FILe - In this April 16, 2016, file photo, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason throws during the first half of their spring intrasquad NCAA college football game in Athens, Ga. Freshman Jacob Eason, the biggest prize in Kirby Smarts first recruiting class, sh
John Bazemore, File
August 12, 2016

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) The championship mandate for new Georgia coach Kirby Smart could not be clearer.

Mark Richt's firing despite a school-record .740 winning percentage left no question about Georgia's goal of glory. Averaging almost 10 wins per season was not sufficient when his era ended with a 10-year title drought.

Richt closed his 15-year run trailing only Vince Dooley on the list of most wins at the school. Richt took Georgia to the Southeastern Conference title game in one-third of those 15 seasons, but he won only two - none since 2005. Richt, now Miami's coach, never claimed a national title.

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity chose Smart, the former Alabama defensive coordinator and former Georgia player and assistant, as the man who can bring the Bulldogs their first national championship since 1980.

Smart must pick a quarterback to lead the way.

Freshman Jacob Eason, the biggest prize in Smart's first recruiting class, should eventually take over at quarterback. Eason (6-foot-5, 211 pounds) has size, a powerful throwing arm and an impressive list of national high school player or back of the year awards.

Eason enrolled early for spring practice but couldn't immediately win the job over returning starter Greyson Lambert, the Virginia transfer, or junior Brice Ramsey. That three-way race continued through the start of preseason practice.

Smart has kept a close eye on top tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as they recover from left knee and left forearm injuries, respectively. Chubb has practiced with no limitations and could be cleared for the opener against North Carolina.

Here are some things to watch:

CHUBB WATCH: Chubb had 747 yards rushing with seven TDs when he tore all the ligaments except the ACL in his left knee on the first play of the sixth game against Tennessee last season. Chubb was the 2014 SEC freshman of the year, when he ran for 1,546 yards and 14 TDs.

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Chubb looks strong in his comeback.

''I see Nick Chubb as being the player he has been before and hope he can continue to do so,'' Chaney said. ''I mean, he's a downhill running son of a gun, so let's hand him the ball and see what he can get done.''

SMART ON DEFENSE: Smart is working closely with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

''It's not Mel's defense. It's not Kirby's defense,'' Smart said. ''It's UGA's defense. ... We won't be taking credit as coordinator. We won't be taking credit as head coach. Nor will we be getting blamed should things not go well one game. But I'll be spending the majority of my time on the defense, because that's where I feel like I can be the biggest asset.''

SEASON OPENER: There will be a big-game atmosphere when Georgia opens in the Georgia Dome against North Carolina, which is coming off an 11-win season. It will be Georgia's first opener in Atlanta since 2011.

KEY GAMES: Tennessee, the choice at SEC media days to win the SEC East, visits on Oct. 1. The Bulldogs play at South Carolina the following week and face Florida in another division matchup on Oct. 29 in Jacksonville.

Georgia will face Auburn on Nov. 12 in the first of three straight home games to close the regular season, including a visit from Georgia Tech on Nov. 26.

PREDICTION: Georgia will fall short of winning the East in Smart's first season, especially with the uncertainty at quarterback, but should finish in the top three of the division at 9-3 overall.


AP college football website:

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)