When previewing Georgia’s upcoming football season, it’s pretty clear which opponents are expected to provide the Dawgs with their greatest challenges, what with a visit to Knoxville and the annual gut-check in Jacksonville looming large.
For those UGA fans who will consider anything less than an SEC East title to be a bitter disappointment, the outcome of those games may well decide how the season goes. And, chances are, both will be games fans will be talking about for a while afterward, win or lose.
But, there’s a lot of football to be played starting Sept. 2. And, while some games beyond those against the Vols and Gators might not look quite as daunting 97 days out, I have a feeling they could be prove to be just as entertaining or memorable, if not more so.
There’s no doubt which game on the 2017 schedule has the greatest entertainment quotient: the Sept. 9 visit to Touchdown Jesus near South Bend, Ind.
Not only will it be the first time the Bulldogs and the Fighting Irish have met since Georgia beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the 1981 Sugar Bowl to win a consensus national championship, but chances are this game and the Irish’s return visit to Athens in 2019 will be a once-in-a-generation chance to see the programs meet.
With NBC televising the game nationally, it will be “the” game of the second week of the college football season and is a pretty big deal in that it will mark the Irish’s first regular-season game against an SEC opponent since they beat Tennessee at home in 2005.
Throw in the fact that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is on the hot seat, having drastically revamped his coaching staff after a 4-8 record last season, and you’re pretty much guaranteed the eyes of the football nation will be on this one.
On paper, at least, Georgia ought to be the favorite, since Notre Dame will be transitioning to its new system and replacing quarterback DeShone Kizer with Brandon Wimbush. But the Irish will return an experienced offensive line, are loaded at running back and will have some exciting talent at receiver, led by the marvelously named Equanimeous St. Brown. However, there are big questions about the Irish defense, especially up front, which should allow even Georgia’s questionable offensive line to create some holes for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
Still, even if this one doesn’t wind up being a match of the ages between two great teams, the surrounding factors make it must-see viewing even for casual fans.
Of course, Georgia has its usual tough SEC schedule (this year with Mississippi State the rotating opponent from the West), and any one of the SEC games could provide an entertaining afternoon or evening of football. Georgia-Auburn is nearly always a competitive game.
But, I have a feeling the Oct. 14 visit to Athens by the Missouri Tigers could prove to be something of a barn burner, as the 2016 game was when Jacob Eason threw a 20-yard TD pass to Isaiah McKenzie on fourth down with 1:31 left to play to give the Dawgs a 28-27 squeaker.
Mizzou also has a lot of defensive question marks that could point to a big day for Eason, Chubb, Michel and Co., but the Tigers return most of their explosive offense, led by quarterback Drew Lock, who threw for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns against Georgia last year. So, this one has possible shootout written all over it, and those games tend to be immensely entertaining (especially for fans of the team still standing at the end).
As for the nonconference slate, that’s filled out by a cupcake (Samford), the annual grudge match with the North Avenue Trade School, and the Sept. 2 opening game of the season, which is a lot more interesting than your usual opener against a Sun Belt conference team since the opponent is Appalachian State, known as something of a giant killer since it stunned Michigan a decade ago.
Just last year, the Mountaineers from North Carolina led the Vols by 10 at halftime and took Tennessee into overtime in Knoxville before losing. App State went on to win a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship.
Entering their fourth season playing at the FBS level, the Mountaineers have a veteran quarterback in Taylor Lamb and a potent rushing offense led by Jalin Moore, last year’s Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year. Yes, Georgia should be the better team by far in this (thankfully) evening matchup, but season openers tend to have many unknowns, and this one could prove to be a lot more “entertaining” than Dawgs fans would like.
Feel free to share your thoughts on the games you are most anticipating in 2017.
(If there’s something you want to discuss, or you have a question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with me on Facebook or via Twitter. And don’t forget to check out past entries of the Junkyard Blawg.)