Since I’m working out my SEC predictions post, it stands to reason that I’m thinking hard about where I expect Georgia’s regular season to wind up from the relatively uninformed perch I occupy with a week-plus of preseason practice still to go. I haven’t made my mind up yet, but the header is a fair indication of where I’m basing my analysis; in other words, while I’m not quite ready to go out on a limb and call for ten regular season wins, my take on 2015 seems to be going from that mark as a starting point.
Georgia won nine regular season games in 2014. The funny thing about that is, before that season started, it’s about where most of us expected the Dawgs would wind up. Unfortunately, our expectations, along with a lot of other folks’, got ratched up along the way, which resulted in a mark that was simultaneously expected and disappointing.
With that in mind, looking for Georgia to add one more to the win column in 2015 isn’t that huge a reach. (It’s not a slam dunk, either, mind you.) But as I ask myself for justification, I keep coming back to four factors, in no particular order.
- The defense. I’m not all in, if that’s what you’re expecting. The descent of Todd Grantham is still lurking in the back of my brain. But I am convinced about a couple of things. One, there’s a clear increase in the level of talent that Jeremy Pruitt has at his disposal. And I think that’s going to payoff at every level of the defense, including the defensive line, probably the biggest area of concern from the end of last season. Two, as I’ve said, I’m a believer in a defensive coordinator’s impact on a defense in his second year of coaching. And before you yell Grantham’s name, think back to what happened in 2011, starting with the Mississippi State game and rolling all the way through the first half of the SECCG. That defense balled. (I look at Martinez as an extension of VanGorder’s regime, so he’s the exception that proves my rule, in case you’re wondering.)
- Advanced stats. Again, it’s not so much that I’m all in. It’s more that I can’t discount what they tell you about a team. And what they say is that Georgia’s operated at a high level, relative to most other programs. The problem, as we know all too well, is that Georgia hasn’t operated at a high level consistently. Which means advanced stats aren’t a guarantee of ten wins so much as they strongly indicate to me Georgia won’t be much worse than a nine-win team.
- Offensive strengths > offensive weaknesses. Really, if you must have questions about the starting quarterback and depth at wide receiver, how nice is that depth at running back and the quality of the offensive line to have as a fall back? As a bonus, if you look up and down the schedule, most of Georgia’s opponents are facing greater offensive woes than Schottenheimer has to work around.
- The schedule. More specifically, the early schedule, which sets up nicely for a certain game on October 3rd: two cupcakes, including the opener; an SEC road game against the division’s weakest opponent; and Spurrier coming to Athens with a team that has more questions than any he’s coached in a few years. Admittedly, there are no guarantees in life, but those four games are certainly amenable to sorting out the quarterback question, developing depth and giving the starters the opportunity to stay fresher. Not to mention there’s the potential momentum of rolling into that Alabama game as an undefeated top ten squad. If Georgia manages to make hay while the sun shines, it makes it that much easier to get to ten wins.
If I’m so rosy about all that, why two losses as a benchmark? Well, to start with, I think it’s prudent to figure on a split with the teams from the West, which is not to say that Georgia couldn’t surprise, but, still. And there’s that pesky brain fart factor. I don’t pencil in the Florida game as an automatic loss anymore (thanks, Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Jarvis Jones!), but I do pencil in one unexpected L until proven otherwise.
So… that’s where I’m at this Monday morning. Where are you?