Navigating the 2015 Schedule

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Navigating the 2015 Schedule

Linebacker Lorenzo Carter
(Photo by John Kelley)
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The 2015 Schedule, like all SEC schedules, will produce serious challenges. Will the Dawgs be ready?

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September 5
Louisiana-Monroe – Sanford Stadium
2014 Record: 4-8 (3-5 Sun Belt)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 4

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Clearly this is one that Georgia will win, or else it goes down as one of the most humiliating losses in school history. The Louisiana-Monroe team that beat Arkansas and nearly Auburn is gone, and this is a classic tune-up. The big question for Georgia is who the starting quarterback and center will be. While a victory should be a foregone conclusion, the play of the Bulldogs at quarterback and center is of vital importance to Georgia’s championship hopes of 2015. The Warhawks will be the first test and the Dogs certainly want to get off to a good start.


For Georgia fans, getting to see several members of this highly touted recruiting class, most significantly on defense and at wide receiver, will be a good treat for a taste of what’s to come.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] September 12
Vanderbilt – Nashville Vanderbilt Stadium
2014 Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 3
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After going 9-4 in back to back seasons, including a 2013 campaign in which the Commodores pulled off a Haley’s Comet once in three generations and beat Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the same season, James Franklin left for Penn State. The Commodores brought in Derek Mason and were far and away the worst team in the SEC. Vandy fell in the season opener to Temple 37-7. That was not a good tone setter.


Vanderbilt projects to have the worst offense and defense in the SEC, but will be eyeing the early season upset of the Bulldogs. On Georgia’s last trip to Nashville, the Bulldogs suffered an embarrassing 31-27 loss to the Commodores in a game riddled with turnovers and special teams gaffes. Georgia rolled past the outmanned Commodores 44-17 a year ago in Athens. It should be another easy win for the Bulldogs this year. And this is the first of two straight “Burn the Boats” games for the Bulldogs. Because if the Dogs aren’t undefeated heading into October, it’s wait ‘til next year.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] September 19
South Carolina – Sanford Stadium
2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 7
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Steve Spurrier guided the Gamecocks to three straight 11-2 campaigns, unchartered territory in South Carolina’s morbid to mediocre history. Last year, the ‘Cocks fell to 7-6, but did beat Georgia – the team that Spurrier has beaten unlike any coach ever – for a signature moment of the campaign.

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To borrow from the great Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, It is a “burn the boats” game for Georgia, just like the week prior (the story is an all-time great motivator). It’s a must win if the Bulldogs are to have any championship aspirations. It’s also a must win to avoid losing to South Carolina for the fifth time in six years, once an unfathomable thought prior to the arrival of “The Head Ball Coach.”


South Carolina opens with North Carolina in Charlotte at the Panthers stadium and then hosts Kentucky the week prior to the trip to Athens.


Both the Bulldogs and Gamecocks have major question marks at quarterback, but the Bulldogs are in better shape at running back and on defense. The difference this year could be made by defensive improvement. South Carolina’s offensive line pushed the Bulldogs around in Columbia and 35 points wasn’t enough to win. The boys in the striped shirts owe the Bulldogs one for the hold that wasn’t, which cost Georgia a long touchdown run by Todd Gurley and the lead. The Bulldogs also came up with two turnovers deep in Gamecock territory and managed only three points. To beat Spurrier, capitalizing is key. As he nears the end of a remarkable career, you know he would love another piece of the hedge to add to his Georgia hit list.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] September 26
Southern University – Sanford Stadium
2014 Record: 9-4 (8-1 SWAC)
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This will be the first trip to Athens for the Jaguars out of Baton Rouge, La. Southern has been a longtime Southwestern Athletic Conference powerhouse, and has claimed nine Black College National Championships in its history.


Last season, the Jaguars started 2-3, then ripped off a seven game winning streak that culminated with a 52-45 victory over Grambling in the Superdome’s Bayou Classic. The streak came to an end in the SWAC Championship Game to Alcorn State.


