Georgia Football: 5 Reasons the Bulldogs Should Be Optimistic About 2016
The 2015 college football season has officially come to a close, and the Alabama Crimson Tide are the national champions. That's exactly where the Georgia Bulldogs want to be a year from now, so starting this week, head coach Kirby Smart will be hard at work trying to nail down more recruits by national signing day.
The Bulldogs finished the 2015 season with a 10-3 record, but all three losses came in conference play, which led to them missing the SEC title game for the third consecutive year. And of those three losses, two of them came against Alabama and Florida, the two teams that later faced off in the SEC title game.
However, as disappointing as last season was for Georgia fans, 2016 looks very promising, and the Bulldogs have a great chance to make a lot of noise next season.
Here are five reasons why the Bulldogs and their fans should be optimistic about 2016.
The first reason is the most obvious. The Kirby Smart era has begun, and the new coach brings a lot to the table.
Smart does not have any head coaching experience, but he worked under Alabama head coach Nick Saban for eight years. Because of that, Smart brings with him four national championship rings and a ton of knowledge about how to be consistently successful.
Let’s not take anything away from Mark Richt. He was able to do something that former Georgia coaches Jim Donnan and Ray Goff couldn’t, and that’s win SEC tittles and have 10-win seasons regularly. But Richt was never able to take the Bulldogs to the next level, and fans are hoping Smart can replicate his success as a defensive coordinator with the Crimson Tide in Athens.
The biggest issue for the Bulldogs this past season was the inconsistent quarterback play. Greyson Lambert put up modest numbers as a starter, but he was not able to play well in big games, specifically against Alabama, when he completed only 41 percent of his passes and threw one interception.
That’s why the signing of Jacob Eason was vital for the Bulldogs. He is the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country, according to 247Sports, and he has already enrolled at Georgia. He has the tools to be an elite quarterback at the college level, and he will give the Bulldogs a chance to contend for an SEC title.
If he becomes the starter in 2016, he will have his share of growing pains like any other freshman quarterback. But there will be occasions when he'll make some big throws, and fans will understand why he was so highly rated by the scouts.
Whoever ends up starting at quarterback will be happy to have Nick Chubb behind him.
Last season, Chubb was on his way to becoming a Heisman finalist when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee in October. His loss altered the Bulldogs' offensive approach for the rest of the year.
That won’t be the case in 2016, as Chubb should be 100 percent by the time the Bulldogs meet North Carolina in the Georgia Dome for the season opener.
Chubb is known for his speed, power and balance. Like Alabama's Derrick Henry, Chubb has the ability to break off a big run at any time during the game and shift momentum in his team's favor.
Sony Michel is a great back who rushed for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns this past season. But Chubb is the impact player the Bulldogs need on offense to get to where they want to go.
The Bulldogs defense played well last season, finishing first in the FBS in pass defense. And one key reason the Bulldogs had the best pass defense in the country was the play of Dominick Sanders.
According to Jason Butt of the Telegraph, Sanders came to Georgia “late and unheralded.” He was a consensus 3-star prospect, according to GeorgiaDogs.com, and not highly ranked in the country or in his state at his position. That hasn't been an issue for the strong safety, though. He recorded six interceptions this past season, tying him for first in the SEC and seventh in the FBS.
In two seasons, Sanders has picked off nine passes, including six last season. It’s clear that he has a way of finding the football when it’s in the air. And new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who was the defensive backs coach at Alabama this past season, will find ways to get Sanders in position to create big plays, which will make the defense even better in 2016.
Speaking of coordinators, the Bulldogs defense should have no issues with Tucker because he will use the same 3-4 scheme used at Alabama when he was working under Smart. On the other side of the ball, new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is a guy Bulldogs fans should be excited about.
Chaney has plenty of experience as an offensive coordinator in the college ranks. He was at Purdue from 1997 to 2005, Tennessee from 2009 to 2012, Arkansas from 2013 to 2014 and Pittsburgh last season. His results have been mixed, but he is known for running various offensive systems.
This is good for the Bulldogs, because a change in offensive philosophy might help them be more productive than they were last season. Chaney can use the power-run philosophy because of Chubb, or he can install the spread attack if Eason becomes the starter.
Chaney gives the Bulldogs plenty of options on offense, which is something former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer did not do last year.