 6 1 54.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Marshall Morgan 38-38 14-17 82.4% 4-8 50.0%
Patrick Beless 2-2 0-0 N/A 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Reggie Davis KR 6'0, 170 Sr. 17 23.2 0
Isaiah McKenzie KR 5'8, 175 Jr. 4 10.5 0
Isaiah McKenzie PR 5'8, 175 Jr. 17 12.8 2
Reggie Davis PR 6'0, 170 Sr. 8 13.8 1
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 104
Field Goal Efficiency 99
Punt Return Success Rate 24
Kick Return Success Rate 22
Punt Success Rate 115
Kickoff Success Rate 62

9. Can Brice kick field goals too?

The return game is a strength, especially on punts, where Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis combined for three scores.

But the legs are a total mystery. Quarterback Brice Ramsey is uniquely strong in the punting department, but Marshall Morgan's departure leaves a void in both place-kicking and kickoffs. He struggled a bit in 2015, but he was at least a replacement-level guy at his positions. There's no guarantee UGA will be any better this fall.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep vs. North Carolina 27 4.9 61%
10-Sep Nicholls State NR 59.1 100%
17-Sep at Missouri 47 7.5 67%
24-Sep at Ole Miss 7 -6.3 36%
1-Oct Tennessee 9 2.7 56%
8-Oct at South Carolina 63 9.9 72%
15-Oct Vanderbilt 69 17.9 85%
29-Oct vs. Florida 19 1.7 54%
5-Nov at Kentucky 83 15.1 81%
12-Nov Auburn 24 7.1 66%
19-Nov UL-Lafayette 106 30.2 96%
26-Nov Georgia Tech 54 15.3 81%
Projected wins: 8.5
Five-Year F/+ Rk 38.8% (8)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 7 / 6
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 4 / -3.4
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.8
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 76% (75%, 76%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 9.5 (0.5)

10. Plenty of late wins to be found

Look at Georgia's schedule from a couple of angles.

First, the opening stretch is ruthless. Four of the Dawgs' first five games are projected within one possession, and while UGA is projected to win three of those four, any early struggle at quarterback or in the trenches could lead to a 3-2 or 2-3 start.

After that, Georgia has an exceedingly manageable slate. The Dawgs are given at least a 66 percent chance of winning in six of their last seven games and are slightly favored against Florida as well.

Tennessee is the clear betting favorite to win the SEC East, but if Georgia knocks off the Vols in Athens on October 1, the Dawgs could steal Butch Jones' thunder. And if Richt were still the head coach, I think he would be under pressure to do just that.