SEC Team Preview Series: Georgia
Welcome to WNSP’s preview series to get you ready for SEC Media Days. Each day, we will preview a new team in the conference and get you ready for football season. We’ll take a look at what Vegas has their win total set at, make a prediction, and talk about their season outlook. Today’s team: The Georgia Bulldogs
Players to watch:
Offense: QB Stetson Bennett, RB Kenny McIntosh, TE Brock Bowers
Defense: CB Kelee Ringo, DT Jalen Carter, EDGE Nolan Smith
O/U Win Line: 11
Dave Schultz’s Pick: PUSH
Mark Heim’s Pick: Over
Lee Shirvanian’s Pick: PUSH
Nick Wiggins’ Pick: Over
Michael Brauner’s Pick: Over
With this being the first of the final three previews and us saving the two local teams for last, it’s finally time to take a look at the national champs. Can you believe it? What a time it’s been. No matter what happens this year, Bulldogs fans will never again have to hear mockery of 1980, or lament over their inability to take down Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. They finally made it over the hump. But don’t let that fool you, Kirby Smart is not satisfied nor is he complacent, not anywhere near it.
From his time working under Saban at Alabama, he knows exactly what it takes for sustained success the likes of which they are after in Athens, and he certainly will not allow his team to rest on their laurels, even as the defending champs. The Dawgs do lose a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball, but now Smart’s recruiting and development will be put to the test. Let me just get this out of the way now: this team is going to win the SEC East and play for an SEC Championship, likely in a rematch against Alabama. I don’t have any real reason to think otherwise.
But let’s take a look at both sides of the ball and see if anyone can take down the champs this year. On offense, Stetson Bennett is back at quarterback. Bennett was criticized for a significant portion of 2021 but played a phenomenal Orange Bowl against Michigan and did enough in the National Championship to help his team win. Is Bennett going to win you ball games? Probably not, but if he can play smart, not turn the ball over, and do just enough, Georgia should still have an elite defense and Bennett will not cost them games. They do have options behind him if he is not working out, namely redshirt sophomore Carson Beck and redshirt freshman Brock Vandagriff, who was a former 5-star recruit.
Around Bennett, assuming he wins the job, while they do lose leading receiver Jermaine Burton to Alabama, Adonai Mitchell and Brock Bowers are back, along with Arik Gilbert, who is hoping to make an impact since a rocky start to his career after being one of the highest rated tight ends in history. Kenny McIntosh should be the lead bell cow along with Kendall Milton. On the line, three of five starters are back, and Georgia should continue to run the ball with success.
After a season in which the Dawgs defense was historically good, perhaps one of the best of all time, of course the question on everyone’s mind is how big of a step back will they take? And while expecting the same numbers is unrealistic, Kirby Smart has created a talent assembly line that produces fast, strong, and smart defensive players that are ready to compete. Kelee Ringo returns after his championship heroics and will be one of the best cornerbacks in the country, Jalen Carter was one of the most talented pieces of last year’s unit, and Nolan Smith is another example of someone who is ready to become a superstar rather than just a chess piece as he steps into a bigger role in 2022.
So, while the Dawgs do lose a lot of production that will be tough to replace, I do expect this defense to still be among the nation’s best. Initially, I had this picked as a push because it is just so difficult to go 12-0 two years in a row. But looking at their schedule, I just don’t know who beats this team before the inevitable clash with the Tide in Atlanta.
I think Oregon might give them a game week one with former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning now the head coach for the Ducks, but they will not win. Facing Tennessee and Auburn at home should be wins. Perhaps they could slip up at Kentucky or at Mississippi State or against Florida in Jacksonville, but I’m certainly not betting on it. I’ll take the Dawgs at 12-0 and we’ll see what happens after that.