Georgia wasn’t supposed to be in the College Football Playoff this year. Not this soon. Kirby Smart had an uninspiring 1st year in Athens, finishing 8-5 and losing three home games.
When sophomore starting QB Jacob Eason injured his knee in the opener and the Bulldogs had to turn to true freshman QB Jacob Fromm for a trip to Notre Dame in Week 2, the season looked bleak. Eason was a Top 10 national recruit, dubbed the “Next Matt Stafford” by Georgia fans, and his injury was supposed to derail the season.
Nearly four months after that 20-19 win over Notre Dame, the Bulldogs are in the Playoff, just secured the best recruiting class in school history (a staggering six 5-star recruits) and are on the cusp of the Next SEC Dynasty.
How’d it happen so quickly?
For starters, Fromm shocked everyone with his poise and accuracy (21 TDs, only five INTs) behind a young offensive line – just one senior – and rode his two future NFL backs when it mattered most. The defense, with seven seniors and two early-round NFL linebackers, dominated in the SEC and Georgia finished 12-1. The Bulldogs won their first SEC Championship since 2005.
But the real reason Kirby Smart and Georgia are on the cusp of surpassing Alabama as the next SEC dynasty is because of what happened on the recruiting front.
The SEC hasn’t produced a 1st round QB in the NFL draft since Johnny Manziel, but the Bulldogs have two Top 20 recruits on the roster, and they’ve signed a 3rd in Justin Fields, the #2 rated prospect in the Class of 2018.
It’s nearly impossible to replace two senior stars – RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel – but two incoming freshman are 5-star recruits: James Cook is the 17th-rated player in the Class of 2018 and Zamir White is rated 7th.
The offensive line will be experienced – and two of those 5-star recruits are lineman. There’s real optimism in Athens about just how good this Georgia offense could be next year. Smart is a sharp defensive mind, having spent 2008-2015 as the Alabama defensive coordinator. He’ll have to work magic next year on a defense that will need to be overhauled, but the schedule is favorable, with the most difficult game being at LSU (first meeting in Baton Rouge in 10 years).
The non-conference games include Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State and UMass; plus a rivalry game against Georgia Tech.
Regardless of what happens against Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in the semifinal, the Bulldogs are going to be one of the favorites to win the National Championship in 2018.