Countdown to Kickoff: 25 Days
As our 100 Days to Kickoff continues on, we begin our opponent previews to provide a quick look at each of the teams coming up on our schedule this season. Each team has changed and provides new challenges than in years past, so this week is all about learning about those changes and learning exactly what Georgia Tech’s opponents have to offer.
2016 Opponent Previews – georgia Bulldogs
Our rivals to the east enter 2016 after another 10-win season where their best win was… Georgia Southern? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, another year of double digit wins wasn’t enough for the snarling fanbase in Athens, so they fired 15-year head coach Mark Richt. Adding to his hot seat was seeing their in-state rivals in Atlanta appear in 2 NY6/BCS bowls, and winning one, since their own last major bowl appearance in 2007. This season also marks the bulldog’s 11-year anniversary since their last conference championship. This too is not lost on the team in Athens after seeing their in-state rivals win their conference more recently, and make regular appearances in their conference’s championship game.
After “borrowing” their logo, mascot, fight song, and on-field hedges from other teams, uga saw fit to borrow how they run their entire program from another team as well with the hiring of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart as head coach. The administration in Athens decided that how they are doing things in Tuscaloosa is 100% transferable to uga, and so they brought in Coach Smart to create Alabama Lite.
Alabama Lite still faces many of the same challenges the old team did, such as how to keep their players from getting arrested. So far under Smart’s young tenure, Athens Clark County Police have arrested 8 (by my count) football players. The issue is so prominent that Alabama Lite hired a full-time staff member to be the “liaison” between the football program and the police force. He’s a prominent enough staff member that you can read an entire feature article on him here from the AJC. However, there’s nothing in his job description about keeping players out of jail in the first place.
The rest of this preview does not include previous arrests and their pending suspensions, nor account for future arrests…
As we’ve discussed, the most notable departure is former head coach Mark Richt. Time well tell if the administration in Athens made the right decision with his firing, but it’s going to be extremely difficult to do better than 10 wins a season.
Also departing Alabama Lite is star receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who averaged almost 15 ypc last season. Also on offense, Coach Smart must replace 2 starters on the line in John Theus and Kolton Houston.
On defense, team-leading tackler Jake Ganus is gone at linebacker, along with fellow LB’s Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Alabama Lite returns a strong secondary, but must replace most of the front-7 heading into 2016.
On offense, Greyson Lambert returns at QB after completing 63% of his passes for 12 TDs and 2 INTs last season. Nick Chubb returns as well at RB after averaging a ridiculous 8.1 ypc before suffering an absolutely horrific knee injury against Tennessee. We wish him a full recovery and speedy return to full health. Also at RB, Sony Michel returns for his junior season where he played admirably in backup duty, averaging 5.3ypc. However, Michel suffered a broken arm earlier this year that required surgery, and it’s not yet clear if either him or Chubb will be back to full health before the season opener against UNC.
On the perimeter, both Isaiah McKenzie and Jeb Blazevich return to lend more consistency to the skill position players.
On defense, Alabama Lite returns all 4 starters in their secondary, as well as rising star D-Lineman Trenton Thompson.
Most notably, there’s a new head coach at Alabama Lite. Kirby Smart takes over after Mark Richt’s 15 year tenure and hopes to return the program to a level where they can once again compete with the likes of division heavyweights… that’s definitely not South Carolina, Vandy, Auburn, or Kentucky, so… Florida and… Missouri? Missouri.
Also new is 5* QB Jacob Eason who figures to see playing time this fall, despite being a true freshman. The highly touted prospect will challenge embattled starter Greyson Lambert for the job, and will certainly be the team’s QB of the future.
There’s a very strong argument to be made that Alabama Lite has been the most underachieving team in the nation for the last couple decades
Despite being the largest program in one of the most talent-rich states in the nation, playing in the most visible conference, consistently pulling in Top-10 recruiting classes, and having a large fanbase and athletic budget, Alabama Lite has rarely seemed to be on par with the heavyweights of their conference. The team won 10 games last season, but looked like a bad FCS school when Alabama came to Athens and promptly disposed of them. They have not even played for their conference championship since 2012, despite the SEC East being one of the more mediocre divisions of the P5 Conferences in the nation.
Alabama Lite is also now 36 years removed from their 1 national title, despite their in-state rivals in Atlanta having 4 titles to their name, as well as one a decade more recent. In an effort to remedy this, new head coach Kirby Smart had the local government even pass a law in their favor… because that’s how they do it in Alabama.
The 10-win team of last season also barely squeaked out a 6 point win over the worst Georgia Tech team in 20 years, while needing miracles to beat conference bottom-dweller Missouri, and new-to-division-1 Georgia Southern.
… So ok, yeah, administration in Athens, I see where you’re coming from firing a 10-win coach now. With the talent and resources in Athens, and how absolute trash the teams in the East have been the last several years, it’s almost unexplainable that Alabama Lite hasn’t won their division since 2012.
Anything less than 10 wins will be a regression for new head coach Kirby Smart, so the pressure is on in Athens. With a crossover game against Ole Miss and the season opener against UNC in the Dome, the schedule is not as breezy as one would hope for a first-year head coach, despite playing in the much weaker division. However, the SEC East has shown little promise of rebounding in the foreseeable future, so a division title may not be out of the question.
Complicating matters is that Alabama Lite has a bit of quarterback drama between Greyson Lambert, the transfer who couldn’t keep a starting job at one of the worst teams in the ACC, or true freshman phenom Jacob Eason, who has yet to play a collegiate snap. Both will surely be seen on the field this fall, but it will nevertheless be an interesting position battle to watch as the season progresses.
The schedule is a mixed bag of definite losses, tossup games, and definite wins, so I don’t see Coach Smart eclipsing his predecessor in his first year, even with the amount of talent on the field… That’s provided the talent stays out of jail before the season starts.
Who puts a center support on an arch, anyway?
Regular season prediction: 8-4