1. Year Two - The difference between last spring and this spring will be pretty stark. We’ve been through a season and two recruiting cycles with Kirby Smart now. We know more than we did this time last year. There will be fewer surprises; fewer “what’s this going to be like” situations. This biggest difference this year is that the Bulldogs are, for now, the favorites to win the East and play in the SEC Championship. They’ve not been the consensus favorite for some time, and they’ve not been to Atlanta for that game over the last four seasons. Not winning the division and beyond cost Mark Richt his job. This is Kirby’s first best chance to get to Atlanta, and everyone will be watching.? The future may be bright, but the present isn't exactly dark.
2. Jacob Eason as the starter - Folks didn’t know for certain who would emerge from the quarterback tussle last season. During spring of last year, fans got comfortable with the idea that Eason could walk on water; that he would solve all of the Bulldogs’ problems of the past. Perhaps that’s what fans do best - provide unrealistic expectations. A year later, Eason suffered through the ups and downs of a freshman season starting in the SEC. Matthew Stafford did it as a true freshman, while David Greene and Aaron Murray did it as redshirt freshman… in all three cases productivity and team achievements improved dramatically the next year. Eason wasn’t asked to win a lot of games last fall, and he still won’t be the feature of the team, but he will have to do more in order for the Dawgs to get to Atlanta. Naturally, that’s an expectation that’s should happen. ?
3. The Return of The Duo - This time last spring, Nick Chubb was trying to recover from a gross knee injury. We couldn't know what his future would be like. Speculation was all over the place with regard to if Chubb would return in time for the season opener against UNC, and what he would be like when he did play. Sony Michel, this summer, injured himself in an off-the-field accident that put him out of the first couple games of the season. But after a season where the Bulldogs piled up 2,486 yards rushing behind an inadequate offensive line, Chubb and Michel announced they would return for their final seasons in Athens. That announcement moved the Dawgs from likely favorites in the East to solid favorites. We know what each of them can do. All they have to do is stay healthy (both have struggled with injuries the last three years), and hope the new offensive line is more functional than the last one… and that shouldn’t be too much to ask. ?
4. The New Offensive Line - Something had to change with this group, and it finally did - graduation. Gone are the days of Tyler Catalina being way over his head at left tackle, and Greg Pyke playing way out of position at right tackle. The Bulldogs will have to replace those two seniors with younger, less experienced, but likely more talented prospects they just signed in either the 2016 or 2015 recruiting class. The new line, which will certainly feature Isaiah Wynn and Lamont Gaillard and will likely feature Dyshon Sims and D’Marcus Hayes, is going to have to be put together by Sam Pittman. The veteran offensive line coach will have to figure out which other lineman - Ben Cleveland, Kendall Baker, Pat Allen, Netori Johnson, or whoever - will join the other four players in the starting lineup… and where they all go. Keep in mind that this is the first time in three years that the offensive line has had the same coach in back-to-back years. UGA will need to identify who the left tackle (likely Hayes, but it could be Baker or Wynn) and center (could be Wynn, Gaillard or Sims) will be. The development of the line is critical this spring. UGA’s offensive production will take major steps forward with a functional offensive line. ?
5. Filling in the Final Holes - There aren’t may problems on the defensive side of the ball. But UGA will have to find out who will start at star (where both players in the two deep from last fall are gone) and which players will be back ups and perhaps starters in the rest of the secondary. The Dawgs return four defensive backs who have started in the recent past, so getting into the rotation of actually playing is going to be a challenge for the likes of Mecole Hardman, DeAngelo Gibbs, Richard LeCounte and others. The front seven is pretty much locked down with very talented players who are coming back for their final seasons of college football.