As we inch closer to the start of the season, it’s time to review the schedules of every SEC team.
Whether it’s home vs. road, nonconference matchups or potential trap games, there’s a lot to get into.
We continue the series with the Georgia Bulldogs:
Nonconference opponents (with 2015 record)
Sept. 3: North Carolina at Georgia Dome, Atlanta (11-3)
Sept. 10: Nicholls State (3-8)
Nov. 19: Louisiana-Lafayette (4-8)
Nov. 26: Georgia Tech (3-9)
SEC home games
Oct. 1: Tennessee
Oct. 15: Vanderbilt
Nov. 12: Auburn
SEC road games
Sept. 17: Missouri
Sept. 24: Ole Miss
Oct. 8: South Carolina
Nov. 5: Kentucky
SEC Neutral-site game
Oct. 29: Florida at EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Gut-check time: A three-week stretch early in the season should tell us whether Georgia will compete for an SEC East title in Kirby Smart’s first year as a head coach. The Bulldogs open SEC play -- potentially with a new quarterback making the first road start of his career -- on Sept. 17 at Missouri. While the Tigers’ offense still has a lot to prove, their defense is loaded with playmakers capable of making this a rocky afternoon for the Bulldogs. Up next are arguably the toughest games on Georgia’s schedule: a visit to Ole Miss on Sept. 24 followed by a home date with SEC East favorite Tennessee on Oct. 1. The Kirby hype around Northeast Georgia will explode off the charts if the Bulldogs somehow make it to 5-0 once they finish with the Volunteers. Heck, going 4-1 in that tough early stretch would also be an outstanding outcome for the Bulldogs.
Trap game: Perhaps “trap game” is an inaccurate description of the opener against North Carolina, since the Tar Heels went 11-3 last season, but this will be an awfully dangerous game for Georgia. The Bulldogs will basically play on their home turf at the neutral-site Georgia Dome, and yet they face several huge questions entering Smart’s debut. Will superstar running back Nick Chubb be 100 percent, or available at all? Will the starting quarterback be a veteran like Greyson Lambert or Brice Ramsey or will hotshot freshman Jacob Eason claim the job? Who will fill the numerous openings on defense? And how will Smart handle being the man in charge for the first time? North Carolina has holes of its own to fill, particularly up front on a defense that struggled against the run in 2015 -- an unfortunate reality for Gene Chizik as he devises a plan to slow down Chubb and Sony Michel -- but nothing like the roster/coaching turnover that occurred in Athens. Larry Fedora’s UNC team is certainly capable of making this an unhappy debut for the Smart regime if the Bulldogs aren’t on their game on Sept. 3.
Final analysis: SEC teams rarely play two Power 5 nonconference opponents in one fall, but that’s what the Bulldogs will do with UNC in the opener and rival Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale. That said, Georgia’s slate is not especially daunting. The Ole Miss-Tennessee stretch is the only spot on the entire schedule where the Bulldogs play consecutive scary games. Still, there are four or five contests that are anything but gimmes. The good news for Smart is that Georgia gets three challenging opponents (Tennessee, Auburn, Georgia Tech) at home. Further, aside from Ole Miss, Georgia’s other true SEC road games come against teams -- Mizzou, South Carolina and Kentucky -- that all fell short of bowl eligibility last year. However, the Bulldogs will play at Sanford Stadium just six times thanks to neutral-site games against UNC and Florida. ESPN’s Football Power Index rates Georgia’s schedule as the 16th-most difficult slate in the FBS, but that ranks eighth among SEC teams. By the conference’s lofty standards, this is a manageable first set of games for Smart & Co.