We continue our SEC season previews with Georgia.
Key question heading into Kickoff Week: People want to know who the starting quarterback will be against the Tar Heels, but freshman Jacob Eason is going to be the guy sooner or later. What's really on the minds of folks in Athens is the health status of running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb, who suffered a horrific knee injury in the middle of last season, appears to be getting closer to 100 percent, but practice legs are completely different from game legs. Michel is still recovering from a broken arm he suffered in early July and his status for the game is uncertain, as he was not taking contact earlier this week.
Make-or-break stretch: The teeth of the season start Sept. 24 and ends Oct. 29. That stretch begins with a trip to Ole Miss, followed by a home game with East-favorite Tennessee, a road trip to South Carolina, Vanderbilt at home, and then that annual trip to Jacksonville, Florida, to take on the Gators. No one is picking the Bulldogs to win the East, but if they want a shot at the title, they'll have to get through this time of the season relatively unscathed.
Position battle to watch: Quarterback. That's it. Yes, there are questions on the defensive line and at linebacker, wide receiver and left tackle -- but no one really cares. It's all about the guy throwing the ball. Actually, it's all about Eason eventually winning the job. Greyson Lambert, who started the majority of the games last year, has fallen into Eason's shadow, as has Brice Ramsey, who is also competing for the punting job. Lambert or Ramsey could win the job for Week 1, but how long will that last? Considering how talented Eason -- the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2016 recruiting class -- is, it's only a matter of time before he takes over.
Instant impact freshman: The Bulldogs actually have a few freshmen who could make an immediate impact. But it's Eason. The kid from Washington will eventually take over the reigns as Georgia's starting quarterback, earning All-Freshman SEC honors. He might not lead the Dawgs back to Atlanta in December, but his legend status will only grow in Year 1.
Best case: Chubb is fully healthy and gets back to his old self, helping every quarterback that sees the field. Eason grows into his own midway through the season and has no problem taking over as the Bulldogs' starter. The defensive line grows up in a hurry, thanks in large part by the maturation of tackle Trenton Thompson, taking pressure off a relatively new linebacker corps. Wins over Tennessee and Florida help propel Kirby Smart to the SEC title game during his first season as Georgia's head coach.
Worst case: Chubb just can't run with the same power and elusiveness he had the past two seasons. Michel's injury-prone nature continues to plague him, throwing even more pressure on an unproven passing game. Eason still becomes the quarterback, but his offensive line, which has questions at left tackle, is never settled, leaving the frosh running for his life. The defensive line continues to underperform, leaving too many holes in the defense. A Kickoff Week loss to North Carolina stings, but not as much as losses to Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida.