This preview will contain: Brief recap of last season; 2016 schedule; 3 most important players; 3 most important games; 2 biggest questions that will be answered during the season; and prediction for the season.
The Bulldogs finished last season 10-3, making it four of the last five years that they reached 10 wins (certainly explains the firing of Mark Richt I know, but that is a different conversation for a different day). UGA went 9-3 during the season and capped it all off with a win over Penn State in the Tax Slayer Bowl. They defeated their in-state rival Georgia Tech to end the regular season, but unfortunately they lost arguably the other three most important games of their season: at home against Alabama (blown out by 28), at Tennessee (where they had a 24-3 lead late in the first half) and against Florida in their annual meeting in Jacksonville, FL (where they were clobbered 27-3).
Unfortunately, one of the biggest blows of the season came from the first offensive play of Tennessee game. Stud running back Nick Chubb took the hand-off on their play, and then proceeded to get tackled in a way that caused significant damage to his left knee (although it did not damage his ACL) and caused him to miss the rest of the season. Chubb was right in the Heisman race when he went down (6+ games, 92 carries, 747 yards, 8 total TDs) , and although Sony Michel filled in admirably (13 games, 218 carries, 1,136 yards, 11 total TDs), Chubb is a special sort of player, so no one can truly replace him. If Chubb can stay healthy, then there is no telling what might happen this season.
Week 1: Saturday, September 3 vs. North Carolina at the Georgia Dome (@ 5:30 pm on ESPN)
Week 2: Saturday, September 10 vs. Nicholls State at Stanford Stadium (@ noon on SEC Network)
Week 3: Saturday, September 17 @ Missouri @ Faurot Field in Columbia, MO (@ 7:30 pm on SEC Network)
Week 4: Saturday, September 24 @ Ole Miss @ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, MS (time and channel not yet released)
Week 5: Saturday, October 1 vs. Tennessee @ Stanford Stadium (N/A)
Week 6: Saturday, October 8 @ South Carolina @ Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC (N/A)
Week 7: Saturday, October 15 vs. Vanderbilt @ Stanford Stadium (N/A) (Homecoming)
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Saturday, October 29 vs. Florida @ EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL (N/A)
Week 10: Saturday, November 5 @ Kentucky @ Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY (N/A)
Week 11: Saturday, November 12 vs. Auburn @ Stanford Stadium (N/A)
Week 12: Saturday, November 19 vs. UL Lafayette @ Stanford Stadium (N/A)
Week 13: Saturday, November 26 vs. Georgia Tech @ Stanford Stadium (N/A)
*Schedule from fbschedules.com
3 Most Important Players
- RB Jr. Nick Chubb
Chubb suffered a gruesome injury last season in their game against Tennessee. Chubb was able to get playing time his freshman year after now-NFL Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley got hurt. His significant playing time that season (219 carries, 1,547 yards, 16 total TDs) was obviously due to Gurley’s injury, but that doesn’t matter. Chubb, as a freshman, put up incredible numbers. He is a freak athlete who, despite a horrific-looking injury, I still have in the top five of my preseason Heisman list (in case you are wondering, the other four: LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, and FSU’s Dalvin Cook; sleeper to watch for: USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster).
- LB Jr. Lorenzo Carter
Lorenzo Carter has some big shoes to fill. Leonard Floyd (1st round pick of last year’s NFL draft to the Chicago Bears) and Jordan Jenkins (3rd round to the New York Jets) are gone. Carter and fellow linebacker Davin Bellamy will need to really step up this season. Carter is supposed to be the more talented of the two, so I am putting him here. Bellamy had a better season last year, but Carter appears to be primed for a breakout campaign. And I think he will. Last season, Carter disappointed. He only recorded 19 total tackles compared to 41 his freshman season in 2014. In 2014 had 4.5 sacks, while not recording a single one last season. Carter was even demoted to the 2nd team. But in order for UGA to have the year they want, which we all know would be winning the SEC East, Carter has to be the player that he showed lots of flashes of being his freshman year.
- Whoever plays QB
This one is obvious. Quarterback is the most important position. Every team has at least a decent running back (in the SEC anyways), but those without at least a pretty good quarterback, are worthless (see: Auburn, 2015; they were picked to win the SEC by a lot of people last season, but the QB play was horrendous and thus so was the team as whole). Greyson Lambert had his moments last season (see: South Carolina last season), but he is not a good enough QB in the SEC. He was not even that great with Virginia (9 games, 59% completion rate, 1,632 yards and more interceptions than touchdowns). And please do not try to convince me that Brice Ramsey is a viable option. He’s not.
Lambert and Ramsey obviously are at least a little talented, or they would not be able to even be on the team at UGA. Lambert has been announced as the starter for their opener, but we all know who needs to start for UGA. There is always the risk you take when starting a true freshman at QB in that he might struggle early and then lose all confidence. But Jacob Eason is not your typical freshman. Eason was a 5-star recruit (according to 247sports; Lambert: 4-stars; Ramsey: 4-stars). Eason, who has been touted by many in the fan base as “The Savior”, is expected to be quarterback of the future for the Bulldogs. I, like many, would certainly rather have him be able to redshirt for a season and learn from a decent, experienced quarterback, but UGA does not really have that option. They do, however, have some really talented receiving threats, including another true freshman in tight end Isaac Nauta. With all of the offensive weapons that UGA has, Eason ought to be able to step in and play pretty well, since he should not have to be asked to do a whole lot, making him the right choice to start early.
