“There’s nothing more that’s going to help me at the University of Georgia than winning a national title at the University of Alabama.”
I understand and respect Smart’s decision to stay on through the playoffs, but I can think of a few things off the top of my head besides a couple of Alabama wins that Georgia’s head coach could do which would be more beneficial to Georgia.
He’s been Georgia’s quarterback of the future for about a year and a half now, and Jacob Eason reaffirmed on Tuesday that he’ll still enroll at Georgia in just a few short weeks. It’s pretty amazing that a top prospect from the opposite side of the country would stick through two coordinator/position coach changes and even a head coaching change. That speaks to many things, but it’s a special feather in the cap of Mike Bobo and Mark Richt to have built such a solid foundation in recruiting Eason that it could survive these events. They didn’t just sell Eason on themselves; it was the whole package – the school, the town, the current players, and even the other prospects considering Georgia.
It also speaks to Eason’s levelheadedness. He didn’t jump ship when Richt left or when the offense struggled in 2015. Many fans assumed that Eason wouldn’t stick through the Bobo departure and certainly not through the head coaching change. Yes, he considered his options. That was the prudent thing to do – it would have been foolish not to have had a plan B if Georgia went a different direction with its coaching and scheme. He covered his bases, gave Smart and Chaney an opportunity to make their case, enjoyed a visit with future and prospective teammates, and concluded that “it all got cleared up.”
And so he’ll enroll for spring semester and enter the competition at quarterback. I expect most fans will find spring practice both fascinating and frustrating. All eyes will be on Eason, but I’d be surprised if a 2016 starter emerges.
Then there’s the 2016 season itself. Most of us expect Eason to emerge as the starter, but when? Eason is fabulously gifted, but he’ll have plenty of bad habits to break and a much more sophisticated offense to learn. Even Zeier and Stafford – two quarterbacks similarly heralded – didn’t claim the job exclusively until October of their respective freshman seasons. Smart, with the experienced help of Chaney, will have to manage the transition while avoiding the distraction of a quarterback controversy. Public pressure to play Eason will begin as soon as Eason takes the practice field.
Ideally you’d want a schedule that allowed Eason to ease into the role. 2015 would have been a best case – two easier SEC opponents and two light nonconference games. That’s not the case in 2016 – Georgia starts the season against an ascendant UNC program and will play two SEC road games in September. The Dawgs will need a poised and capable quarterback right from the opener. Do you let Eason take his lumps with the hope that he’ll have figured things out in time for the trip to Oxford?
There have been a few recent developments that might affect Georgia’s quarterback roster. First, Oklahoma reserve Trevor Knight will be a graduate transfer and is considering Georgia. Knight’s track record might look a little too similar to that of Greyson Lambert: former starter, gave way to another quarterback, graduate transfer. Knight was more accomplished as a starter than Lambert though, and he might be a good player to have on the depth chart.
The second development is one reported earlier this week by UGASports.com($). With Brian Schottenheimer no longer a part of the program, Brice Ramsey might have a renewed interest in playing quarterback and could even play in the bowl game. It’s not unheard of for coaching changes to breathe new life into stagnant careers, and a player expected to start the 2015 season might jump at the chance for a fresh start.
The possibility is there that Eason could have a good enough spring and camp that the coaches throw him right into the fire against the Tar Heels. A more likely outcome is that someone else starts the season – be it Ramsey, Knight, or, yes, Lambert. Smart’s experience suggests that he’ll place an emphasis on ball control and a lack of mistakes, and that might not be the strengths of a true freshman. With a capable set of running backs and a good group of defenders returning, coaches will have to consider what attributes at the quarterback position give the team the best chance to win.
Georgia was selected for the TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly Gator Bowl) in Jacksonville. The game will be on Saturday January 2nd at noon with ESPN providing the broadcast. Bryan McClendon will lead the Dawgs into the postseason as the interim head coach. This is the first meeting between these storied programs since the 1983 Sugar Bowl where Penn State knocked off #1 Georgia 27-23 to deny the Dawgs and Herschel Walker the 1982 national championship. Dawg fans of a more recent vintage will recognize Penn State coach James Franklin whose Vanderbilt team upset Georgia in 2013 in Franklin’s final season in Nashville. If you need a score to settle, pick 1983 or 2013 – whatever works for you.
