The 2015 season for the Georgia Bulldogs was a bit of an enigma. Similar to the prior year, Georgia was starting a new quarterback in Greyson Lambert and the backfield gave way to new superstars in running back Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The talent was there to make a run at an SEC title and potentially challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The first four weeks of the season heightened expectations and the Georgia Bulldogs steamrolled Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Southern University by a combined score of 182-54.
The much-anticipated battle with the wounded Alabama Crimson Tide, which lost at home to Ole Miss two weeks earlier, followed. This was the year the Georgia Bulldogs would take the next step and vanquish Alabama to set the tone for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, that fateful game – which was played in a nightmarish downpour to completely drown the spirits of the Bulldog faithful – instead set the tone for the final downfall of head coach Mark Richt. A 38-10 rout, which was never even close, brought back the questions about whether Richt could “win the big game.”
Georgia followed the performance against Alabama with a showdown on the road against the 2-3 Tennessee Volunteers, and the Bulldogs came out angry and motivated en route to a 24-3 lead in the second quarter. When the game came to a close, Georgia was officially doomed. Sure, the SEC East was still in reach, but this team would be destined to underachieve following a 38-31 loss to the Vols.
Following an ugly win against Missouri and an demoralizing loss against Florida, Georgia finished the season on a five game winning streak, leading to a 10-3 finish and a TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Penn State. The time had come to say goodbye to Mark Richt, despite his 145-51 record over 15 seasons.
This season, Georgia will usher in a new era, welcoming new head coach Kirby Smart (who played for the Bulldogs from 1995-1998), new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The 2016 season could feature yet another starting quarterback, as freshman phenom Jacob Eason battles Brice Ramsey and the incumbent Lambert for the starting nod. The backfield will be strong yet again, as Chubb and Michel – who are both recovering from injuries – will anchor a strong group of young talent. The offensive line and defense overall will be a bit of a wild card, but the biggest question mark will be special teams.
The Bulldogs schedule for 2016 is tough out of the gate, but gets a little easier after the first six games, which includes three away games and one neutral site game. The SEC West draw of Ole Miss and Auburn (yearly rivalry game) is not extremely friendly, but it’s not Alabama or LSU. This season’s toughest stretch – by far – will be Georgia’s first three SEC games, traveling to Missouri and Ole Miss in succession, followed by a match-up with preseason SEC East favorite Tennessee.
Here is an analysis of the first six games of 2016. The remaining six games will come in a later segment.
2016 GEORGIA BULLDOGS SCHEDULE ANALYSIS: GAMES 1-6
September 3 – vs. North Carolina (neutral site), 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Head coach Larry Fedora has helped turn North Carolina into a team that has a chance to win the ACC every year, leading the Tar Heels through an undefeated season in ACC play in 2015. Reaching as high as No. 8 headed into the ACC Championship Game against Clemson, North Carolina was a College Football Playoff contender last year. The Georgia Bulldogs have not played North Carolina since 1971, and this is a very intriguing game for fans to start the season. Will Georgia be able to stop North Carolina’s high-scoring offensive attack? Can the offense – led by a still-to-be-named quarterback – outwit Tar Heels defensive coordinator Gene Chizik? Will the pomp and circumstance of playing in the Dome on national television rattle a team in transition?
Georgia has one thing going for it – this is a non-conference game. Win, and the stage is set for a successful season. Lose, and all of the Bulldogs’ goals and dreams are still attainable. The long-accepted adage says, “if you’re going to lose, lose early.” Just a hunch, Georgia comes out strong in its opener.
Prediction: Georgia 27-21
Record: 1-0 (0-0 in SEC)
September 10 – vs. Nicholls State, Noon ET, SEC Network
Nicholls State – which went 3-8 last season competing in the Southland Conference – will pose absolutely no threat to the Georgia Bulldogs. In Kirby Smart’s home opener, this game should act as a glorified scrimmage and a nice reprieve from the tough season opener. In fact, if Eason does not start at quarterback against North Carolina, this game could be a great time for him – and other young talent – to get some real-life game action.
