Meet Phil Steele’s number one preseason surprise team for 2014:
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia was a much stronger team at the start of last season than the one that finished 8-5 with a loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. The key to the downfall of their season was a huge amount of injuries at the skill positions on offense. This season’s team caught a break from last season’s misfortune, as quarterback Hutson Mason got in nearly three games of experience at the end of 2013. He will also be surrounded by my No. 2 set of running backs in the country, led by Todd Gurley, and my No. 10 set of receivers. The offensive line is a bit of a question but does have 54 career starts among its members.
Last season, they had just three returning starters on defense, and, as you would expect, the inexperienced unit allowed 29 points per game. This season they have eight returning starters, led by a linebacking corps that I rank No. 1 in the country. In 2013, they played Clemson and South Carolina in back-to-back weeks but have a bye between them this time. I really like new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s attitude on defense, and keep in mind he has coached on the past three national championship teams (Alabama 2011 and 2012, Florida State 2013) and could make it four in a row here.
For what it’s worth, last year’s pick was FSU.