ATHENS — It has been 10 years since Georgia’s last Southeastern Conference championship in 2005.
For impatient fans, it’s not enough that the Bulldogs have played in two SEC championship games in the last four years. Just making the trip to Atlanta isn’t enough.
Georgia coach Mark Richt must pick a new starting quarterback in preseason practice. Even with that big unknown, there is great anticipation that 2015 could be a special season.
Nick Chubb’s emergence as the next great Georgia tailback is the biggest reason for championship hopes. The big-play potential of several young linebackers in defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s second season is another reason for confidence.
A Sept. 19 visit from South Carolina, which has won four of its last five games against the Bulldogs, will be crucial. A brutal stretch of October games begins with a visit from Alabama and also includes tough tests against improving Tennessee, two-time SEC East champion Missouri and Florida.
South Carolina, Alabama and Missouri visit Athens.
“Let’s find a way to get to Atlanta,” Richt said. “Let’s get the job done when we get there and move on to the playoff. That’s what it’s all about.”
Richt is entering his 15th season, and at 55 he’s showing some signs of having the longest active run of a coach at a SEC school. He looks fit but he added a gray goatee during preseason camp and joked about his thinning hair.
“It’s a lot cooler up top,” Richt said with a smile as he rubbed the top of his head.
Chubb’s power runs are the best bet to keep the heat off Richt.
He closed his freshman season with eighth straight games with at least 100 yards, including 266 yards and two touchdowns in the Belk Bowl win over Louisville.
Some things to watch for in Georgia’s 2015 season:
QB DERBY: Greyson Lambert transferred from Virginia as a graduate student to join Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta in the quarterback competition. Ramsey, a sophomore, was the top backup to 2014 starter Hutson Mason. Richt says the decision on the starter will be based on spring and summer practices, not last year. Lambert started nine games at Virginia last season but lost his starting job in the spring. The competition could go all the way to the Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
LINEBACKER DEPTH: Georgia must replace leading tacklers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, and still there may be more depth at linebacker — especially outside — than any position on the team. Jordan Jenkins, Lorenzo Carter and Leonard Floyd are big-play leaders in the middle of the defense. The three combined for 15 ½ sacks last year. Tim Kimbrough could be the new leading tackler at inside linebacker. Highly rated freshman Roquan Smith could earn immediate playing time.
TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW: Georgia led the SEC with its school-record 41.3 points per game in 2014, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo left to become Colorado State’s coach. Brian Schottenheimer, the former St. Louis Rams and Jets offensive coordinator, left the NFL to replace Bobo. Richt believes Schottenheimer’s philosophy was a close match for Georgia’s pro-style offense. Expect some spread formations with a continued emphasis on Chubb.
NICK AND HERSCHEL: Chubb’s 1,547 yards rushing tied with Garrison’s Hearst’s 1992 total as the fourth-best in school history. The only Georgia back to gain more yards rushing in a season was Herschel Walker, who posted the top three totals. Chubb’s 266 yards against Louisville rank only behind Walker’s 283 against Vanderbilt in his 1980 freshman season.
CATCHING UP QUICKLY: Some freshman wide receivers, including Michael Chigbu of New Orleans, may have to play immediately. Depth was a big problem at the position in the spring, and already Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring) and Justin Scott-Wesley (knee) have injuries this summer. Another top freshman receiver, Terry Godwin, has returned from a shoulder injury he suffered early in camp.