Photo Credit: Perry McIntyre, Jr.
YOU GUYS. THIS IS FINALLY THE YEAR.
At least, that’s what Georgia fans are telling themselves, just like they’ve told themselves every year A.H. (After Herschel). For 15 years, Mark Richt’s squads have ranged from pretty good to almost great. Could the Bulldogs really win that elusive first SEC title since 2005 and first national championship since 1980? As anyone in Athens with a Facebook page could tell you, the fans are losing patience.
Is this really The Year? Start with Heisman candidate Nick Chubb, the godlike human bowling ball who ran for more than 1,500 yards despite starting only eight games last year. Keith Marshall—once upon a time, the more heralded half of Gurshall—finally seems healthy again. So does one-time star receiver Malcolm Mitchell. If they all go down (God forbid), give the ball to Sony Michel, a five-star recruit two years ago who’d be starting for 90 percent of teams in the country.
Whether Faton Bauta, Greyson Lambert or Brice Ramsey is the starter, Georgia’s quarterback will surely be better than the adequate-at-best Hutson Mason. And Jeremy Pruitt has had another year to coach an inconsistent young defense that features future pro linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins.
Then again, that defense is still awfully inexperienced. The coaching staff has been so indecisive about the quarterback situation, they might ask “Fleet” Pete McCommons if he has any eligibility left. And with Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and probably Justin Scott-Wesley gone, who’s (insert QB name here) going to throw to? The #CommitToTheG slogan sounds like either sex advice or a ‘90s gang initiation. Even this year’s preseason hype video was lackluster.
[Editor's note: Monday night, after the print edition had gone to press, Richt announced that Virginia transfer Lambert will start the season opener, although Bauta and/or Ramsey might get into the game, too.]
If everything goes right—if the defense steps up, new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer works out, everyone stays healthy and the No. 9 Dawgs have enough semblance of a passing game to keep teams from stacking the line—this team is talented enough to win it all. Playing in the weak SEC East, though, with a bunch of no-name non-conference opponents (not even a Clemson), there’s no margin for error. Georgia will have to not only win the East and the conference, but probably run the table doing it. And if history is any indication, they’ll stumble a few times.
The general consensus is the Dawgs will go 10–2 and win the East, at least. Of course, that was the consensus last year, too, and we all saw what happened down in Jacksonville. Here’s a look at the upcoming season—along with a few tips for having fun at opposing fans’ expense.
WHEN: Sept. 5, noon, SEC Network
The Warhawks went 4–8 last year and don’t figure to be much better this year, since they can’t run the ball. At all. Third-worst in the country. This would be a good time to run some errands or something.
How to Troll a Louisiana-Monroe Fan: Come on, that’s like kicking a puppy.
WHEN: Sept. 12, 3:30 p.m., CBS
WHERE: Nashville, TN
Vandy is Vandy: They went winless in the SEC last year. After last year’s quarterback merry-go-round, Patton Robinette won the job in spring practice—then decided he’d rather go to medical school. Smart move. Head coach (and now defensive coordinator) Derek Mason had yet to name a starter at press time.
How to Troll a Vandy Fan: Jay Cutler memes.
WHO: South Carolina
WHEN: Sept. 19, 6 p.m., ESPN
Keep your eye on Pharoh Cooper, a junior who led the team last year in catches (69) and receiving yards (1,136) and even ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more. Newly hired defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, transfer safety Isaiah Johnson and freshmen defensive ends Marquavius Lewis and Dante Sawyer will be relied on to improve a defense that was awful last year (except for that goal line stand against Georgia, about which we will say no more).
How to Troll a Gamecocks Fan: You can’t. Spurrier is the master.
WHO: Southern University
WHEN: Sept. 26, time TBA
Southern went 8–1 in their conference last year. Unfortunately for them, that conference is the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Catch up on Netflix.
How to Troll a Southern Fan: Again with the puppy kicking. What’s wrong with you?
WHEN: Oct. 3, time TBA
Once again, the national championship runners-up are the best team in the best conference in college football. They’ve had four straight No. 1 recruiting classes. The defense should be dominating once again. Sure, they have questions at quarterback and wide receiver, where Blake Sims and Amari Cooper have departed, but Lane Kiffin continues to modernize the offense, and running back Derrick Henry can carry a team. They’re not invincible anymore, though. This is the game where Georgia will prove whether it’s a contender or pretender. And maybe “College GameDay” might pay Athens another visit?
