The year 2014 for the Georgia Bulldogs is synonymous with euphoric highs and devastating lows. There was a new quarterback under center in Hutson Mason, but that didn’t matter with human phenom Todd Gurley toting the rock, and backups like Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Brendan Douglas and Keith Marshall. Georgia brought in a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, but that didn’t matter with the plethora of talent on that side of the ball. Last year, there was a legitimate hope the Dawgs could make some noise in the weakest SEC East in years en route to a spot in the SEC Championship and potentially in the College Football Playoff.
The highs: the offensive juggernaut that was Nick Chubb; the opening week win over Clemson under the lights at Sanford Stadium; a much-improved and opportunistic defense; a 34-0 beat down at Missouri; and a big 34-7 win over Auburn.
The lows: the suspension of Todd Gurley; the season-ending injury to Todd Gurley upon his return; a controversial loss to South Carolina; an inexcusable thrashing at the hands of the rival Florida Gators; fumbling issues in an overtime loss to Georgia Tech; watching Missouri clinch the SEC East for a second year in a row.
This season, Georgia will feature yet another quarterback – it is still to be determined who out of Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert will win the job – but they return a majority of their major weapons. Heisman Trophy candidate Nick Chubb is back, and everyone will be watching to see what he can do with a full season as the starter. A majority of the offensive line returns, though UGA does need to figure out the center position. There is depth at receiver, major talent returning on defense and extremely high expectations from the fan base and college football pundits. Biggest question: will Brian Schottenheimer’s offense be as productive as Georgia fans were used to under Mike Bobo?
The Bulldogs schedule for 2015 looks relatively favorable, as the Dawgs will not have to travel outside of the Southeast for any of its regular season games. Georgia’s longest trip will be to play Florida at EverBank Field in Jacksonville. With seven true home games, four true road games and a neutral site game, there should be no complaints from the fans, even if they did draw both Alabama and Auburn (yearly rivalry game) from the SEC West. The toughest stretch – by far – will be the three games to start October: vs. Alabama, at Tennessee and vs. Missouri. Here is an analysis of the first six games of 2015. The remaining six games will come in a later segment.
2015 GEORGIA BULLDOGS SCHEDULE ANALYSIS: GAMES 1-6
September 5 – vs. Louisiana-Monroe, Noon ET, SEC Network
Unlike last season, Georgia opens the year with a game against a team they should beat handily. This is not the Louisiana-Monroe team from 2012 that took both Arkansas and Auburn to overtime in consecutive weeks to start the season. It is closer to the Louisiana-Monroe team from 2014 that lost to Kentucky 48-14 and finished the season 4-8. Expect there to be some early season jitters for Georgia’s offense and defense, but it is highly unlikely UGA doesn’t run away – literally – with this game. Georgia wins their tune-up game handily between the hedgers.
Prediction: Georgia 56-14
Record: 1-0 (0-0 in SEC)
September 12 – at Vanderbilt, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
In a rare early season matchup between the two teams, Georgia and Vanderbilt will face off in Nashville in the coveted 3:30 p.m. spot on CBS. This will be Georgia’s first taste of conference play, and an opportunity to put the rest of the SEC East on notice. In their previous visit to Nashville, Georgia suffered a sloppy loss against a motivated Vandy team under James Franklin. Last season, Georgia easily beat the Commodores 44-17 – with Nick Chubb rushing for nearly 10 yards per carry (8 carries, 78 yards). Derek Mason will need a successful season to keep his job after a dismal 3-9 (0-8 SEC) season, but his quest for his first SEC win will not come against Georgia. Vandy ranked 10th in the SEC in rushing defense last season, and they will struggle to stop Nick Chubb and his talented corps of backups.
Prediction: Georgia 41-17
Record: 2-0 (1-0 in SEC)
September 19 – vs. South Carolina, 6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Last season, Georgia vs. South Carolina was literally a game of inches. The Dawgs were going in for the game-winning score, but got called for a controversial intentional grounding call on first and goal from the four-yard line. After a near-miss on a field goal that would have tied the game, Georgia got what looked to be a crucial stop on fourth and inches to get the ball back, but South Carolina was given the first down even though it looked like there was some space between the ball and the sticks. South Carolina is coming off a very disappointing 7-6 season after being ranked as high as No. 9 to start 2014. After a dismal showing on defense last season (South Carolina ranked 13th in the SEC in total defense, allowing 433.6 yards per game), Steve Spurrier brought in old pal Jon Hoke to try and fix the issues with their secondary and defensive line. The Gamecocks will be breaking in a new quarterback, as well. Games in this series generally feature unexpected twists and results, but I’ll take Georgia at home this year.