Arguably more famous than the football program is the Southern University Marching Band. You won’t want to miss the halftime show for what may well be the best ever band to visit Sanford Stadium.


Georgia should chalk up a “W” here and head into the monster showdown with Alabama and a grueling October slate with a full head of steam. If the Bulldogs are 4-0, things are in place for Georgia to make a run.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] October 3
Alabama – Sanford Stadium
2014 Record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 9.5
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The last time these two met, Georgia came painfully close to the SEC championship and a crack at the national title. But Alabama prevailed. The last time the Crimson Tide visited Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs “blacked it out” and were losing 31-0 at the half. The hype for this game will be incredible, as both have a good shot at being undefeated.


This is the start of a difficult four-game stretch for Alabama and a rugged month for the Bulldogs. Both will be coming off tune-ups, as the Dogs play Southern the week prior and Alabama hosts Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks and Georgia both beat Alabama in Nick Saban’s first year at the Crimson Tide helm. Bama has finished in the top ten every year since. As hyped as this one will be, the ones the next week are even bigger for both, as Georgia goes to Tennessee and Alabama hosts Arkansas. Those are division games, and if things break right, who knows, there could potentially be a rematch in December.


Saban has recruited Georgia like no Crimson Tide coach ever, with the help of his longtime defensive coordinator, former Bulldog standout Kirby Smart. So a lot will be on the line from that front. If the winner of this one goes to 5-0, anything short of a berth in Atlanta with a shot at the playoff will be a disappointment.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] October 10
Tennessee – Knoxville Neyland Stadium
2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 7.5
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On the win-ability meter this one could be last for the Bulldogs. Tennessee is flying high after winning three of its last four SEC games in 2014 and then defeating Iowa in the Gator Bowl. Last season, Georgia edged the Vols 35-32, marking a fifth straight win in the series. The last three have been won by Georgia by seven, three and three. With Georgia boasting the far superior talent every time out.


That talent gap has closed.


The Volunteers, like Georgia, are stacked at running back. The Vols have big time juice at wide receiver, and are settled at quarterback and both lines of scrimmage.


As important, Georgia will be coming off the Titanic tilt with Alabama in Athens. Can Georgia get up emotionally again – and then again the next week vs. Missouri between the hedges. Tennessee figures to also be coming off a physical test with Arkansas in Knoxville. The week prior, Tennessee is at Florida. The Vols can let it all hang out emotionally and physically, as an open date follows prior to the annual October tangle with Alabama – this year in Tuscaloosa.


Tennessee has long losing streaks to Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The Vols have come so close to picking off the Bulldogs, especially the last two years. Florida came back to win 10-9 in Knoxville last year, but the Vols will at least be an even money pick September 26 in Gainesville.


Without a doubt Tennessee has a legitimate shot at winning the SEC East. The schedule is tough, as always, and it may not let the Vols run to a great record. If the Volunteers don’t make it to Atlanta, it is still a good bet that there will be a couple of more signature wins to come for a proud program on the uptick – and the Georgia game is circled on the Tennessee schedule.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] October 17
Missouri – Sanford Stadium
2014 Record: 11-3 (7-1 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 7.5
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For a second straight season, Missouri made it to the SEC Championship Game. Nobody saw that coming. Nobody. Not even the staunchest of Missouri football supporters. Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Spurrier-era Gamecock fans have figuratively challenged Vince Lombardi’s “What the Hell’s Going on Here?!”


Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Tigers have won in Athens, Gainesville, Knoxville and the other Columbia.


This will be season number four for the Tigers in the SEC, and Georgia is hoping to record the first home team victory in this series. Georgia won the 1960 Orange Bowl 14-0 over the Tigers in the only meeting prior to the Midwestern school’s arrival in the Southeastern Conference.


In Mizzou’s first SEC game in 2012, the Bulldogs dominated the fourth quarter and won in Columbia 41-20. In Athens the following season, the Tigers jumped to a 28-10 lead and pulled away to a 41-26 win. It was all Bulldogs last year at Mizzou, as the Dogs cashed in on five turnovers and cruised to a 34-0 win. But Missouri wouldn’t lose again until the SEC Championship Game.


