With the College Football Playoff kicking off this year, there will be a surprise team that wasn’t expected to be in the mix when the season began.
Normally, it’s a team that struggled last season and catches fire. Last year, it was the Auburn Tigers that made the big step forward after a 2012 season that included a 0-8 mark in SEC play.
Could the 2014 surprise team be the Georgia Bulldogs?
Before the 2013 season began, the Bulldogs were looking like a team that could win the SEC East for the third consecutive year and take the conference title for the first time since 2005. But injures and inconsistency on defense plagued the Bulldogs all season and that led to an 8-5 record, which included a loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
So why do guys like Steele and Sallee think the Bulldogs will turn things around?
One of the reasons is the Bulldogs will be more experienced on defense. Steele said because there were only three starters returning on defense last year, there was a ton of inexperience, which led to them giving up 29 points per game.
This season, the Bulldogs have eight returning starters on defense led by what would be the best set of linebackers in the country. Then there's the fact they added a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt—there is no reason to think the Bulldogs can’t make strides on defense.
As far as the offense goes, they are as solid as any team in the country. Yes, the Bulldogs did lose Aaron Murray, who is the most prolific passer in SEC history, but Hutson Mason has the experience needed to lead the Bulldogs to a successful season.
Also, the Bulldogs have some guy named Todd Gurley carrying the ball for them. He has a shot to win the Heisman if he’s as healthy as he was in 2012.
But the most important key to the Bulldogs' chance to shock the world this season is the schedule. They will start the season with Clemson and will then have a week off before they face South Carolina. That was not the case last season when the Bulldogs had to travel to Clemson on the opening weekend and then play the Gamecocks in Athens the following week.
Last year, the Bulldogs' first five opponents were Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas, LSU and Tennessee. They went 4-1 during that stretch, but they were beat up after the Tennessee game and went 4-4 the rest of the way.
This season the Bulldogs’ first five opponents are Clemson, South Carolina, Troy, Tennessee and Vanderbilt with a bye week mixed in. Tennessee and Vanderbilt will not be easy opponents, but both of those games are at Sanford Stadium along with Troy and Clemson.
This has happened before where the Bulldogs have the makeup and the setup to make a run, and they come up short. But based on the preview magazines and media members who were at SEC Media Days (they were picked to finish second in the SEC East), the Bulldogs are flying under the radar.
If there is one thing the Bulldogs are good at, it’s being resilient. Just when many think they are out of the SEC picture, they get right back in it and make a run.
So will they win the SEC title and make it to the College Football Playoff? It's too early to say, but they have everything needed to make a surprise run at the championship; it will just be a case of whether they can finally put it all together.