Prediction: Georgia 38-24
Record: 3-0 (2-0 in SEC)
September 26 – vs. Southern, TBD time, TBD network
The Southern Jaguars spouted off seven straight wins after a 2-3 start last season on their way to a spot in the SWAC Football Championship game, eventually losing 38-24 to Alcorn State. Their non-conference schedule did not boast anyone like Georgia, and though they are likely leaving Athens with a nice big check, they will not trouble the Bulldogs whatsoever. Georgia will have their way with the Jaguars in a glorified scrimmage game before its huge SEC battle against Alabama the following week.
Prediction: Georgia 59-7
Record: 4-0 (2-0 in SEC)
October 3 – vs. Alabama, Time TBD, Network TBD
It was December 1, 2012. The score was 32-28 Alabama with 1:08 left on the clock. This was for the SEC Championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship. Georgia drove 80 yards and watched their chances at glory slip to the turf after Chris Conley caught a tip pass from Aaron Murray and the clock ran out. Game. Over. That is the last time Georgia faced Alabama, and if you are a Georgia fan, that game still stings and makes you think what might have been had Georgia won that night in the Dome. The time before that – the infamous Georgia blackout at home where the Dawgs were run out of their own stadium, trailing 31-0 at one point. This game has been circled on everyone’s calendars since it was announced. Georgia starts its toughest stretch of the season with a major test against an Alabama team loaded for another run at a National Championship. New this year – Alabama will be looking to replace a majority of its offense. They are missing one of their most prolific wide receivers in Amari Cooper, their single-season passing record holder in Blake Sims, stud running back T.J. Yeldon and most of their starting offensive line. Also, Alabama showed some gaping holes in their secondary last season, which could carry over to this year. The nightmare matchup here for Georgia is the vaunted Alabama run defense. Can Georgia pass the ball well enough to open up the run for Nick Chubb? Or can Chubb just run through the toughest front seven he’ll face all season? Georgia is playing at home, they’ll (likely) be undefeated and in the Top 10, and there is a good chance this ends up being their third nationally televised game of the season. Biggest question will be if they can handle the hype this time around. This game is a toss-up.
Prediction: Alabama 34-31
Record: 4-1 (2-1 in SEC)
October 10 – at Tennessee, Time TBD, Network TBD
Coming off a physically and emotionally draining game against Alabama at home, Georgia gets no rest as they head to Neyland Stadium to take on what many expect will be an improved and dangerous Tennessee team. Joshua Dobbs has risen quickly as the star quarterback of an offense that will boast many stars at wide receiver. He is even being talked about in some circles as a dark-horse Heisman candidate. On the defensive side, even without A.J. Johnson, Tennessee should be solid both against the run and in the secondary. Butch Jones is facing something new in his third season at Tennessee – high expectations. It is up to him to ensure his team doesn’t crack under the pressure. Coming into their game against Georgia, Tennessee will face Florida and Arkansas in consecutive weeks, so UGA gets Tennessee toward the end of their make-or-break stretch of games. Neyland Stadium is always a tough place to play, but I think Georgia rallies together and gets the job done on the road thanks in large part to Nick Chubb. Last season, Todd Gurley had a career day against Tennessee. This season, in Chubb we trust.
Prediction: Georgia 35-28
Record: 5-1 (3-1 in SEC)
After the first six games, Georgia should have all of its goals still well within reach. Even if they drop one game, heading into the second half of the season with a 5-1 (3-1 in SEC) record will set them up nicely to make a push at an SEC title. Their final six games are not going to be easy, but they will be in good shape in the SEC standings heading into their Homecoming game against Missouri.
Be on the lookout for analysis regarding the remainder of Georgia’s schedule in 2015. Their final six: vs. Missouri; vs. Florida (neutral site); vs. Kentucky; at Auburn; vs. Georgia Southern; and at Georgia Tech. More to come!
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ATHENS, GA – NOVEMBER 15: Nick Chubb #27 of the Georgia Bulldogs carries the ball against the Auburn Tigers at Sanford Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)