Of the four teams that are favored to grab the College Football Playoff spots, Georgia was the one I had the most doubts about coming into the season. While the Bulldogs are clearly the coming force on the national landscape—as evidenced by their eclipsing Alabama on the recruiting trail last offseason—I wondered if the best players in this program were still a little too young.
The offensive line was a perfect illustration of both the strengths and the concerns. A unit that was good last season in leading the way for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, brought back three starters. One of them was left tackle Andrew Thomas, the SEC’s best at his position. But Thomas is also only a sophomore—and if you dig into the two-deep depth chart, you find that seven of Georgia’s top ten offensive lineman are freshman or sophomores.
It was for that reason that I had a closer eye on Georgia than I did on the other favorites, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. And it’s why I had a particular interest in what might happen on Saturday when they went to Columbia to play SEC East rival South Carolina. After the Dawgs delivered a 41-17 dismantling and looked just vastly superior to a team that’s pretty good, my doubts are considerably alleviated.
The schedule is shaping up well for a team that wants to integrate explosive young talent into its lineup. The two most talented divisional rivals—Tennessee and Florida—have already suffered bad losses. If Georgia loses anytime before a mid-October trip to LSU, it will be a serious upset. After that trip to Baton Rouge, the toughest game is a home date with Auburn. All it takes is a split of those two games and the Dawgs will quite likely arrive at the SEC Championship Game in control of their Playoff fate.
Chubb and Michel are now in the pros and the offense is being retooled around the multi-purpose talents of De’Andre Swift. Quarterback Jake Fromm will have to prove he can be more productive than last year, when Georgia ranked 12th in the 14-team SEC in passing offense. If Fromm can’t do it, a five-star recruit in Justin Fields will get his chance.
Another five-star to keep an eye on is corner Tyson Campbell. If he can develop quickly, he’ll give the Dawgs a lockdown corner combo that includes senior DeAndre Baker. Add strong safety J.R. Reed to the mix and you’re suddenly looking at perhaps the best secondary in the nation.
For those of us in our forties, college football is a different world than the one we grew up in, where returning starters and experience were the most important predictive factors. Now it’s about finding the impact underclassmen and no team will depend on that more in 2018 than Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs. The early returns on Saturday were awfully good.
Here’s the updated edition of TheSportsNotebook’s Top 11, the number of power conference teams that will make the New Year’s Six, along with the leader of the race for the 12th spot that goes to a team from the mid-majors.
The most notable change this week is that Stanford moves into the Top 11 after their impressive win over USC in the most significant game of Week 2. The Cardinal replace Notre Dame, who was sluggish in a win over Ball State.
CURRENT PROJECTED MATCHUPS
Cotton (CFB Playoff): Alabama-Ohio State
Orange (CFB Playoff): Georgia-Clemson
Fiesta: Boise State-Stanford
Peach: Penn State-Virginia Tech