Penn State finished the regular season 7-5. The Nittany Lions have two wins over bowl teams – Indiana and San Diego State. Georgia’s win over Auburn was their only victory over a bowl team. After a 7-2 start PSU lost their final three games against a back-loaded Big 10 schedule.
Both teams will be going through transitions. Georgia of course will play without their 2015 head coach and both coordinators. Penn State dismissed their offensive coordinator after a disappointing season despite having NFL prospect Christian Hackenberg at quarterback. Freshman tailback Saquon Barkley has been the most consistent element of the offense. Still, the PSU offense has struggled due to a weak offensive line that’s allowed a glut of sacks and negative plays.
Ordinarily we’d relish the thought of Georgia’s pass rush going against a paper-thin offensive line and a pro-style quarterback who had been sacked 39 times in 2015. If Georgia’s seniors and NFL-bound juniors haven’t mentally checked out, this could be one nice last showcase for someone like Floyd or Jenkins. That’s a big if though – some stars mentally collecting NFL checks playing uninspired ball without their beloved coordinator could do more harm than good. Hopefully they’ll make the most of one final live audition for the scouts.
As good as Georgia’s pass rush could be, Penn State leads the nation in sacks with 44. Senior DE Carl Nassib is the Big 10’s defensive player of the year. He’s been limited down the stretch, but it’s expected that he will play in the bowl. Georgia looks to put up a little more resistance, allowing just 13 sacks in 2015. If Georgia’s seniors on the offensive line want a taste of what they’ll face at the next level, they’ll be going up against some top NFL talent on the Penn State defensive front.
So both teams feature stingy defenses and some big questions on offense. Predictions of a low-scoring game make sense. Turnovers, special teams plays, or an explosive play by a healthy Michel, Mitchell, or McKenzie could put Georgia over the top in a close game.
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If there’s a lesson here, it’s just business. Once Mark Richt was fired on Sunday, he was under no obligation to Georgia fans or even Georgia’s players. I don’t begrudge him (and definitely don’t blame him for) jumping at an opportunity to get away from the awkward situation that was on full display in Monday’s press conference.
Part of me is glad that Richt is taking the Miami job. It would have been nice to have had him around the program to continue his developmental and networking programs, but a figure that beloved and successful would have cast a long shadow. It was similar with having Vince Dooley around in the 1990s, but at least Dooley was the athletic director with the accepted chain of command that comes with the AD position and – more importantly – had left coaching more or less on his own terms.
I understand that it takes some time to process change, and the great man Richt is makes it even more difficult. But he has moved on, and so should we. If he hasn’t already, he’ll soon be on the phone to prospects to build Miami’s recruiting class. When that happens, he becomes the competition – perhaps not to the extent he’ll be going up against Florida and FSU and other ACC programs, but Miami and Georgia have frequently been involved in recruiting battles. Georgia has had some good results bringing players out of South Florida, and Richt will be attempting to lock down that area.
We wish him well and will always respect him and possibly even pull for him (especially against Tech!), but those well-wishes have to stop where his interests conflict with ours – and they will. I was and will remain a fan of Richt, but I’m a Georgia fan first, and Mark Richt no longer represents our program.
I wasn’t in favor of dismissing Mark Richt. I recognized that the investment in the program at the end of the 2014 season was going to take some time to begin to pay off, and I believed that Richt had earned the right to coach through that period.
The past few weeks have been a heavy case of deja vu. I remember standing in the parking lot tailgating for the Belk Bowl and the rampant rumors of retirement and whether the bowl game was a referendum on Richt dominated the conversation. With that game in hand, it looked as if Richt had “won.” The program received an infusion of staffers, reorganized the strength program, and it went out and spent money on an offensive coordinator – money that it oddly wasn’t willing to offer outgoing coordinator Mike Bobo. Even if these investments were made grudgingly after a semi-public showdown between Richt (with Pruitt as a proxy) and the administration, it still looked as if Richt had bought himself some time.
