What are UGA fans’ expectations for 2016 football season?

Among the question marks hanging over this year's team is how soon Nick Chubb will be available and at full strength. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Most Dawgs fans I’ve talked with were mildly surprised, but not really perturbed, by the preseason vote at SEC Media Days predicting Georgia will finish third in the SEC East behind Tennessee and Florida, the lowest UGA has been picked since 2007 (when it also was predicted third in the East).

Tennessee was selected to win the SEC Eastern Division with 2,167 points, including 225 first-place votes. Florida was second with 1,891 points and 57 first-place votes, while Georgia was third with 1,860 total points and 45 votes to win the East.

How the transition to QB Jacob Eason is handled could determine what sort of season it is. (David Barnes / UGA)

Before the media poll, a lot of media types had been picking Georgia second in the East, and it’s worth noting that, while they were picked third in this vote, the Dawgs still garnered the fourth-most votes in a separate SEC Media Days poll on who will win the conference title, behind Alabama, LSU and Tennessee, but ahead of Florida. (Of course, last year, Alabama was picked to win the West but another team from the West, Auburn, was tabbed as the likely conference champion.)

Consistency isn’t a hallmark of SEC media votes, plus the vote is notoriously unreliable — only one time in the past five years has the media vote picked the correct winner of the SEC East (last year they picked Georgia). And, only five times since 1992 (three times in the past 20 years) has the predicted champion at SEC Media Days actually won the SEC Championship.

Actually, I think this prediction is probably a good spot for the Dawgs, psychologically, as they start the Kirby Smart era. I have a sneaking suspicion they’ll finish a tad better than that (second), and exceeding media expectations is always better than not meeting them, which Mark Richt’s teams routinely had done in recent years.

Talking with other Georgia fans the past couple of days, I’ve heard only two say they think the Dawgs will win the East (and one of them is my brother Jonathan, who predicts a national championship for Georgia every year). Most said they see Georgia as probably a 9-3 team, with a few even expecting 8-4, based on a number of major question marks hanging over Smart’s first group of Bulldogs.

After all, the Dawgs either will start an experienced but not super talented quarterback or will be tossing the dice on a promising but completely inexperienced true freshman. The team’s two top running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, seem unlikely to start the first game as they come back from injuries; there are a lot of unknowns and depth issues concerning both the offensive and defensive fronts and the wide receivers; and it remains to be seen whether the Dawgs will have a reliable placekicker. If not, that could cost them at least a game.

On top of all that, the toughest part of Georgia’s 2016 schedule looks to be the first five weeks, which will include the opener against North Carolina, a visit to Ole Miss and playing host to the Vols in Athens. A lot of the fans I’ve chatted with say they’ll be relatively happy if the Dawgs come out of that with a 3-2 record, and some think 2-3 is more likely (though they tend to see Georgia picking up steam as the season progresses).

Said one fan: “I see a potentially rough September where they have 2-3 losses and then they may roll as the running backs get healthy and the QB settles in. Honestly, if they sweep their games post-Tennessee, which would include beating Florida, then I think the season is a success, even with 3 losses.”

But how the Georgia coaching staff handles the expected transition from Greyson Lambert (or Brice Ramsey) to QB of the future Jacob Eason could determine how this season goes. If they try to make the transition too slowly, or are indecisive and keep switching QBs, that could derail Smart’s first season.

Said another fan, “I expect the Dawgs to lose at least two of their toughest games and probably win one they’re not supposed to somewhere along the way. I just worry they might lose one of the ones they’re supposed to win, like Richt teams seemed to do at least once a year.”

So, I put the question to you like I did with the fans I talked with: Would you be satisfied with a 9-3 record and not winning the East in Smart’s first year? Most said they would be, but that’s about the limit of their tolerance. Said one fan: “I’d be really disappointed if this team loses four games.”

Ole Miss and Tennessee appear to be the most likely losses, most fans said. Several folks said they also fear Florida could take a third win in a row, but I’m not sold on the Gators. To be honest, I’m not entirely sold on Tennessee, either, but I still expect the Dawgs to lose that one. Plus Ole Miss. Until Sony Michel got hurt, I thought they’d beat UNC; now I’m not so sure.

I still am thinking 9-3, though. And if one of those wins is Florida, I think Georgia places second in the East.

That wouldn’t be a bad showing for a first-year coach, would it?

UGA TAKEOVER DAY

UGA fans never tire of watching the “SEC Storied” special on Herschel Walker. (University of Georgia)

The SEC Network again is turning itself over to the conferences’ 14 schools for a two-week stretch.

Beginning Monday, each school will program 24 hours of the network with classic games, films, ESPN original content and school-produced content.

Georgia’s takeover day on the network is set for July 26. Included in the schedule are the Florida and Notre Dame wins from 1980 national football championship season; the 2000 Outback Bowl, in which Georgia posted its biggest comeback in the program’s bowl history; the NCAA East Regional Final that propelled Georgia to the 1983 basketball Final Four; the 2008 NCAA Super Regional Final win over North Carolina State that sent the Diamond Dogs to the College World Series; and this year’s dramatic win over Florida that sent the softball Lady Dogs into the Women’s College World Series. Plus the oft-shown “SEC Storied” documentary on Herschel Walker, and more.

Sounds like a fun 24 hours!

If there’s something you want to discuss or you have a question for the Junkyard Blawg, email me at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

Have trouble finding past entries of the Junkyard Blawg at DawgNation? You can read them here (bookmark this link for future use!).

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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