Georgia’s 2016 season, for the most part, was disappointing by its standards. At just 8-5, the Bulldogs were out of SEC East contention by October and seemed perpetually stuck in mediocrity for most of the season.
Still, Georgia finished the season with some positive momentum, winning both its bowl game and in recruiting as of late as it begins looking toward its 2017 campaign.
Following the Bulldogs’ 31-23 win over TCU in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30, Georgia coach Kirby Smart was looking ahead toward the future where he believes bright days are ahead for the program.
“I think it does a lot for us,” Smart said. “(But) I really believe that, whether we won or lost today’s game, this program is heading in the right direction.”
Going into next season, Georgia will have seven returning starters on offense, 11 on defense and four on special teams.
Of those returning players include four who could have made the early jump to the NFL had they elected to do so. Running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, as well as outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, all announced at a joint press conference well before the bowl game last month that they were returning for their senior seasons.
Another key returner will be freshman Jacob Eason, who could prove to be a potential game changer at quarterback after becoming acquainted with the college game as a starter this season. Neither Tennessee nor Florida are expected to have that at that position – at least to the same extreme.
“You got to climb, you got to work, and that’s what this team is going to do,” Smart said after the Liberty Bowl win. “They’ve done that all year, they’ve fought and they’ll continue to do that. It certainly helps that 8-5 is better than 7-6, but neither one is where we want to be and we acknowledge that. We know we have to have a better offseason, and a large portion of our team is coming back.”
Outside of those returning are the new ones who are coming. In the immediate days following the Liberty Bowl alone, Georgia picked up commitments from four-star safety Deangelo Gibbs, four-star athlete Tray Bishop and three-star inside linebacker Monty Rice for a recruiting class that already ranked third nationally, including second in the SEC.
Georgia has had its potential discussed for some time now. Going into next season, it seems the Bulldogs have all the makings of at least taking a significant step toward reaching that standard.
(You can follow Dan Mathews on Twitter @DanMathewsATL)
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