The Georgia Bulldogs are coming off two memorable football seasons that have yielded 24 triumphs, two journeys to the Southeastern Conference championship game, one Rose Bowl and a Sugar Bowl.
Yet last season ended with a heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the SEC title game and a lackluster defeat to Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
"I hope the youth on this team buys in and becomes really good leaders," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said in New Orleans after the 28-21 upset. "We've got to have great leadership moving forward to get where we want to go. The guys who have left here set a standard, and we've got to raise that standard."
Georgia is expected to be in the national championship hunt for a third straight season later this year, but that quest will start Tuesday with the first of 15 spring practices in Athens. The Bulldogs return junior quarterback Jake Fromm, a likely Heisman Trophy candidate, and possess two new coordinators — James Coley on offense and Dan Lanning on defense — who received recent promotions.
Here are five questions that could get answered in the weeks ahead:
1. Will the edge rushers improve?
Smart lamented after last season that the Bulldogs had lacked speed off the defensive edge, something they had become accustomed to with the likes of Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Leonard Floyd. Georgia addressed that by signing Nolan Smith of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and Jermaine Johnson of Independence (Kansas) Community College.
Smith was the nation's No. 1 overall signee in the 2019 class, according to 247Sports.com, and amassed 14.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in eight games at IMG last season. Johnson was the nation's No. 1 junior-college defensive end after racking up 19 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks in 20 career games for Independence.
"I don't know that there are two better pass rushers in a single class across the country when it comes to speed," Smart said in December. "Jermaine can run, and Nolan can run. They've got to help us disrupt quarterbacks."
2. Is it Swift's show?
D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield posted nearly identical rushing numbers last season, with Swift carrying 163 times for 1,049 yards (6.4 average) and Holyfield 159 for 1,018 (6.4). Holyfield elected to bypass his senior season of eligibility for the NFL draft, leaving Swift clearly in front among a contingent that includes James Cook and Brian Herrien.
How much former five-star recruit Zamir White, who tore his ACL during a preseason scrimmage and redshirted, can do this spring also will be something to track in the backfield.
3. How will Mathis perform?
Georgia has 14 early enrollees, including four-star quarterback D'Wan Mathis from Belleville, Michigan.
With Fromm an established commodity and with former Bulldogs walk-on Stetson Bennett now on scholarship after a one-season stint at Jones County (Mississippi) Community College, the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Mathis is the quarterback who could offer the most intrigue.
"We like his athleticism and his arm motion," Smart said. "He's got a really strong whip. He can pop the ball, and we think a lot of him."
It would make sense for Bennett to begin the spring as Fromm's primary backup given his experience in the system, but could Mathis cause that to flip by the G-Day game on April 20?
4. Who steps up at tight end?
Much like Alabama, which must replace Irv Smith and Hale Hentges, the Bulldogs also are retooling at tight end after the departures of Isaac Nauta, Jackson Harris and Luke Ford. Nauta declared early for the NFL, while Ford transferred to Illinois after one season in Athens.
Charlie Woerner is a senior and the favorite for the starting role, with the backup spot a possibility for redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick or Eli Wolf, a graduate transfer from Tennessee who arrives this summer. Georgia has one tight end from the 2019 class, Ryland Goede, who is already enrolled, and another, Brett Seither, who will join the mix in June.
5. How many show up?
Smart certainly has adopted plenty of practices from his time under Nick Saban at Alabama, most notably his ability to recruit elite talent and then benefit from that talent.
Another similarity is robust attendance figures at spring games, with Alabama having packed Saban's first spring game in 2007 and Georgia doing the same for Smart's debut in 2016. The Bulldogs have averaged 80,489 fans in three spring games under Smart.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.