Less than twenty-four hours remain until Georgia opens their season at the Georgia Dome against North Carolina, and Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart takes the sideline for the first time.
As an intriguing season is ahead of us, let’s take a look at each game on the schedule. Our editor Kevin and I will then predict each game that Georgia will play in the regular season.
Sept 3: vs. North Carolina (in Atlanta)
Television: 5:30pm ET, ESPN
Georgia opens up their season against one of the ACC’s rising programs in North Carolina. The Tar Heels are led by Larry Fedora and are coming off of an ACC Championship appearance. They come to Atlanta with a loaded offense, with junior Elijah Hood and senior Ryan Switzer leading the way.
Fedora’s group also introduces junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky into a starting role, and has received a lot of attention as he is tasked with replacing Marquise Williams. The weaknesses of both teams seems to be run defense, and with both teams having highly-acclaimed running backs, it could be all about which team is better at containing the opposing running back.
Brandon: Loss, Smart’s debut will show a lot of promise, but the task of playing against a high-caliber team to open the campaign will be too much for the first-year head coach.
Georgia has too many questions, with the quarterback situation still not completely settled (although a starter has been named), the Bulldogs defensive line being loitered with underclassmen and weaknesses in terms of running back depth, with Elijah Holyfield and Sony Michel not being guaranteed to play. However, while I believe Georgia will have not have a promising start to the season, remember that there are eleven games remaining.
Kevin: Win, Georgia has too much talent to lose this game. If Nick Chubb doesn’t get enough carries and Greyson Lambert turns the ball over, I could see the game tilting towards UNC.
Sept. 10: vs. Nicholls State
Television: Noon, SEC Network
Georgia plays their first home game against a struggling FCS opponent. In 2015, the Nicholls State Colonels posted a 3-9 record, and didn’t compete with either of their FBS opponents, Louisiana-Monroe or Colorado, losing by a combined 95 points. The Colonels are led by senior quarterback Tuskani Figaro, so if the Bulldogs need to place a target on, he’s the guy.
Brandon: Win, Smart will win his first home game in convincing fashion, as the Bulldogs will roll. If freshman quarterback Jacob Eason doesn’t play in the season opener, he certainly will here. Main goal for Georgia will to get out of Sanford Stadium injury-free and move on to the next one.
Kevin: Win, This game will give the Dawgs a rest before diving into SEC play. Chubb will carry the ball a few times and Lambert will likely start. If Jacob Eason doesn’t get much playing time against UNC, this will be his chance to show off his talents.
Sept. 17: at Missouri
Television: 7:30pm ET, SEC Network
Missouri enters their first full season under head coach Barry Odom, and is faced with a tough task. However, his Tigers squad does have a stout front-seven yet again, led by junior Charles Harris and senior Michael Scherer, and that group will cause trouble for opposing offenses.
The Tigers’ big problem lies on offense, as they struggled to put up points last season and the storyline projects to be the same in 2016. They are inexperienced on the offensive side of the ball, led by sophomore quarterback Drew Lock. Another addition to help bolster their offensive attack is the transfer from Alabama, Chris Black. Missouri is an interesting team in the SEC East, however they seem to be missing a few pieces of the puzzle in order to be successful.
Brandon: Win, There are many that chalk this game up as an automatic win for Georgia, however that shouldn’t be the case. This serves as Smart’s first true road test as a head coach, so it’ll be no cakewalk. But Georgia’s running back group should be back at full health, as Michel and Holyfield should have some tuneup opportunities ahead of conference play. The Bulldog running backs will carry them to victory. Will Eason have the job solidified by this juncture? Only time will tell.
Kevin: Win, Georgia has shown that they are a better team than Missouri, winning three of the last four. This game will be closer than you think, but Georgia will pull it out.
Sept. 24: at Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze and his program have one more season to be successful, before they are to be slammed with numerous penalties due to NCAA rule violations. The Rebels have a good chance to do that as while they’ve lost a lot of talent on their previously known “landshark” defense, they are led offensively by senior quarterback Chad Kelly. However, some of pieces of Kelly’s offensive group have departed as well. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil departed to the NFL, and Ole Miss is tasked with replacing a great deal of talent.
Defensively, the Rebels return junior defensive end Marquise Haynes, who had ten sacks in 2015. He will be the star of the defense, and could cause some problems for opposing quarterbacks.
Brandon: Win, I’m not buying into the Ole Miss hype, as they have a lot of questions. They have a dependable quarterback who will take them a long way, but I’m not sure he has the pieces around him. If Georgia’s head man preaches winning big games, this will be the first big victory that is placed on his head coaching record. While many give the Bulldogs virtually no chance to pull out a win, I believe they come out on top if they’re clicking on all cylinders for 60 minutes.
Kevin: Loss, It’s hard to predict a loss for your favorite team, but this is where I think the Bulldogs will stumble first.