Yet less than a year later, here we are again. The program again stumbled in October, but by winning out (even if by the narrowest of margins), it looked as if Richt had steadied the ship. But there was still unrest under the surface. For different reasons, neither coordinator was on solid ground. The horrible experiment and gameplan for Florida with the division title on the line seemed to be the breaking point, and not even four straight wins to end the season could reverse a decision that had been set in motion weeks ago.
A justifiable decision
Even those of us who might disagree with the move must admit that there’s solid reasoning for it. It starts with titles, and there have only been a couple of division titles in a weak SEC East since 2005. Georgia’s performance against ranked teams – those it would consider peers – has dropped off in recent years.
Richt’s desire to become more hands-on with an offense and its quarterbacks was palpable in his Monday press conference, and it was no coincidence that some of the more mundane details that a CEO-style coach must manage were some of Richt’s weaker points as a coach. Roster management has long been an issue, and it was rare that Georgia’s best offenses synced up with its best defenses. Special teams, a strength of Richt’s first few teams, developed maddening inconsistency.
One of the more important administrative details a head coach must handle is assembling a staff. You can go all the way back to the decision to elevate Willie Martinez to defensive coordinator. You can point to the tumultuous years with Todd Grantham. Most recently Brian Schottenheimer proved to be the wrong choice to replace Mike Bobo – even those who expected Richt to stick around did so with the understanding that there would be more changes to the offense after just one failed season with Schottenheimer. A series of poor hires after 1997 brought down Jim Donnan much more quickly, and once again the composition of the staff proved to be a key factor in the downfall of another head coach.
A high bar
It isn’t just that Mark Richt had a career winning percentage of 74% or nine (and possibly ten) 10-win seasons. He’s dominated several of Georgia’s biggest rivals. His success against Tennessee and Auburn was more in line with Georgia’s historical performance against Georgia Tech, and he took the Tech series to a whole new level.
Fans might be accustomed to Georgia winning two out of three against UT and AU and nearly every Tech game now, but it would be a noticeable decline if any of these series returned to “normal.” (Though of course the new coach still has work to do to bring the Florida series back in line.)
Some of the more predictable reactions to the news have come from outside the program – the media and fans of other teams claiming to be shocked or even offended that Georgia would part ways with such a successful coach and great man. Those crazy Georgia fans with their unreasonable expectations. Let’s not pretend that many of these same pundits and reporters haven’t been pushing Mark Richt Hot Seat stories for so long and with such frequency that it became a running gag. Be surprised that Georgia finally pulled the trigger or be sad for the man, but don’t kid us that a move you’ve discussed and debated for over six years is suddenly beyond the pale.
Richt made it a point to draw from and highlight Georgia’s rich football tradition. Some of it was very visible – the Dawg Walk became the focal point of the game day experience. Other actions were less public but just as important. He brought back honorary captains to connect current players with some of Georgia’s greats. He made a big deal out of the Governor’s Cup and took that rivalry with Tech much more seriously than some fans might. Other new coaches, whether out of insecurity or ego, make a clean break to avoid being overshadowed by the past. Richt used Georgia’s legacy to help grow a championship program.
For the wins and losses, complaints and praise, it’s moments like this that defined Georgia football under Mark Richt and why many fans are having a hard time taking the news.
No one does it better than Georgia. Mark Richt made sure of that.
It’s no surprise to Georgia fans, but Tennessee has had to answer for the condition of its field after recent home games against South Carolina and North Texas. Maybe they’ll have it figured out before Georgia’s next visit in 2017.
You haven’t heard this much about containment outside of Cold War foreign policy. Yes, setting the edge and avoiding last year’s staggering failure against the run is important. Georgia’s done fairly well over the past couple of games limiting a couple of capable tailbacks. Jalen Hurd was held to 80 yards, and Russell Hansbrough was a non-factor.
The issue then becomes Treon Harris. While Georgia was bottling up Hurd in Knoxville, Josh Dobbs ran for over 100 yards and accounted for over 400 yards of total offense. He did his damage on straight running plays but also bought himself time until receivers came open. Harris, while not as experienced or polished as Dobbs, is capable of similar production if Georgia pays too much attention to Kelvin Taylor.
