Since 2001 we haven't had to think much about the Georgia Bulldogs and what to expect from them. Under Mark Richt we knew they were going to be prepared and stocked with good players and that they would always be dangerous. Unfortunately, we also always knew that they were prone to a frustrating gaffe or two or to find another way to fall just short of expectations.
Well, now Richt is in charge at Miami and we have to re-evaluate pretty much everything we know about the program and how it runs. Kirby Smart takes over the program after being an assistant at Alabama since 2007 and the defensive coordinator since 2008. The 40 year old has never been a head coach, but he won four national titles, twice won a national coordinator of the year award, and was the highest paid assistant in football, so he comes into this role with serious credentials despite the lack of direct experience. He also played defensive back at Georgia quite successfully at the end of 1990s, so he knows the school well, and the fans know and love him.
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Key Additions and Departures
On offense there are some questions. There are two starters gone from an offensive line that wasn't very good last year, so they need to get things in line there in a hurry. Smart knows it, too - he hired offensive line coach Sam Pittman from Arkansas and paid him a stunning amount of money for a position coach. Smart isn't an offensive guy, so a coordinator was going to be very important for him, and he chose well - Jim Chaney is a talented coordinator who works well with quarterbacks. That will be crucial because the team faces a big challenge at QB. Things set up as a battle between fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert, who started much of last year, or true freshman Jacob Eason, the blue-chip prospect that is the future of the program.
The good news is that they are deep and stable at skill positions - especially if running back Nick Chubb comes back well from knee surgery.
The Bulldogs had the top-rated pass defense last year - though Alabama exposed them - and they return their secondary intact. The defensive line isn't hugely experienced, so they will be relying on freshmen and sophomores to make big impacts. There is some serious blue-chip talent to draw from, though, so the potential is high. Linebacker is a much bigger concern. They lost three starters, headlined by Leonard Floyd, who was picked ninth overall in the draft. They lost a tremendous amount of both leadership and productivity here and will have to work hard to overcome the departures.
Smart is a defensive superstar, and as coordinator he has Mel Tucker, who coached DBs at Alabama last year after several years as a DC in the NFL, so they certainly have the brainpower to deal with the attrition effectively.
Georgia Bulldogs Schedule Analysis
It's the SEC, so the schedule is never going to be easy. It could be worse, though - they don't play either Alabama or LSU. They also play an absolute joke of a nonconference schedule - Nicholls State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Tech shouldn't be a challenge, and North Carolina is tougher but still far from intimidating.
There are potential pitfalls in the schedule, though - a two-game combo late in September of Ole Miss on the road and Tennessee at home is just brutal, and playing Florida is always tough for the Bulldogs. The other four conference opponents are as easy as could be - Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are all at the bottom of the conference, and Auburn is fairly toothless right now.
2016-17 Georgia Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Georgia at +2800 to win the National Championship, which places them 12th overall. They are the fourth choice to win the SEC at +900, though they are far behind favorite Alabama and LSU and Tennessee. They are the second choice to win the SEC East at +200, behind Tennessee at -125. BetOnline set the season win total at 8.5, with the "over" favored at -135.
The team wasn't particularly useful last year from a betting perspective - they were just 6-7 ATS despite their 10-3 record. They were much more useful against the total, though - they went "under" in 10 of 13 games.
2016-17 Georgia Predictions and College Football Picks
It was time for a change at the top at Georgia, and it is hard to be anything but positive about the Smart hire. Still, I can't help but feel like we are a year away from seeing the full payoff of the move. In a year Eason should be established and comfortable, and the defense should be more comfortable and experienced. There isn't a game on the schedule that they can't win, and there is a good reason that that over 8.5 wins is favored, but there will be some inevitable and frustrating growing pains as the team moves into this new era.
Good team with flashes of great perhaps, but not a viable contender just yet.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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