The three-time defending SEC East champions are back, but the Georgia Bulldogs will have plenty of questions to answer this fall. Jake Fromm was the man under center for three straight division titles and their 2017 SEC Championship, but can Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman and/or USC transfer J.T. Daniels replicate his success. How will Georgia’s traditional run-heavy offense react to the departures of De’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien. Is the defense good enough to keep the ‘Dawgs at the top of the division? Let’s take a look.
Top Returners: George Pickens, Richard Lecounte III
Georgia’s offense was decimated by departures for the NFL. Fromm’s somewhat surprising decision to declare early has left questions about how probable starter Newman will transition from the ACC to the SEC. Herrien and Swift are gone out of the backfield, and that leaves returning leading receiver George Pickens as the clear top returner in this Bulldog offense. Pickens will be crucial in Georgia’s offensive scheme; he led the Bulldogs with 727 receiving yards, which led the team by over 250 yards, and found the endzone eight times, a mark that was greater than any non-quarterback.
Defensively, Lecounte seems like a promising pick for SEC Defensive Player of the Year, although he will have some stiff competition in that department. On Georgia’s defense, he’s their clear top returner after doing it all in 2019 with 61 tackles (4.5 for loss), 3 passes defended, 3 fumbles recovered, two forced fumbles, and four interceptions. An absolute beast all over the field, Lecounte will be the focal point of the Georgia defense in 2020.
Biggest Concerns: Run Game
Yes Georgia has a long history of pumping out NFL talent at running back. Between Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and now Swift and Herrien, the tradition is strong in Athens. But that doesn’t change the fact that they will again have to deal with massive losses at the position. Zamir White (408 rushing yards in 2019) appears the favorite to take over the lead back role in Kirby Smart’s offense, and while his 5.2 yards per carry was excellent last season, can he maintain that efficiency with a far greater workload in 2020? And who can complement his efforts in the backfield? There’s definite questions to be answered in this department for Georgia.
X-Factors: Jamie Newman, Monty Rice
Newman is an obvious selection here. The dual-threat signal-caller comes to Athens from Wake Forest, where he tossed 26 TDs to 11 INT. With division rival Florida closing the gap and returning Kyle Trask under center, Georgia needs Newman’s transition to the SEC to be almost seamless. One tell-tale stat from the Jake Fromm era was that he was winless in his career when needing to attempt more than 30 passes. Can Newman handle that workload, which may be required if the run game doesn’t do much for the Bulldogs? His adjustment period and production for Georgia is a clear X-Factor that may determine the ceiling of this team.
Defensively, I’m looking to Monty Rice to step up in a big way for Georgia. He led the team in tackles last year with 89, but the inside linebacker recorded just three of those for loss and zero sacks. Lecounte can do a lot for the Georgia defense, but if Rice can up his game from productive defender to a game-changing linebacker, that Bulldog defense is going to be a piece of work to face in 2020.
SEC Record Prediction: 7-1
I like the Bulldogs to make it four straight division titles, as they’ll represent the SEC East once more. Their SEC-opening road trip to Alabama is cause for concern, but their other crossover battle is a home date with Auburn, who I think Georgia will handle. Outside of that, I think Kirby Smart’s squad runs the table in conference play, with their closest call being a ‘neutral’ field clash with Florida in Jacksonville, Florida.