Harris wasn’t asked to do much against Georgia last year, and why would he have been? His backs were doing just fine. Harris still ended up with 5 yards per carry on six rushing attempts. You’d expect him to be a little more involved this year in an improved Florida offense. With the running game struggling against LSU, Harris threw for 271 yards against a suspect Tiger secondary. He was aided by his receivers turning receptions into long gains: all six Florida players who caught a pass had at least one reception over 15 yards, and three players had a reception go for at least 30 yards.
Georgia received some good news along the defensive front this week – Jordan Jenkins, Chris Mayes, and John Atkins seem likely to return to action. Leonard Floyd turned it up at the end of the Missouri game and seems to be back home outside. The shoulder that limited Floyd at the end of 2014 was already a factor in the 2014 Florida game, but he’s in good health now. There’s quality depth too: Bellamy, DeLoach, and Bailey are veterans, and Trent Thompson seems to get better weekly.
The Florida offensive line is a bit of a miracle considering the shape they were in during the spring, but there still have been some issues with consistency. The line was a big part of their win over Ole Miss, but they’re near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. Early physical play from the Georgia defensive front, especially freshman Jordan Jenkins, set the tone for a hard-fought win in 2012. Georgia didn’t take advantage of a patchwork Tennessee offensive line, and there won’t be many bigger opportunities for redemption.
While Georgia’s performance against the run cost them the game last year, it was the 9th time in 14 games that Georgia had scored 20 or fewer points in Jacksonville. The Dawgs are 4-1 against Florida under Richt when breaking 20 points and 1-8 when they don’t.
The Dawgs got out to a 7-0 lead last season and looked to be rolling, but they couldn’t extend the lead. A 3rd-and-2 Chubb rush at midfield was stuffed. Georgia then forced and recovered a fumble but missed a field goal. Florida took the momentum with their fake field goal and ripped off a quick 14 points. This was still a 14-7 game at halftime, but Georgia’s offense never got going again while the Gator rushing attack took over in the third quarter.
Meanwhile back in 2015, Georgia’s offense hasn’t contributed more than 17 points in a game since Southern a month ago. They’ve had a few weeks now to sort out the approach to the running game without Chubb. Michel was dinged up against Missouri but still ran fairly well and is healthier after a few days off last week. The Dawgs missed those explosive runs though, and hopefully Michel’s hip pointer was the difference. They’ll also have to do a better job of getting to the edge, whether with Michel or with receiver sweeps, and perimeter blocking needs to take a big step forward.
It’s anyone’s guess what we’ll see from the passing game. Not to harp on the midseason injury thing, but Reggie Davis hobbled off after the opening kickoff against Missouri and limited Georgia’s deep threat. Isaiah McKenzie should be back too, and we’ll see if he can contribute anything beyond special teams. Malcolm Mitchell could draw extra attention from Vernon Hargreaves, one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Both teams have talented sets of tight ends, but Florida’s TEs have been far more productive.
It will be a significant challenge to break that 20-point barrier against this Florida defense. The Gators are top four in the SEC in both total defense and scoring defense. Their line, anchored by standout Jonathan Bullard, is third in sacks and will be a stiff test for a Georgia offensive line that has allowed only eight sacks this season.
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The Super Detergent Salesmen from Tusculoosa will visit the Sanford Kennels to try out a new Flea and Tick Soap on Vince Dooley’s K-9s, and if the Dogs ain’t ready for this wash job they could get a sudsing they’ll remember for a long time. The Water Walker from Alabama is famous for puttin’ a hurtin’ on the Bulldogs, and he has the equipment to do it again, but the Bear might be surprised by the new Bulldog Breed he’ll run into on his trip to Athens. The Red Clay Hounds are hungry and fond of Elephant meat, so I’m inclined to think the Pachyderms will get lightened up considerably in their hind quarters. Leonard’s Loser: Bama by 7
Chris Brown of Grantland and Smart Football wrote during the summer of 2013 about an emerging approach to offense called “packaged plays”. Offenses combined options for run and pass within a single play that could lead to very different decisions and outcomes based on what the defense showed. The concept allows for offenses to push tempo by keeping play calls simple (or even unchanged) while keeping the defense guessing. Brown illustrated with just one play from Ole Miss that included all of the following:
Ole Miss combined a five-yard hitch route to the single receiver to the left, an inside zone, a quarterback read-option keep, and a receiver screen to the offense’s right. And as a final wrinkle, their tight end ran an “arc” release to block an outside linebacker.