How to Troll a Tide Fan: I mean, it’s Alabama. Make incest jokes. Talk about their racist sororities. Point out that Nick Saban hasn’t unclenched his asshole in 50 years. Just say “Ezekiel Elliott” over and over. Of course, be prepared for the retort that ‘Bama’s won 15 national championships and how many has Georgia won again?
WHEN: Oct. 10, time TBA
WHERE: Knoxville, TN
The No. 25-ranked Volunteers are a trendy sleeper pick, and for good reason: two top-10 recruiting classes in a row and 18 returning starters from a 7–6 team. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd look ready to make the leap. They might be a year away, but third-year coach Butch Jones has the Volunteers headed in the right direction, and this road game could easily trip up the Bulldogs.
How to Troll a Vols Fan: Sing “Rocky Top” every time Georgia scores, to prove how annoying that song is.
WHEN: Oct. 17, time TBA
Quarterback Maty Mauk is healthy after separating his throwing shoulder last year, and the Tigers’ outstanding offensive line ought to be able to keep him that way. Their highly rated pass rush took a blow, though, when tackle Harold Brantley was lost for the year due to a car wreck, and end Marcus Loud was kicked off the team. Still, the Tigers can rely on a trio of top linebackers—Kentrell Brothers, Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom—but they’re no match for Chubb. The Dawgs might not handle Missouri as easily as last year’s 34–0 blowout, but this is a game they ought to win.
How to Troll a Mizzou Fan: Point at the scoreboard.
WHEN: Oct. 31, 3:30 p.m., CBS
WHERE: Jacksonville, FL
Ugh. Let’s not even talk about what happened last year. This team has a new coach (Jim McElwain, formerly of Colorado State) and a new uptempo offense that should allow Treon Harris to improve upon his 50 percent completion rate. The Gators’ defense is stout but thin, and Georgia’s running attack can wear it down. Since Glynn County officials are cracking down on Frat Beach, Georgia can focus all that destructive energy onto the field. There is no way the Dawgs lose this game.
How to Troll a Gator Fan: Jim McElwain? Really, Florida? REALLY? What, Dan Mullen wouldn't return your calls?
WHEN: Nov. 7, time TBA
Kentucky is terrible. Kentucky has always been terrible and always will be terrible.
How to Troll a Wildcat Fan: Ask whether John Calipari’s had to vacate any titles lately.
WHEN: Nov. 14, time TBA
WHERE: Auburn, AL
After a disappointing end to 2014, the other Tigers once again will challenge for the SEC West title. Ex-Bulldog and former Florida head coach Will Muschamp is back where he belongs—as a defensive coordinator, yelling “BOOM!” at people from the sideline and clapping a lot. He’s responsible for shoring up an Auburn defense that allowed 27 points a game last year and gave up a ton of big plays. Gus Malzahn’s run-happy spread offense will be more balanced this year with Jeremy Johnson under center and star running back Cameron Artis-Payne gone.
How to Troll a Tigers Fan: “Hey, what happened to Toomer’s Corner?”
WHO: Georgia Southern
WHEN: Nov. 21, time TBA
The Eagles are for real, going undefeated in the not-terrible Sun Belt Conference in 2014, just their fifth year at the FCS (Division 1) level. The Bulldogs will win with ease anyway. GSU’s triple option offense will prep Georgia for rivals Georgia Tech the following week.
How to Troll a Georgia Southern Fan: Everyone in Statesboro wanted to go to UGA but couldn’t get in. Just be secure in that knowledge.
WHO: Georgia Tech
WHEN: Nov. 28, time TBA
The Yellow Jackets beat Georgia last year in one of this storied rivalry’s most thrilling (if also crushing) games ever en route to a Top 10 ranking. Quarterback Justin Thomas is terrifying running the option. He’s back, as is most of his line. Defense is an issue for the Ramblin’ Wreck, but it might be for the Dawgs, too. This one might be so high-scoring, you’d mistake it for a basketball game, except in basketball the ball’s in the air way more. Don’t miss it.
How to Troll a Tech Fan: Nerds.