Maty Mauck is back at quarterback and the Tigers have been able to overcome the loss of elite defensive linemen the last couple of years. Though Shane Ray leaves big shoes to fill. Clearly this is a game that Georgia needs. Falling again at home to Missouri and perhaps giving the Tigers the inside track to another return to Atlanta. This will be a fourth straight SEC game for Mizzou, and the Tigers will be coming off a home date with the Gators. So both teams will be in the midst of a tough stretch of games. If the Bulldogs come out of this one at 6-1 – or better – the hope for a dream season is still alive.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] October 31
Florida – Jacksonville EverBank Field
2014 Record: 7-5 (4-4 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 7.5
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A year ago, downtrodden Florida blistered high-flying Georgia 38-20 in what goes down as one of the worst and most head-scratching losses of the Mark Richt era. Big dreams were dashed. It would be Will Muschamp’s lone win in the Georgia-Florida series and the signature moment of the Gators season. Georgia’s dreams were dashed in mind-boggling fashion.


Florida has turned to Jim McElwain, who had outstanding success at Colorado State following a stint as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. The Gators, as always, have talent, led by star cornerback Vernon Hargraves III. The defense should again be very good, the question is whether a lot of offensive positions will be solidified when the cocktail party comes around.


Virtually every offensive spot for the Gators has question marks, but that doesn’t mean talent is not there.


Georgia missed out on a golden opportunity to make It four straight in a series that had painfully gone 18-3 in Florida’s favor from 1990- 2010. Here’s the deal too, Georgia needs to start another Florida coach with a losing record in the series. A vast majority of Florida’s wins over Georgia in the 21-year stretch came under the watch of all-time great coaches Spurrier and Meyer. The two that sting extra bad were the two to Ron Zook in 2002 and 2003 when Georgia clearly had the better team, talent and coach. But those losses cost Georgia shots at national championships. And last year’s destroyed those dreams as well.


If Georgia is in position, i.e. 6-1 or 7-0, avoiding a repeat of last season and giving Florida another winning streak in the series is a must on the path to championship dreams.

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November 7
Kentucky – Sanford Stadium
2014 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 6


Mark Stoops seems to have the Wildcats moving in the right direction. Kentucky has pulled in a couple of front-line recruits and quarterback Patrick Towels is one of the league’s top returning starters. This game will simply be a case of hunger for the Bulldogs. Last season after the embarrassment in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs thrashed the Wildcats 63-31. Isaiah McKenzie set the tone, returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Georgia could have won by an even wider margin, but struggled on the field of short “lob wedge style” kickoffs. That problem reared its ugly head a few weeks later in one of the most horrific losses in school history.


It will help the Bulldogs that the Wildcats have a big game the week before as well. With conference expansion and Kentucky moving the Louisville game to the end of the season, the Wildcats won’t close the season with Tennessee, they will host the Volunteers the week before the trip to Athens. Kentucky started last year 5-1, losing a 36-30 triple overtime heart-breaker at Florida. But the Wildcats lost their final six games of the season.

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November 14
Auburn – Jordan Hare Stadium
2014 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 8.5


What a roller coaster it has been for Auburn over the past five seasons, highlighted by a pair of trips to the BCS Championship Game and lowlight- ed by a historically bad 3-9 campaign in 2012. Gus Malzone is in his third year at the Auburn helm, and his fast paced offense is fully installed. “The Gus Bus” took Auburn to the brink of the national title in 2013 – with some serious magic under the tires that season. Last year, the magic was there until November, when the Tigers got their hearts bro- ken by Texas A&M, got smoked at Georgia and lost a shootout to Alabama. In Tampa, the Tigers fell to Wisconsin. The Badgers and Aggies both lost games 59-0 last season.


There is no rivalry like Georgia-Auburn, the deep south’s oldest and often most entertaining. Here is a twist for longtime Georgia fans that give Bulldog fans yet another reason to look at the heaven’s and ask why us? Georgia has won seven of the last nine meetings with the Tigers, with the last three Bulldogs wins coming by 38, 38 and 27 points. So which team has twice played for the national title? Auburn of course. Shake fist and head.