We’ve seen these plays spread throughout college football and even the NFL, and variants like the pop pass are some of the most well-known / infamous / notorious plays in college football’s recent history. Now it appears to be Georgia’s turn. Whether you call it a “packaged play” or an “RPO” (run-pass option) in Schottenheimer’s NFL-flavored playbook, the idea is the same. Of course as the Senator points out, Lambert’s lack of mobility reduces (but doesn’t entirely eliminate) the QB run option, but Georgia’s variety is more likely to be a handoff combined with the option for a quick slant or WR screen – exactly what we saw against South Carolina.
Georgia’s October 10th game at Tennessee will be at 3:30 on CBS. It will be Georgia’s third appearance in the SEC’s marquee slot. Another scheduled CBS broadcast for the Florida game means that at least half of Georgia’s SEC games will be on CBS. Three remaining SEC games (Missouri, Kentucky, and Auburn) haven’t been picked up by any network yet.
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The Banner-Herald highlights an issue I’ve been stewing over for a month or so. I’ve been a season ticket holder for women’s basketball for a little more than ten years. This summer, we received a letter alerting us to a ticketing change:
Season ticket holders will be located in six sections…with general admission seating offered in those sections on a first-come, first-served basis. Seats in those six sections will be reserved for season ticket holders until the five-minute mark of the first quarter.
No more reserved seating. A “season ticket” (at the same price as before) will now only buy you access into certain restricted sections before the game with no guarantee of a specific seat or section. Shortly after tipoff, all sections will become general admission.
The rationale is this: between unsold reserved tickets and no-shows, fans are scattered throughout the seating area. Making tickets general admission should lead to a crowd that is more compact and closer to the court. That should increase crowd involvement and noise and help the homecourt advantage. A “season ticket” that allows access to specific sections prior to tipoff is offered as a premium.
This plan is similar to something Georgia tried during the 2014 NIT. Tickets were sold as general admission, but Basketball Enhancement Fund contributors received priority on seating in Sections D, E, and F. I’ll admit – it worked. Crowds were small but close the court and involved in the games. Still, it was an ad-hoc ticketing plan for a postseason event for which Georgia only had a couple of days to come up with a way to distribute tickets. Men’s basketball went right back to reserved seating for the 2014-2015 regular season.
The difficulties come from how people actually attend games. It’s the difference between fans and administrators who perceive a problem (“we need a better homecourt advantage”) but who attend games with credentials rather than tickets. These are just a few examples of some practical concerns you’d hear from season ticket holders:
The most loyal boosters are offered a “chalk talk” before the game where coaches discuss the matchups and state of the team. It’s a fantastic perq. With the new plan, these fans must either claim seats and leave personal items behind or risk losing their seat while away at the chalk talk. These are also the fans most likely to have season tickets, and this booster club was not consulted on the change.
Fans coming from the Atlanta metro struggle to make it much before the 7 p.m. weeknight tips. They’re left to take what seats are available.
At $40, a season ticket is steep but not out of reach for fans of teams with large followings (think UT or South Carolina) who want to take over premium sections.
Fans have built up relationships with those sitting around them year after year. Areas of different sections have even developed their own personalities as groups of friends and families congregate in their familiar locations. Now they must deal with the inconvenience and stress of saving seats, hoping they arrive on time to sit with friends, and accepting that they might have to watch this game from another section.
Yes, these are largely minor inconveniences. But why intentionally inconvenience your best fans? The experience of going to the game is now diminished by the uncertainty of where you’re going to sit and with whom. My friend Red put it well: “What’s the point of having season tickets?” If the concern is filling up the lower bowl, I have much less of a problem with allowing fans to claim unused seats after five minutes.
