BACK ON TRACK
Georgia coach Mark Richt hasn't won an SEC title since 2005, and in his 15th season in Athens he'll have to integrate a new offensive coordinator and overcome uncertainty at quarterback. At least he has Nick Chubb. As a true freshman last season the 5'10", 220-pound Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns in place of the injured Todd Gurley; he's now the focal point of a backfield that includes a healthy Keith Marshall and Sony Michel.
Chubb's success persuaded new OC Brian Schottenheimer to keep Georgia's pro-style scheme. "We know the offense," senior tackle John Theus says. "It's just a matter of putting in the work." Theus and three other starters return on the line, and that experience should help the quarterback, who will emerge from a competition among redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey and juniors Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert, a transfer from Virginia.
The Bulldogs finished 17th in the nation in total defense in 2014 but must improve, particularly on third down. Linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins are the unquestioned leaders, and five-star freshman tackle Trenton Thompson should make an impact. "I expect the majority of guys will have a better sense of exactly what we want to get done," Richt says, "and how to get it done."
A three-week stretch early on could seal the Bulldogs' fate in the SEC East. They travel to Tennessee on Oct. 10 before hosting two-time division champ Missouri, then face rival Florida in Jacksonville on Halloween. A win over Georgia Tech in the finale will be essential to offset an otherwise weak nonconference slate: Louisiana-Monroe, Southern and Georgia Southern.
Jordan Jenkins, a senior outside linebacker, had 9½ tackles for loss and five sacks in 2014 while leading the Bulldogs with 24 QB pressures. Jenkins spurned a shot at the NFL to make a bigger impact in Jeremy Pruitt's system, which allows him to bounce around the front seven and lets other playmakers—such as fellow outside 'backers Lorenzo Carter and Leonard Floyd—get on the field at the same time.
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
Brian Schottenheimer is going to be great for them. There's no substitute for coaching pro football and having to deal with young quarterbacks, and they have to find and develop a quarterback this season.... They're going to have two of the top five running backs [Nick Chubb and Sony Michel] when they both come out in the draft. I'm not sure Chubb has the same home run speed that Todd Gurley had, but he's so hard to wrap up and tackle.... They play two-back or three-wide, so they're pretty vanilla. They just rely on the talent to make plays.... They're going to miss David Andrews at center. In fact, they're probably concerned about their depth at offensive line. But Chubb makes them a good line anyway, because he doesn't force them to hold their blocks that long.
DAVID E. KLUTHO FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (CHUBB)
JOE ROBBINS/GETTY IMAGES (JENKINS)