Georgia’s 2018 nonconference football schedule has been dubbed “atrocious” by one ESPN talking head, and a home slate that includes Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass isn’t to many fans’ liking. But, could the weakness of the schedule actually hurt the Dawgs’ College Football Playoff chances this season?
That’s what a UGA fan is fretting about in the leadoff letter of this installment of Junkyard Mail …
Bill, I’m worried about how our terrible nonconference schedule this season could keep Kirby and the boys from getting another shot at the National Championship. Our schedule this year is an insult to Bulldog Nation. Greg McGarity constantly holds his hand out demanding we pony up more money, but we get the likes of the Austin Peay Governors in return? And with higher ticket prices? Worse, how is our strength of schedule likely to play into our chances of making the playoff? I know that if Georgia wins the SEC, we’re pretty much a lock, but I’m worried about how a one-loss Dawgs team might fare if it doesn’t win the conference. I know the knock on Wisconsin last season was their weak schedule, and that’s why they weren’t in playoff contention. Do you think maybe McGarity has outsmarted himself with this cupcake schedule?
— Mickey Johnson
Yes, Georgia’s 2018 nonconference schedule is embarrassingly weak, and, as a season-ticket buyer, I don’t like it any more than you do, Mickey. But, the schedule is comparable to Alabama’s, and I haven’t heard anyone over at ESPN criticizing the Tide in that regard.
The key is the conference schedule. This year, UGA plays LSU and Auburn from the SEC West, both of whom are likely to be ranked in the preseason based on early projections, while Alabama plays Missouri and Tennessee from the East, who likely won’t be ranked. Georgia plays South Carolina, who likely will be ranked. Bama plays Texas A&M and Mississippi State, who might be ranked.
The nonconference schedules also are comparable. Georgia plays Georgia Tech; Bama plays Louisville. Georgia plays an FCS team; so does Bama. And, one of Georgia’s cupcakes (Middle Tennessee) beat one of Bama’s cupcakes (Arkansas State) in the Camellia Bowl.
So, if the folks at ESPN ding UGA for its nonconference slate, they should do likewise to Bama and any other Power 5 schools playing three cupcakes.
Bottom line: The only way Georgia’s weak nonconference schedule might affect the Dawgs’ prospects this season is if they end up on the College Football Playoff bubble. As you note, if the Dawgs win the SEC Championship Game, they’re in the playoff, even if they come into the game with a conference loss.
However, if they lose the SEC title game and wind up with, say, two losses, then strength of schedule might come into play. Of course, your standard SEC schedule is harder than most other Power 5 conference schedules, so that probably negates the likelihood of the games with Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass dragging Georgia down.
Remember, Bama edged out Ohio State for a spot in the CFP last season, despite not winning its division or conference, and that was with a nonconference schedule that included one Power 5 team (Florida State) that ended up unranked, plus Fresno State, Colorado State and Mercer — not much better than its 2018 slate.
The only troubling thought I have about all this is that a Georgia team on the bubble might not get the same sort of benefit of the doubt from committee members as did the fabled Crimson Tide.
Hey, Bill, Here are the realistic expectations for UGA fans for 2018: We should win the East; not winning the East would be bad, given first year coaches at UF and UT and the considerable talent gap between UGA and the rest of the East. BUT, the SEC Championship is the real question. No doubt, we will play Alabama again. Somehow, we’ve got to get over the Alabama hump. Saban is the Tom Brady of college football. Maybe Kirby will be like Dabo [Swinney] and needs that one year to season the team before becoming successful playing Saban. We shall see.
— Brad Denney, Birmingham
I’d say your expectations are pretty reasonable for the coming season. And, most fans I’ve heard from tend to agree with you. But, here’s one who thinks the Dawgs will falter a bit in 2018:
Bill, Before the start of the 2017 season, I predicted the Dawgs would go 12-0 in the regular season, beating some opponents really bad, lose to the Tide in the SEC Championship, but still make the playoffs and maybe win a national championship. I was pretty close. It was not that hard to predict. For 2018, the state of the defense and the scheduling is not good. The second week is at USC against a good QB [Jake Bentley], and the fourth week on the road against another good QB [Missouri’s Drew Lock]. The Dawgs will lose both those games, eliminating the chance to win the SEC East. There are probably two more losses, to Auburn and LSU. I also predict that [Justin] Fields takes over the QB duties at some point.
— Mark Padgett
Maybe most fans are being overly optimistic, Mark, but yours is the most pessimistic outlook I’ve heard so far for the 2018 Dawgs. Most observers still see Georgia as the class of the SEC East, despite losing quite a few starters on defense. You’re right that playing South Carolina in Columbia early could be a tough one, and LSU in Baton Rouge also could be tricky. And, yes, Auburn will be tough, as usual. However, even with Lock leading a prolific offense, unless Missouri’s defense improves considerably, I don’t see the Tigers beating Georgia. My own expectations are that Georgia reaches the SEC title game again. I’m not ready to predict beyond that.
As for Justin Fields beating out Jake Fromm, I think that’s unlikely, barring another injury situation like 2017. However, if he’s good enough to take the job away from Fromm, Georgia still would be in great shape.
Bill, What about playing Fields and Fromm at the same time with several versions of trick plays? Hard to defend this.
— Harold in Costa Rica
I wouldn’t rule out Georgia putting both quarterbacks on the field, maybe with Fromm throwing to Fields, but more likely, I think, is Jim Chaney and his staff coming up with some packages for Fields to get him playing time at QB other than mop-up duty (a good idea since he’s the only other scholarship quarterback, and you never know when your starter might take a cheap shot).
Bill, I enjoyed your Blawg on your favorite Georgia Bulldogs teams, but I have to disagree with you when it comes to the 2017 team. They led Alabama for most of the game, but didn’t get it done! For too long, Georgia fans have been willing to accept second-best. We should demand better and only celebrate those teams that deliver!
— Charlie Carpenter
I, too, was disappointed that Georgia allowed Alabama to come back and win that overtime game, but that doesn’t make me any less fond of the 2017 team, and that’s what I was picking: my favorite teams. From Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy passing up the NFL draft to return for their senior years, to the road win at Notre Dame, to the revenge tour (including an SEC Championship Game win over Auburn) to the dramatic win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, that was a special season and a special team, no matter the result in the National Championship Game. So, yeah, the 2017 team is one for the ages.
Hi Bill, Looking ahead to the new season, I’m excited, but also nervous because of all the great players we’re losing. Just about every area of the team lost talent, but I’m wondering which unit you think is the biggest question mark.
— Sally Ledbetter
The linebackers, Sally. While the entire defense probably should be considered a concern, and the secondary was the weak link this past year, I think having to replace all four starters at linebacker will be the biggest challenge faced by the UGA coaching staff. The biggest loss is All-America dynamo Roquan Smith, who led the team in tackles and made impact plays all over the field, but Georgia also has to replace Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Reggie Carter.
Hopefully, Natrez Patrick, a sometime starter last season before getting suspended, will be back. His return (still not confirmed) would be huge. But, even with him back, the Dawgs will have to replace an awful lot of tackles.
Georgia does have some experienced linebackers it will be hoping can take up some of the slack, including Juwan Taylor (who started last season against Vanderbilt), Monty Rice (who started against Missouri) and Tae Crowder. Also likely to get consideration are Jaden Hunter, Nate McBride, and two 4-star freshmen: Channing Tindall and Quay Walker (a longtime Alabama prospect who flipped at the last minute to Georgia).
That’s it for this time. If there’s anything you’d like to discuss about UGA sports, something you want to get off your chest, or if you have a question for the Blawg, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.