Decisions like this usually come down to money, but I can’t see how this move will result in more revenue. Fans can now just buy tickets to the subset of games they plan to attend. The timing is odd, too. The program is on shaky ground, there’s a new and unproven head coach, and the last time we saw the team on the Stegeman court they scored a whopping 26 points. At a time when the athletic department should be building excitement for the renewed energy in the program, they unnecessarily piss off the people most likely to buy in.
All that said, I renewed my tickets. I’m willing to still support the program, and I guess we’ll see how this turns out. I expect that a lot of us will gravitate towards the seats we’re used to. I’ve been a fan long enough to know what loyalty will get you, but with more and more games on the SEC Network, I expect I’ll have a tougher decision in a year.
Georgia’s adventures with special teams has been a topic of questioning and criticism (and sometimes just bewilderment) as long as Mark Richt has been here. It probably surprised some readers to learn that Georgia’s kicking specialists were sometimes left to work on their own.
CBS’s Jon Solomon has an interesting piece demonstrating how that’s the norm across college football. Even dedicated special teams coaches rarely have experience with kicking – Solomon found that only two special teams coaches at Power Five schools have a kicking background. The article goes deeper into how many top programs approach their special teams coaching and why there are so few kicking coaches in the college game. We usually associate special teams coaches with coverage or returns, but who coaches the kickers? Often it’s themselves.
It explains why we sometimes hear about specialists going back to work with private instructors. They’re just not getting that attention from their college teams. And with so little kicking experience on most staffs, kickers seem to prefer no attention to the wrong kind of attention.
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As preseason camp comes to a close, the biggest question facing the Georgia program remains unresolved. With the possibility of the starting quarterback decision lingering into the season, we’re not much closer to a resolution. It might or might not be down to two candidates – even that much can’t be confirmed. What we do have though is a broader sketch of what the coaches are trying to evaluate.
We’ve also seen discussion of the attributes each of the three candidates brings to the field. By this point we can distill each guy down to one key strength: Ramsey – upside. Bauta – work ethic. Lambert – intellect. You’d love to combine elements of all three, and each strength makes sense in different situations. I’m sure that’s some of what’s been making the decision tougher than we’d like.
While things like arm strength (gotta make the throws!), avoiding turnovers, and not tripping while handing off to Chubb matter, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner says something else should be near the top: learning the playbook. Warner is writing in a more general context of making an NFL roster spot, but it applies to the quarterback hierarchy too. A quarterback with a shaky understanding of the playbook limits what the coaches can call and, potentially much worse, can screw up the execution of the plays that are called. No surprise there. We’ve read for several weeks how Lambert’s quick study of the Georgia offense has him right back in the mix.
But as Warner points out, the challenge isn’t just learning the playbook of the team you’re on. It’s reconciling your new playbook with everything you’ve already learned elsewhere. As Warner explains, what a newcomer like Lambert will do at first is how most of us approach a second language: performing translations on the fly to our native tongue. It isn’t until much later (or even until a long period of immersion) that you begin to think in the idioms and vocabulary of your second language. Lambert is very likely still speaking “Virginia” in his head as he translates Georgia’s offense.
And that takes time to master. From what I’ve experienced, new terminology is not fully adopted by a quarterback for one year. They’re still able to call plays and function in a system before then, but it’s difficult to get beyond thinking and learn to react…It’s why every year, a huge contingent of playoff teams will be those that came into the season with a quarterback who already “spoke their language.”.
You’d expect that to put Lambert at a disadvantage, but the great equalizer is Brian Schottenheimer. The other quarterbacks are also adjusting to a new playbook even if it’s more of a new dialect rather than a completely new language. Though much of Georgia offense will remain the same in philosophy, Schottenheimer admits that “we probably just call it something different.” Georgia’s other quarterbacks have had a little longer than Lambert to make this transition, but if Warner’s estimate of one year is accurate even for somewhat simpler college playbooks, there’s still some ongoing adaptation of the new system by all of the quarterbacks.
Schedule is already a part of the 2015 discussion, and it’s something we like to look at before the season gets going. Many Georgia observers are pointing to the Alabama-Tennessee-Missouri stretch as a key to Georgia’s season, but mid-to-late November could also put the Dawgs up against a couple of top 15 teams.
