Now that spring practice has officially started in the SEC, we figured we would take a page out of the Big Ten blog's book and look at the state of each SEC program, using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching and current and future personnel as indicators. We'll kick things off with a week-long look at the SEC East Division -- including Georgia today -- before checking out the West next week.
Up next: Georgia Bulldogs
2015 record: 10-3 (5-3 SEC)
Three-year record: 28-11
Coaching situation: Georgia is venturing into new territory after casting aside the stability that came with 15 seasons of Mark Richt’s leadership. Some Bulldogs fans would argue that “stagnation” would be a better word than “stability” in the previous sentence. The fact of the matter is that Richt had developed a reputation for winning consistently -- the Bulldogs won 10 games in each of the last two seasons, after all -- but failing to fully capitalize on his in-state recruiting advantage and a weakened SEC East. Fair or not, Georgia pushed Richt out of the way and hired first-time head coach Kirby Smart, a former Richt assistant and UGA alum. Smart developed a sterling reputation as Nick Saban’s longtime defensive coordinator at Alabama, but this will be his debut as a program’s ultimate decision-maker. He has surrounded himself with a veteran coaching staff with ties throughout the state and Southeast, which will help, but Smart still must prove during the season that he has the right stuff to be a successful head coach. He clearly has the fan base on his side at this point.
Roster situation: Quarterback is perhaps the biggest question mark as Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Jacob Eason prepare to compete for the starting job throughout the spring and summer. But the Bulldogs entered 2016 with questions at multiple positions: the offensive line, wide receiver and throughout the defensive front seven. This is hardly an untalented roster, but there will be significant lineup turnover this year following the departures of veterans Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Jenkins, John Theus, Leonard Floyd, Jake Ganus, Chris Mayes, Kolton Houston, Sterling Bailey and Keith Marshall. The production gap at receiver between Mitchell and the returning players -- led by sophomore Terry Godwin -- is particularly alarming. The backfield still looks great, particularly if Nick Chubb returns to the form that made him one of the nation’s top running backs up to his gruesome season-ending knee injury against Tennessee last fall. A healthy Chubb and Sony Michel would give Georgia one of the SEC’s top backfield combinations, which would help take the stress off the quarterback and receiver positions early in the season.
Recruiting situation: After one signing period, it does not appear that this will be a problem for Smart and his coaching staff. Although he did not accept the Georgia job until Dec. 6 and split his time between Alabama and Georgia until after the Crimson Tide won the national title, the Bulldogs still reeled in ESPN’s No. 7 overall class. It included 13 ESPN 300 signees, led by five-star tight end (and early enrollee) Isaac Nauta. UGA is conveniently situated in one of the most fertile recruiting territories in the Southeast, as the metro Atlanta area produces more SEC players than anywhere. Richt’s staff almost always signed a top-10 class, but Smart’s goal is surely to fare even better. The next year will tell us a lot, but Smart seems to be off to a good start. The Bulldogs already have commitments from four members of ESPN’s Junior 300, including the No. 8 overall prospect for 2017, Richard LeCounte III.
Trajectory: Up? It’s easy to win the first offseason after being hired. The fans who had grown tired of the Richt regime are excited about their shiny new toy. Excitement and enthusiasm surround the Georgia program as Smart seems to say and do all the right things to excite his fan base. Plus he’s a homegrown coach, which only adds to the positivity. But if his team lays an egg in the opener against North Carolina, the fans’ tone will change quickly. This seems to be a great hire with six months left until the Bulldogs play their first game. It seemed that way at Florida too, when the Gators hired Smart’s old buddy, fellow UGA alum and former SEC defensive coordinator Will Muschamp -- only that decision did not work out so well. Any prediction today about Georgia’s trajectory would be nothing more than guesswork. Let’s see how Smart fares once the season begins.