ATLANTA – With Georgia’s season now down to two intriguing, yet ultimately meaningless games (Georgia Tech and the TBD Bowl), it feels like the right time to start looking ahead to next year. Heck, Coach Mark Richt did just that with his jaunt last weekend to Seattle.
So here are the five most important players to Georgia’s 2016 turnaround, one that will be necessary to restore order in Athens.
5. Jacob Eason, Freshman QB
The highly-touted recruit is expected to enroll early and challenge for the starting quarterback job from Day One. True freshmen QBs are rarely game-changers in major college football – although Josh Rosen is showing this year at UCLA that it’s not impossible. If Eason comes in as good as advertised, it will go a long way toward alleviating one of the glaring deficiencies of the 2015 Dawgs.
4. Terry Godwin, Sophomore WR/KR
As the Dawgs brace for wideout Malcolm Mitchell’s departure this offseason, we could easily be talking about rising junior Isaiah McKenzie in this spot. Instead, the nod goes to Godwin.
The former five-star recruit has seen his playing time steadily increase over the course of his freshman season, leading to 23 receptions for 267 yards and a touchdown. He’s also gotten plenty of play in the “Wild Dawg” formation, as well as in the return game. Whoever gets the offensive coordinator job (I mean, we all know that change is coming, right?) should spend plenty of time drawing up plays and schemes for this emerging superstar.
3. Trenton Thompson, Sophomore DT
The nation’s most-heralded recruit has made a marginal impact on the Dawg defense in his freshman year (25 tackles, 0.5 sacks). The coaches believe in Thompson’s future and he should be a fixture along the defensive line in 2016. At 6′ 4″ and 307 lbs., Thompson has the type of body and athleticism that could help bolster the Dawg run defense.
2. Leonard Floyd, Senior OLB
As much as the defense will rely on the promise of youngsters like Thompson, Jeremy Pruitt’s unit will really need the leadership provided by veterans like Floyd. If the versatile linebacker (67 tackles, 4.5 sacks) opts to put off the NFL and return for his senior year in Athens, the Georgia defense should be considered a strength of the team and help them challenge Florida and Tennessee in the SEC East.
1. Nick Chubb, Junior RB
We knew what a talent Chubb was after filling in for Todd Gurley during the latter half of 2014, but no one really understood what Chubb meant to the team until a knee injury ended his sophomore season back in October. Since that injury, the Georgia run game – and the offense as a whole – has been listless, as evidenced by the team’s three frustrating conference losses.
A healthy Chubb means the offense gets back its star, its leader and a crutch for whoever emerges from the quarterback competition. Assuming all is right with his knee, Chubb should have the Dawgs back in contention in the SEC East and will have a shot at ending Georgia’s long Heisman drought.