We’re familiar with Georgia’s schedule, but equally important is where Georgia falls on the schedules of their opponents. Will they be coming off a bye, an FCS opponent, or a grueling stretch of SEC games? At first glance, Georgia fans should like where the Dawgs appear on most of these schedules. Here’s what each opponent will face before they take on the Dawgs.
Louisiana-Monroe: A long, brutal summer.
@Vanderbilt: vs. Western Kentucky
For most SEC teams, this is a moderately-interesting mid-major tuneup against a WKU team that finished with a winning record and a thrilling Bahamas Bowl win. For Vanderbilt, this is nearly a pick-em: most early lines have Vandy as a 1.5 to 2-point favorite. An early loss would deflate what little enthusiasm there is for the second year of Derek Mason. An unexpected big win would get the buzz going about another tight Vandy-UGA game in Nashville.
South Carolina: UNC, Kentucky
The Gamecocks start the season with two fairly strong tests. The North Carolina game in Charlotte will be a good measuring stick for both teams. The Kentucky game will be a rematch of a Wildcat upset in 2014. Georgia fans will be watching that SC-UK game to gauge their confidence for the Gamecocks’ trip to Athens.
Southern: A battle of the bands (they win.)
Alabama: Ole Miss, Louisiana-Monroe
Alabama will get not one but two September quality opponents. They’ll start with a neutral-site game against Wisconsin and a couple of weeks later will try to avenge their 2014 loss in Oxford. Alabama will be more than battle-tested in time for their first true road game of the season at Georgia. People starving for common-opponent comparisons will note that both Georgia and Alabama play ULM.
@Tennessee: Oklahoma, WCU, @Florida, Arkansas
Much will be / has been made about Georgia’s “trap game” at Tennessee, but the Vols will have three tough opponents of their own in the four games before the Bulldogs visit. They’ll have a high-profile home game against Oklahoma and an important trip to Gainesville that could establish or diminish the SEC East hopes for both schools. A physical game against Arkansas likely won’t give the Vols much time to look ahead.
Missouri: @Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida
Like Georgia, Mizzou will have played half of their SEC East slate before this mid-October game. The difference is that the Tigers will see three straight divisional foes before they visit Athens. If this is to be the year Missouri fades from the top of the division, it’ll show up during this stretch. On the other hand, these are the only teams that could keep Missouri from rolling into Athens undefeated. (They won’t lose to UConn, right? Right?)
Florida: Ole Miss, @Missouri, @LSU, BYE
The Gators will have the usual bye week before the WLOCP, but the rest of their October looks tough. This was the time when things began to fall apart for Muschamp last season (not that it mattered in Jacksonville), and we should know plenty about Jim McElwain’s first season after facing this stretch that includes Ole Miss and two difficult road games.
Kentucky: Auburn, @Miss. St., Tennessee
We’re in the thick of the conference schedule by this point, and Kentucky has a tough few games before they play Georgia. Not much else to say here. Unusual to see Kentucky play Tennessee before the end of the season, but the Louisville game takes that spot now.
@Auburn: @Arkansas, Ole Miss, @Texas A&M
There are a number of reasons why Georgia thumped Auburn last year, but I have to think that three straight dramatic one-score games took a toll on the Tigers before they came to Athens. It’s a similar path for Auburn this year: before Georgia comes to town, Auburn must run an SEC West gauntlet at Arkansas, back home against Ole Miss, and then at Texas A&M. Once again, what will be left in the tank for Georgia?
Georgia Southern: BYE, @Troy
I just wanted to make sure GSU didn’t have a bye directly ahead of the Georgia game, but they have the next best thing – a bye followed by a weak, rebuilding Troy team. Give them a little time to focus on Georgia, a Bulldog team looking ahead to Tech, a sleepy Sanford Stadium crowd, and this one could be close for longer than we’d like.
@Georgia Tech: BYE, Virginia Tech, @ Miami
Tech doesn’t have a bye or even a cupcake ahead of the Georgia game, but they do play their November schedule at a leisurely pace. After a bye, they’ll close conference play with some big games against Virginia Tech and Miami. They should be fairly well-rested at this point late in the season though: the Thursday night game against the Hokies will be their only game between November 1st and November 20th.
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