We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to bring you something that I know a couple of you out there have been waiting for. Because it’s that time of year again, the time of year when quarterbacks start checking down and going through their progressions, receivers start running routes, running backs start hitting holes, tackles start sealing the corner, and paranoid head coaches start closing off practice so the media can’t get in and leak information to the enemy. The air is heavy with anticipation as pollsters, pundits, and prognosticators of all stripes are coming out with their projections, prognostications, and in some cases outright prevarications, concerning the upcoming season.
ICYMI: Angry white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia, with tiki torches. This is a very sad and very difficult moment in our nation’s history. We have discussed at length how horrific it is that such a thing can happen, and especially the way in which our president, the toxic-waste-dump-in-a-bod Donald Trump, responded to it. But I think we can at least have a good laugh over the way these morons went about it. We can laugh at the irony of using Polynesian tiki torches to assert white supremacy. We can laugh at the idea of all these guys running down to Lowe’s to get tiki torches and then heading over to the protest. We can laugh at the color-coordinated polo shirts and the irony of a crowd screaming “We will not be replaced” when you could swap anyone in that crowd with someone else and no one would notice. We can laugh at just the overall wrongness: “Guys we need to look tough. GET THE TIKI TORCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Which brings us to Georgia football. How do we get there from here? Don’t know. Just say that there will be people marching in the streets with tiki torches if this year isn’t better than the last.
History is on Kirby Smart’s side in this regard, as there seems to be a fairly strong trend of new coaches taking a big leap forward in Year 2. Nick Saban, Smart’s mentor, went from 7-6 in Year 1 at Alabama to 12-2 (8-0 SEC) in Year 2. While that may be a problematic comparison as Alabama had an experienced quarterback in John Parker Wilson and Saban had already won a national championship at LSU, the trend remains: Mark Richt went from an 8-4 debut season at Georgia in 2001 to 13-1 and an SEC championship in 2002. Urban Meyer went from 9-3 in his first year at Florida to 13-1 in his second. Ohio State’s Jim Tressel went from 7-5 to 14-0. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops went from 7-5 to 13-0.
There is reason to believe the same could happen at Georgia. The defense is expected to be among the best in the country. With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel returning for one more season, the running game is expected to be great. Decision-making from quarterback Jacob Eason is expected to be improved. The offensive line remains a question mark. (Isn’t it always?) But the questions surrounding the offensive line have more to do with experience than size or athleticism.
Look around at the rest of the SEC East and the view is equally encouraging. Once upon a time the road to the SEC championship and even the national championship routinely ran through Knoxville, Tennessee and/or Gainesville, Florida. Those days are no more. Instead, the SEC East has been a toxic waste dump for the entirety of this decade and is expected to continue to be so this year. Tennessee is replacing a lot of key players but still has the same coach, whom they might not have by the end of this season. Florida is pretty good but not great, in an era in which pretty good is good enough to win the SEC East. South Carolina under Will Muschamp is pretty good, which is good enough to meet expectations over in Columbia. Missouri is not that great these days, but still fun to watch. Vanderbilt and Kentucky are, well, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
So Georgia has a shot this year, at least. (Don’t they always?) Yet just because they can win the SEC East or because they should, doesn’t necessarily mean they will. Recent history is littered with the corpses of Georgia teams that were dead in the SEC East by the end of October after starting the season as prohibitive favorites to win the division. Kirby Smart was hired to bridge this gap between potential and reality.
Appalachian State: This team upset Michigan in Ann Arbor back in 2007. The last time they were in Athens, they were still in the game at halftime, though Georgia picked it up in the second half and ran away with the game. With Notre Dame coming up next week, look for a similar showing.
Prediction: Georgia 45, Appalachian State 14.
Notre Dame: Brian Kelly is coming off one of the worst seasons Notre Dame has had in years, and he is feeling the heat from fans and boosters. Notre Dame will be better this year, and the game is in South Bend. They don’t call it the Luck of the Irish for nothing.
Prediction: Notre Dame 36, Georgia 31.
Samford: If you liked that Youtube short video of Bambi vs. Godzilla, this is the game for you.
Prediction: Georgia 51, Samford 14.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen has had a pretty good run of success at Mississippi State, in that he has taken them to seven straight bowl games. He is known for developing quarterbacks and has one this year, Nick Fitzgerald, who is supposed to be pretty good.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Mississippi State 13.
Tennessee: As noted earlier, Tennessee has lost several key players but still has the same coach, whom they might not have by the end of this season. Butch Jones is their version of Jim Donnan; he consistently wins more than he loses and he was an improvement over what they had before, but thus far he has been unable to lift Tennessee into championship contention. Knoxville has been the site of many a horrific Georgia nightmare over the years, but I don’t see that happening this year.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Tennessee 20.
Vanderbilt: Last year Vanderbilt came to Athens and embarrassed Georgia on homecoming. Hey, it happens. This year, expect a reversion to form.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Vanderbilt 10.
Missouri: With their schedule this year, Missouri could easily win 6 games where the best team they’ve beaten is South Carolina or Vanderbilt. Their hurry-up offense will be interesting to watch.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Missouri 12.
Florida: Like Tennessee, Florida also has its version of Jim Donnan in Jim McElwain. Florida has been fortunate enough to be pretty good in an era in which pretty good is good enough to beat Georgia and win the SEC East. Florida has owned Georgia for the last three decades almost, frequently with teams of demonstrably lesser talent. I refuse to expect anything different until I see it with my own eyes.
Prediction: Florida 20, Georgia 13.
South Carolina: South Carolina figures to be another pretty good SEC East team this year. But unlike Florida, this is a team Georgia can actually beat.
Prediction: Georgia 24, South Carolina 10.
Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s spread offense is extremely dependent on having the right quarterback, whom he has struggled to find after Nick Marshall left. After a horrible 2015 season that left Malzahn on the hot seat, 2016 was a bounceback year for Auburn (sort of). But Auburn faded at the end of 2016 with losses to Georgia and Alabama, and Malzahn remains on the hot seat.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Auburn 20.
Kentucky: This is how much of a toxic waste dump the SEC East is these days: Kentucky was actually relevant in the SEC East for about a week in November 2016. Being Kentucky, they pissed it away. This was the game in which our bespectacled hipster placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship kicked a last-second field goal to win it and became a viral sensation. This win was one of the highlights of our season, which says a lot about where we were in 2016.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Kentucky 10.
Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech’s star running back just got kicked off the team for an unspecified violation of athletic department rules (those will get you every time). Though this changes the complexion of Georgia Tech’s season, they still have eight winnable games on the schedule. Unless they are able to pull a miracle with the personnel on hand (could happen), this isn’t one of them.
Prediction: Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 16.
As a bonus feature, please enjoy this video of Tina Fey, a UVA alum, on Weekend Update satirically suggesting that we respond to this and future alt-right protests in the whitest way possible: When shit gets real, gorge yourself on sheet cake.