This piece at Dawn of the Dawg, provocatively titled “Why Georgia football will not win more than eight games in 2016”, has, I’m sure, generated plenty of clicks – which is a good reason why bloggers use provocative titles.
It’s kinda lacking in substance, though.
The author points to three specific reasons Georgia will fall short of nine wins in Smart’s first season: the schedule, youth and new coaching staff. Allow me to peel off a little bit on each topic.
The schedule: Georgia loses the opener because “North Carolina’s defense figures to continue its upward trend under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, who turned the Tar Heels’ defense around in a big way last season. I expect that to continue in 2016, and that should give Georgia a loss in week one.”
North Carolina finished 96th nationally and 13th in the ACC in total defense last season. To put that in some perspective, the team that finished 95th was South Carolina. Those rankings were an improvement over the Heels’ showing in 2014, so technically you can call that an upward trend, I suppose. Except even that’s belied by the way Chizik’s defense played over the second half of last season, when it yielded almost 100 yards more per game in November than it did the previous month, only to top that by an incredible post-November increase of another 220 ypg against Clemson and a crippled Baylor offense.
NC’s defense finished 127th in plays defended last season. That averaged out to almost 80 plays a game. Georgia’s offense, in case you’re wondering, averaged fewer than 63 plays per game in 2015, with a season high of 77 against Missouri. It seems to me that if Chaney can run the ball and the Dawgs can avoid turning the ball over, there’s a good chance the offense can do enough to win.
The rest of the tough spots on the schedule he cites – Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida – are certainly closer calls, especially given that Georgia lost to two of them last season.
The lack of veterans: Hey, did you know Georgia had some seniors last season? Did you know Leonard Floyd left early for the NFL draft? Did you know Smart may start a new quarterback?
Did you know that Georgia isn’t the only school facing significant roster turnover in 2016? Yeah, I get that there are some real concerns at wide receiver and there’s a respectable chance Eason starts, but take at look at those potential losses again and you’ll see North Carolina and Florida having to replace their quarterbacks and Ole Miss losing its top defensive talent, the best offensive lineman in the SEC, and a great wide receiver in Treadwell.
I’m not a big fan of preseason Homerism, nor of its opposite. Besides the obvious, it’s simply too early to know who’s playing where. What I do know in June is that Georgia’s recruited better than North Carolina over the past few seasons, and certainly not worse than the other three programs have over that time.
The new coaching staff: If you want to pick on Kirby Smart for being a newbie, that’s a valid point. Out of those four potential losses, he definitely comes up short in the experience department against his head coaching counterparts.
But that’s not where the argument goes. Instead, it’s “Smart’s assembled what appears to be a strong cast of assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Despite the coaches’ prowess, there’s something fans need to consider: Most of these guys have never coached together before now.”
Well, wait a minute… Chaney and Pittman have coached together before. Smart and Tucker have coached together before (and Schumann was on the Alabama staff with them, as well). Sherrer comes out of the Alabama system and as the article acknowledges, coached with Rocker in Athens last season.
As a problem, this seems way overblown. What’s a bigger concern is the transition the players have to make with a largely new coaching staff, and even that is a somewhat lesser issue on the defensive side of the ball, where Smart is swapping out a DC who cut his teeth under Saban (Pruitt) for another Saban-groomed defensive coach, and where two of the position coaches from last season were retained. All told, that should prove to be a much less painful change than the one the team faced in 2010, for example.
Offense may be more of a challenge. Some players will be learning their third offensive system from their third offensive coordinator in three years. But if youth is being served in certain areas, like wide receiver and quarterback, then even that problem is somewhat mitigated. Besides, I doubt there are many who would argue that it’s not worth making the tradeoff at offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, or that Smart has managed to upgrade the coaching experience in both spots significantly.
None of which is to guarantee nine or ten wins in 2016. I’m just not buying that anyone needs to accept eight as the ceiling at this point. There’s a lot left to go through before making that call.