Will the Georgia Bulldogs win 10 games in 2016, or is that asking too much out of a first year head coach in Kirby Smart. What seems realistic for UGA?
2016 is the first time the Georgia Bulldogs will have a new head coach on the gridiron since 2001 when Mark Richt took over for Jim Donnan. New head coach Kirby Smart played collegiately at Georgia and is coming off a National Championship as the defensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide. After signing the No. 7 recruiting class in the country last Wednesday, what seems like a realistic win/loss total for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2016?
Looking at the Georgia Bulldogs’ 2016 NCAA schedule, the Dawgs will have to do most of their heavy lifting in their first four games, as UGA will play the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Georgia Dome to open the season and its first two SEC games are at Missouri and at Ole Miss.
From there, most of UGA’s remaining games will take place at Sanford Stadium. The three exceptions to that are at South Carolina, at Kentucky, and Georgia/Florida in Jacksonville. Neither South Carolina and Kentucky made a bowl game in 2015 and don’t expect Georgia to play as horribly as they did against Florida last season. Essentially, Georgia has a great opportunity to pick up steam down the stretch in the season from October on.
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This is great given that October was an awful month for the Georgia Bulldogs last year, where all three losses to Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida all occurred in that month. While we don’t know how the team will play for Kirby Smart, Mark Richt led teams would usually do a good job of putting together lengthy winning streaks in the second half of the season. Most of Richt’s troubles came within the first four weeks of the regular season, dropping either a non-conference game or to South Carolina and having to play catchup the rest of the way.
Expect the strong Georgia defense from 2015 to easily transition into Smart’s defensive scheme. Georgia will have to rely on its defense to win close games again in 2016. The offense will largely game-manage in the early part of the season before finally finding continuity under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s staff. Do expect the offense to play with more balance in 2016 than it did in 2015 under then offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, whose offense struggled to move the chains aerially.
Realistically, the Georgia Bulldogs will be of about three or four teams contending for the SEC East again in 2016 with the Florida Gators, the Tennessee Volunteers, and maybe the Missouri Tigers. Georgia will have to go no worse than 6-2 to have a legitimate shot at winning the SEC East for the first time since 2012.
If Georgia is going to lose a game in 2016, as the Dawgs certainly will, it will happen in Oxford, Mississippi to the Ole Miss Rebels. Hugh Freeze’s team has bested Smart’s defense the last two years, Ole Miss has made to two straight New Year’s Six Bowls, and the Rebels have the best quarterback in the SEC entering 2016 in Chad Kelly. Playing on the road in Vaught-Hemingway sounds like a UGA loss already.
Georgia will also probably at least one of these other games: North Carolina, @South Carolina, Florida, @Kentucky. We won’t know how Smart’s UGA team travels until after the first part of the year. I have a feeling that the UNC game will be an ugly one, but the Dawgs will come out on top. Florida is the Dawgs’ biggest challenger in the East again this year. Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia has never been kind to UGA and night games in Commonwealth Stadium always have the potential for an upset.
In Kirby Smart’s first year as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, his team should go no worse that 9-4 (5-3) this season. He’ll probably lead the team to another 10 win season, but we as Dawg Nation have to temper our expectations a bit, as he is just a first year head coach. 2017 is the year we can expect the Dawgs to contend for an SEC Championship. 10 wins feels like a reasonable goal for the 2016 Georgia Bulldogs.