Prediction: Georgia 55-3
Record: 2-0 (0-0 in SEC)
September 17 – at Missouri, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
The Missouri Tigers are never a good idea to take lightly. Since joining the SEC in 2012, Missouri has made two appearances in the SEC Championship Game – much to the surprise of most SEC fans – and the mediocre Tigers from 2015 held Georgia to just nine points in a 9-6 win at home. The last time Georgia visited Faurot Field, it came away with a 34-0 beat down (including this Brendan Douglas highlight), but this game has all the makings of a letdown leading up to a daunting meeting with Ole Miss the following week. Georgia needs to be careful to not underestimate Missouri, especially on the road.
Prediction: Georgia 31-17
Record: 3-0 (1-0 in SEC)
September 24 – at Ole Miss, TBD time, TBD network
At SEC Football Media Days, the Ole Miss Rebels were picked to finish third in the SEC West behind Alabama and LSU. That being said, Ole Miss is a good team and might potentially be the toughest opponent Georgia faces in 2016. The offense – led by quarterback Chad Kelly – was superb in 2015 and will likely continue to perform this season. The timing is not great, either, as a huge division clash with Tennessee awaits the following week. If Georgia can convert third downs – an area of weakness in 2015 – and win the time of possession battle, it will win this game. But these two teams have not met since 2012 (Georgia has won ten straight in the series), and Ole Miss will come out looking for SEC wins wherever it can find them in an effort to stay competitive in the vaunted SEC West.
Prediction: Georgia 42-35
Record: 4-0 (2-0 in SEC)
October 1 – vs. Tennessee, Time TBD, Network TBD
A highly-anticipated battle with Tennessee between the hedges? It doesn’t get better than that in 2016. There is a lot of hatred toward the Volunteers from the Bulldog faithful, stemming from the comeback loss last season and the variety of major injuries Georgia players have suffered against Tennessee in the recent past (read: Nick Chubb, Michael Bennett, Keith Marshall, Justin Scott-Wesley). Dynamic quarterback Joshua Dobbs returns, and could be better than ever, and Tennessee has talented play makers up and down the field. The question for Tennessee is whether it can handle the enormous expectations without cracking under pressure. The Volunteers are the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East (and maybe even finally beat the Florida Gators again), and Georgia could use that as motivation to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Tennessee 34-31
Record: 4-1 (2-1 in SEC)
October 8 – at South Carolina, Time TBD, Network TBD
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has now been with three different SEC programs since 2011, and he has not enjoyed much success against the Georgia Bulldogs, the school at which he played safety during his college playing career. In fact, some Georgia fans say he is actually an undercover agent for Georgia wherever he goes, labeling him “Agent Muschamp.” The Gamecocks declined quickly last season, leading to the sudden departure of legendary head coach Steve Spurrier, and the offense was horrific. Muschamp is a defensive mind, so the defense could improve this season, but simply put, South Carolina is not expected to contend for much in 2016, and Georgia should win this game. One thing to note; however, is Georgia has not won at South Carolina since 2008.
Prediction: Georgia 42-17
Record: 5-1 (3-1 in SEC)
After the first six games, Georgia will likely be looking for help, hoping for Tennessee to lose two SEC games to give the Bulldogs a shot at an SEC East title. What’s odd about Georgia’s opening six games is that it would not be far-fetched to see Georgia sitting at 6-0 heading into the second half of the season, but it is also entirely possible it could be 2-3, as well. Only time will tell. The Bulldogs final six games should be slightly more manageable, with just one away game (at Kentucky), but the annual meetings with Florida and Auburn will not be easy.
Be on the lookout for analysis regarding the remainder of Georgia’s schedule in 2016. The final six games are: vs. Vanderbilt; vs. Florida (neutral site); at Kentucky; vs. Auburn; vs. Louisiana Lafayette; and vs. Georgia Tech.
Check out the next six games here.