Oct. 1: vs. Tennessee
The hype is all around Rocky Top, and Butch Jones’ program looks to show what they’re made of in 2016. And while they put up a lackluster performance in their season opener against Appalachian State on Thursday, that shouldn’t serve as the true eye test, but I’ll also say that they don’t look like a top-10 nationally ranked team.
Offensively, they have weapons, as senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs serves as a true dual-threat option. The Volunteers also have a running back duo similarly to Georgia’s, as juniors Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd lead the way. The issue lies with the consistency of the offensive line, however they’ll have some time to work out the issues and Tennessee looks to get those running backs going.
Defensively, they have multiple playmakers, led by seniors Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton and junior defensive lineman Derek Barnett. The defensive group under the direction of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should have little issue in terms of containing SEC opponents.
Brandon: Loss, Georgia fans seem to shake off the Tennessee game, and while they put up a pathetic performance against a team in the Sun Belt, they’ll be ready to go for conference play. The issue again lies on Georgia’s defensive line, as Hurd and Kamara could have a field day against the inexperienced line. Also, Smart has had a troubled history in terms of containing mobile quarterbacks, and that could continue here with Dobbs’ scrambling ability. While Georgia has their duo of Nick Chubb and Michel, I think the Volunteers have enough firepower up front to contain the Bulldogs rushing attack.
Kevin: Loss, Georgia has been playing with fire in the last three matchups against Tennessee. They won by a field goal in 2013 and 2014, and then lost by a touchdown in Knoxville last season. The Dawgs will play tough, but Tennessee will be slightly better this day.
Oct. 8: at South Carolina
Georgia gets a bit of a breather after facing two of the SEC’s best, but they hit the road yet again and slated up another conference opponent in South Carolina.
Offensively, the Gamecocks just don’t show much that jumps off of the page. In terms of quarterbacks, they’re undecided between senior Perry Orth and true freshman Brandon McIlwain. The Gamecocks also only have one true playmaker in sophomore Deebo Samuel. At running back, they also have no true answer, placing a limitation on offensive productivity.
Defensively, the Gamecocks show some strength as that’s the forte of head coach Will Muschamp. They’re led by senior defensive end Marquavius Lewis, who will be productive. However, they must fill the void of linebacker and team leader Skai Moore, who sustained a season-ending neck injury.
Brandon: Win, Georgia will finally solve the puzzle that is winning in Williams-Brice Stadium. It’s the first year for the Gamecocks under Muschamp, and the team has too many questions and a depth of talent isn’t present in Columbia.
Kevin: Win, Kirby Smart gets to match up against friend and fellow alumnus Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks are not as talented as in previous seasons, and Georgia has a better overall coaching staff that will turn the tide in Columbia.
Oct. 15: vs. Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is no easy task for Georgia, as similarly to South Carolina, they possess a strong defense under head coach Derek Mason. In his fourth season, he has the opportunity to call the plays for the first time. On the defensive side, they’re led by senior linebackers Oren Burks and Zach Cunningham. This defensive core gives the Commodores a bit of hope in 2016.
Offensively, the ‘Dores will struggle yet again. They’re still a revolving door in terms of quarterbacks, as we saw both sophomore Kyle Shurmur and junior Wade Freebeck have action in Thursday’s season opener against South Carolina. However, they’ll live and die offensively on the legs of junior running back Ralph Webb
Brandon: Win, This will be an interesting test for Georgia as the homecoming festivities will be underway at Sanford Stadium. This game could be fairly low scoring, but I believe that the Bulldogs have a bit more firepower than Vanderbilt, and they’ll come out with a narrow victory heading into the classic rivalry game in Jacksonville.
Kevin: Win, Vanderbilt’s inability to move the ball will doom them against a good Georgia defense. The Bulldogs roll on Homecoming.
Oct. 22: BYE
Oct. 29: vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
The Gators enter their second season under head coach Jim McElwain, and return a great deal of talent that led them to an SEC Championship in 2015. While they have a lot of talent, there are also a couple of questions that reside within the program.
Offensively, Florida welcomes a new starting quarterback with Treon Harris and Will Grier out of the door in Gainesville. Former walk-on quarterback Luke Del Rio won the job during preseason practice, however there is concern that remains behind center. Last season, the offense was stagnant, but they’re hoping Del Rio can run the show, and that the reinstatement of sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway into the program will help bolster the attack.
Defensively, the Gators are stout again, as their secondary still has the potential to shutdown opposing wideouts, despite the departure of Vernon Hargreaves. They’re lead by junior Jalen “Teez” Tabor on the back end, and seniors Bryan Cox and Jarrad Davis in the front seven. Their defense will be what takes them a long way in 2016, just as it did last season.
Brandon: Loss, Georgia will suffer their third consecutive loss to Florida, and simply because of defensive talent. The Bulldogs won’t be able to throw the ball on the secondary, and Florida will find nifty ways to work around Georgia’s defensive attack, and come out victorious.
Georgia has to gain more experience in order to consistently to win games of importance, and while they pull it off in Oxford, they probably won’t have the formula to find that consistency.