Jeremy Johnson takes over at quarterback for the Tigers, Duke Williams is back at receiver and Auburn has newcomer impact coming on the perimeter and at running back. The big question will be the kind of impact Muschamp has on the defense? There is a lot of talent there, but the defense wasn’t good last year, especially down the stretch when the Aggies, Bulldogs, Bama and Badgers lit up the scoreboard.


Both teams will be in a difficult stretch of games and both are hoping that a victory will keep them in the hunt for Atlanta and the playoff. Auburn plays A&M the week prior at Kyle Field.

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November 21
Georgia Southern – Sanford Stadium
2014 Record: 9-3 (8-0 Sun Belt)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 7.5


Georgia Southern is gunning for Georgia. Make no mistake the Eagles see this as a golden opportunity to pick up THE monumental win for the program.


In its first year in Division 1-A, the Eagles were undefeated in Sun Belt play and went 9-3, with a 24-23 loss at N.C. State and controversial 42-38 setback at Tech.


Georgia has won the previous five meetings, with the closest margin being 20 points. But there have been moments to sweat. At the top of the list, with Georgia having clinched a berth in the SEC Championship game and sporting a 9-1 record, the Bulldogs were clinging to a 10-7 lead late in the first half with the Eagles on the move. A costly penalty led to a missed field goal, and the Bulldogs scored on an Aaron Murray to Malcolm Mitchell TD on the last play of the half. Georgia pulled away to win 45-14.


The following year, the Eagles beat Florida in Gainesville, and last year had the aforementioned close calls in Raleigh and on the flats. In a typically utterly ridiculous NCAA rule and upholding, the Eagles were denied a bowl berth because for some absurd reason, first year 1-A (now the Football Bowl Subdivision) schools can’t go to bowls. I guess 6-6 big boys who are ready for the season to be over are preferred.


This longtime Division 1-AA powerhouse now has better depth with the move to Division 1-A. There is a lot of talent back for the Eagles, and they frighteningly catch the Bulldogs between trips to Auburn and Tech. While there are a lot of fans that support both schools, there is a large segment in Statesboro, which is a great Bulldog town, that doesn’t like Georgia at all. The Eagles will pull it all out in what figures to be the last regular season meeting between the two for a long, long time.

[su_spacer size=”40″] [su_spacer size=”20″] November 28
Tech – Bobby Dodd Stadium, Grant Field
2014 Record: 11-3 (6-2 ACC)
2015 Over/Under Win Total: 7.5


Tech had one of its greatest seasons since the Bobby Dodd Golden Tornado days of the 1950s, as the Yellow Jackets beat Georgia and won the Orange Bowl. In between, Tech nearly tripped up Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. Georgia’s horrid self-inflicted wounds, some terrible decision-making and a powerful Tech running attack led to arguably the most ghastly late-game, heartbreaking loss in Bulldog annals. Shock, despair and “what the hell did we just do” were the themes of the Georgia people walking out that dreary Saturday.


Georgia is 12-2 against Tech since 2001, one of the most impressive accomplishments of the Mark Richt era, but the theme is “two is too many!” The other loss was in 2008, when the Bulldogs had a 28-12 lead get away in a 45-42 loss that would have been Georgia’s eighth straight win in the series, matching the infamous drought of 1949-56. Dating back to 1991, Georgia is 11-1 at Grant Field, with the lone loss coming in 1999 when Al Ford and his crew simply cheated the Bulldogs out of victory with one of the worst calls in college football history.


What set Tech apart last season was true star power in Justin Thomas. The sprinter/quarterback is a tremendous talent and the first five star threat for the Yellow Jackets since Giff Smith recruited in Johnathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt and Demaryus Thomas back in 2007-2009.


There are high hopes for Georgia in 2015, but what is most important is winning the last two games and reclaiming the state crown. Anything less than 2-0 vs. the Eagles and Tech means a miserable off-season traveling throughout the state for the Georgia faithful.

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