3 Most Important Games
Week 1: vs. North Carolina 9/3 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA @ 5:30 pm on ESPN
The North Carolina game is a very important game for Georgia. The Tar Heels are not an easy opponent for UGA to start the season with, especially if Eason ends up being their quarterback. North Carolina was a blown off-sides penalty from legitimately having a shot at knocking off Clemson in last year’s ACC championship game and was selected to repeat as division champ at media days. If new head coach Kirby Smart‘s first season at UGA is going to go well, they have to get off to a good start by beating a really good North Carolina team.
Week 5: vs. Tennessee 10/1 at Stanford Stadium in Athens, GA (time and channel N/A)
Last season (as discussed earlier), UGA had a big lead against Tennessee late in the 1st half before the game fell apart and Tennessee came back and won. And it was also the game that Chubb was lost for season. And in case there was a need for more motivation for this game, Tennessee was picked at media days to win the division. The Vols have a lot of hype surrounding them and have a lot of talent returning. Personally, I think Tennessee will be very good this year, but UGA will also be better than they have been in recent years, plus they get this matchup at home.
Week 9: vs. Florida 10/29 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL (time and channel N/A)
42. That is the combined amount of points that Florida has outscored UGA over the past two seasons. Florida is also the reigning division champs, and as the saying goes, to be the best, you have to beat the best. The “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” is a super important game for fans of both of these two teams. There is certainly a possibility that both teams will still be in the hunt for the division when this game comes around, so a lot could be on the line. And you always want to beat your big-time rivals.
- Honorable Mention-Week 13: vs. Georgia Tech at Stanford Stadium in Athens, GA (time and channel N/A)
This game did not make into the top 3 due to it being at the end of the season. It is not that this game isn’t important, but UGA has dominated this series in recent years (won 10 of the last 12). Georgia’s SEC matchups are more important this season with it being Smart’s first season as a head coach, and the North Carolina game will set the tone for the rest of the season. But as I said about the Florida game, a lot of bragging rights will be on the line between two rivals.
2 Biggest Questions to be Answered this Season
- Who will be the starting quarterback/Will Eason be the QB everyone thinks he will be?
Lambert has been named as the starter for at least the very beginning of the season, but I am guessing that that will not last long. Eason is super talented, but he is also only 18 years old. Starting Lambert right away is understandable, as he does have experience, and they are facing a really tough opponent, but to be honest, if Eason is playing as well as Lambert in practice (which coming out of practice sounds like he might be), I do not see why they should not go ahead and start him. He’s got to get his feet wet eventually, and if UGA wants to actually compete for a SEC East title, or even a SEC title, then Eason needs to be the starter.
All of that being said, if Eason does get substantial playing time, and I think he will, it will be interesting to see how he handles it. When he throws an interception, what will his reaction be? Will he let it fester? Will he be able to come back out and completely put it behind him? What about when he throws a touchdown pass? Will he get too cocky and start trying to impress and end up throwing interceptions? What about with the game on the line? Will he try to force throws and blow it? There are lots of questions about the young man that obviously cannot be answered until he gets in the situation, but we should get those answers this season.
- How will Kirby Smart do as a head coach?
Kirby Smart gets his first head coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Georgia. Smart certainly had a phenomenal teacher in Nick Saban over the past several seasons as he was Saban’s defensive coordinator. Smart has been speculated about a lot over the past few seasons about leaving Alabama and taking a head coaching job somewhere, which is why when UGA decided to part ways with Richt, it really wasn’t a surprise that Georgia jumped on him quickly. It certainly helped UGA’s chances to get him in that Smart played for the Bulldogs in college, and I think he is a great hire.
He had one big job that he immediately had to take care of when took over, and that was getting Eason to still come to UGA. And he did it. So, so far, so good off-the-field.
It will be interesting to see how he handles different situations during the game, and how long it takes him to pull the trigger on Eason and let him take over. When the future will start (aka at least the next three seasons with Eason under center) will probably be the most important decision he has to make during the season. But how he does in his first full season as a recruiter will also be an important question that will need to be answered to determine just how well he does overall in his first full season.
I see UGA with four definite wins (Nicholls State, Missouri, South Carolina, UL-Lafayette). I do not see any guaranteed losses, although the game at Ole Miss was certainly close to being one. So my prediction for the season? 9-3, 6-2 in the SEC. North Carolina is a really good team, and if this game were played later in the season, I might give UGA the benefit of the doubt, but I think the Tar Heels will win a very close game. I also don’t like the aforementioned Ole Miss game for UGA. It is on the road, and even though Ole Miss lost a lot of talent to the draft from last year, they still have a lot of talent returning, and Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is a very difficult place to win. The other loss…to Tennessee. Yes, the Tennessee game will have all sorts of story-lines going in to it, including a lot of revenge on the side of UGA, but Tennessee is really, really talented, and I think they only lose one game this year, possibly two, but regardless winning the division.
That being said, after the loss to the Vols, I see UGA winning out, including beating Florida and later Auburn, capped off with an all-important win over state-rival Georgia Tech. 9-3 might not be as good as fans are wanting from Smart in his first season at the helm, but I only see good things in UGA’s future, and next year should be a very big season for UGA with all of their talent…that is unless they go-ahead and exceed expectations this season and come out and dominate and take the division crown earlier than expected.
I can’t wait to see what happens.
Because I like to do predictions (in case you have not noticed), here is my playoff prediction (order of teams is random): Florida State, Oklahoma, Michigan…and LSU (you have no idea how bad I wanted to put Tennessee here, but I decided against it as LSU should be crazy good this season.
*All stats courtesy of SR/College Football