Kevin: Win, Kirby Smart will turn the tables on Georgia’s recent history in Jacksonville.
Nov. 5: at Kentucky
Kentucky looks to have a successful season, as Mark Stoops’ job has minimal job security. Stoops has a 12-24 record with the Wildcats, and has to finally show that he can get them to a bowl game in 2016. They’re strong offensively with playmakers, but have problems defensively.
They’re led by the flashy junior running back Stanley “Boom” Williams, and he promises to put up good numbers and be productive for Kentucky. At quarterback, they introduce sophomore Drew Barker into a permanent starting role, after the departure of Patrick Towles by way of transfer to Boston College. The offense will be what Kentucky depends on to be successful in 2016.
Defense could be the downfall to Stoops’ club, as they’re tasked with replacing a lot of talent who departed in 2015. They’re led by junior linebacker Courtney Love, but many questions remain at other defensive positions.
Brandon: Win, This could definitely serve as a trap game for Georgia, but Mark Richt isn’t at the helm for the Bulldogs any longer, so I don’t think that serves as a distraction. Kentucky could get out to a fast start as their offense has some firepower. However, I think Georgia’s playmakers will be too much for the Wildcats’ defense, which isn’t fully developed.
Kevin: Win, Georgia could get caught looking ahead to Auburn, but they’ll rebound in and put the Wildcats away.
Nov. 12: vs. Auburn
This could very well be Gus Malzahn’s last chance as the head man at Auburn, and he has a tough task ahead of him, and an offense that looks putrid. However, a strong defense is what gives them a fighting chance in 2016.
Offensively, the team recently named Sean White as the starting quarterback, and he was unproductive last season. Their other options at quarterback are senior Jeremy Johnson or junior college transfer John Franklin III, who starred in the Netflix documentary, “Last Chance U,” and I didn’t think he looked too impressive. In terms of playmakers, they don’t have many as the days of Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis are gone. The Tigers’ offense has too many holes, and it will limit them from having success.
Defensively, Auburn has a front seven that can take them a long way. They’re led by junior Carl Lawson and senior Montravius Adams, both on the defensive line. These two will serve as the backbone to Auburn’s potential success in 2016.
Brandon: Win, Georgia will take the home-field advantage in this game and run with it. Auburn has a strong defense, which could give them trouble. However, I think Auburn’s offense is an atrocity, and Georgia’s front seven will be developed by this point, and the Bulldog secondary will contain Auburn’s wideouts and eliminate productivity.
Kevin: Win, Georgia has had Auburn’s number lately.
Nov. 19: vs. UL Lafayette
Georgia gets a breather after eight consecutive conference games, and faces an opponent from the Sun Belt. The Ragin’ Cajuns seem to make a bowl game every year, and look to stun the Bulldogs in Athens. They deliver talent on both sides of the ball, and plan to give the Bulldogs a test.
Offensively, Louisiana-Lafayette is led by senior Elijah McGuire, and looks to have another successful season. In 2015, he rushed for 1,058 yards and 13 touchdowns. He provides stats that show his skill set, and an ability to go up against some of the best defenses in the country. Also on offense, we’ll see a familiar face, as LSU graduate transfer Anthony Jennings is the starting quarterback for the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Defensively, they have a lot of depth on the line, as junior Toboris Lee and senior Karmichael Dunbar serve as the main guys to stop the run.
Brandon: Win, While Louisiana-Lafayette have some recognizable names and promise to give Georgia a bit of a test. But the Bulldogs will win by at least three scores and have this game serve as warmup for the in-state rivalry.
Kevin: Win, The Ragin’ Cajuns are one of those Sun Belt teams like App State, Georgia Southern, and ULM. Some seasons you catch them at their best and you better not take them lightly. This isn’t one of those years.
Nov 26: vs. Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson comes off of an atrocious 3-9 campaign in 2015, and he looks to rebound. As they seek improvement, they have some talent which can potentially get them to a bowl game.
Offensively, they’re led by senior Justin Thomas, who has success running the triple option scheme. At running backs, there are familiar faces as former Bulldog junior J.J. Green will rotate with the Yellow Jackets, as will sophomore Marcus Marshall, the brother of former Georgia running back Keith Marshall. Their triple option attack will either be the key or the detriment to success in 2016.
Defensively is where an issue lies for Johnson’s team, yet again. They have had issues controlling the opposing offenses, and they look to improve upon that this season. They’re led up front by senior defensive tackle Patrick Gamble and in the secondary by junior Lance Austin.
Brandon: Win, Georgia will be able to handle Georgia Tech as the dominance continues. Tech will be improved, but not enough to beat the Bulldogs. Smart gets his ninth win heading into bowl season.
Kevin: Win, We run this state! The Bulldogs will make it two in a row over their arch-rival, and seven of the last eight.
Brandon: 9-3, (6-2 SEC); 3rd in SEC East
Kevin: 10-2 (6-2 SEC); 2nd in SEC East