- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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This has to be the year of the Dawgs, right? I know we've seen this film before, and it doesn't end well for the boys is red and black. But, come on, this has to be the year Mark Richt's squad breaks through in Athens, right?
Georgia has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and is certainly the early, heavy favorite to win the SEC Eastern Division. But questions still linger at some important positions. Plus, is this team capable of beating the top team in the West?
No Eastern team has won the SEC since Florida beat Alabama in 2008. The East is due, right? In our look around the SEC at each team's chances to make the playoff, the Dawgs are up.
Why Georgia will make the playoff:
Nick Chubb: Just hand the ball off to him. After rushing for 1,547 yards (with just eight starts) and averaging a staggering 7.1 yards per carry, Chubb ended the 2014 season as one of the nation's best overall players. The freight train with a brain makes his opponents hurt, both mentally and physically with his punishing running style and his Playstation-like agility. In his eight starts last season (as a true freshman), Chubb rushed for 1,323 yards and didn't dip below 113 yards in any of those games. Chubb is durable and a leader. With four starters coming back on the offensive line, handing the ball to Chubb should always be the first option.
Stud linebacker corps: Whatever deficiencies Georgia has within its relatively unproven defensive line and whatever questions the Bulldogs' secondary might have will be masked by arguably the nation's best core of linebackers. While defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is still looking to lock down the middle linebacker spot, which he has some solid options for, he'll have no problem getting to the quarterback often with the trio of pass-rushers he has in Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd and stud youngster Lorenzo Carter. All three have NFL talent, and both Jenkins and Floyd easily could have left early for the NFL this year. All three can rotate in and out or line up together. Last year, these three combined for 25 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks and 59 quarterback hurries.
Unstable East: On paper, who is really going to challenge Georgia? Right now, Tennessee and Missouri are the only ones that are really on anyone's radar. Tennessee has 18 starters returning, but this team is still young and it's time for Butch Jones' team to win outside of the recruiting world. Missouri has won two straight SEC East titles, so the Tigers certainly can't be counted out, but with unproven wide receivers, young defensive ends and the potential loss of stud defensive tackle Harold Brantley, Mizzou doesn't seem as formidable at the moment. South Carolina needs a quarterback and a defense, while Florida has a new head coach and needs a quarterback and an offense. Kentucky needs a quarterback, playmakers and a front seven, while Vanderbilt is still a ways away under Derek Mason. The East should be Georgia's to lose.
Why Georgia won't make the playoff:
Unproven quarterback(s): When you're courting a graduate transfer quarterback like Everett Golson, you likely aren't as comfortable with your quarterback situation at the moment as you might be letting on. Richt said this spring that he thought all three of his quarterbacks at the time -- Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park -- were all capable of being Georgia's starter. Then, the staff went after Golson, Park transferred, and the team signed Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert. Chances are this is Ramsey's job to lose, but there's obviously a little bit of caution. He has the most experience in a Georgia uniform (eight games/333 yards), but he hasn't started a game or taken hold of this team. Having Chubb as a safety net is enormous, but you still have to throw the ball down field, and right now, we don't know how effective Georgia will be at that.
Georgia: So this might sound like I'm piling on and living in the past, but we've seen what happens when the Dawgs have a ton of hype thrust upon them. Remember that supposedly unstoppable 2008 team? Richt hasn't won the SEC since 2005 and since has gone 0-2 in SEC championship games. One was a beatdown by an LSU team the Dawgs had on the ropes in the first half. The second was a heartbreaker a year later against eventual national champ Alabama. Last year, the East was there for the taking for the Dawgs and their dreams were crushed by an embarrassing blowout against a gimpy Florida team. The Mizzou team that won the East got boat raced 34-0 at home to Georgia. If Georgia is going to win the SEC, it will have to get out of its own way in 2015.