UNC Football: Early Opponent Preview Georgia

Apr 16, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart talks to the press after the spring game at Sanford Stadium. The Black team defeated the Red team 34-14. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2016; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart talks to the press after the spring game at Sanford Stadium. The Black team defeated the Red team 34-14. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Leading up to the first game of the season, Keeping It Heel will be doing opponent previews in reverse order.

Previous Previews:

NC State / The Citadel / Duke / Georgia Tech / Virginia / MiamiVirginia Tech / Florida State / Pittsburgh / James Madison / Illinois

This Week: Georgia

Last season North Carolina started the season against a SEC team from the East. The result was uneven play from the offense and the lowest scoring game all season. By two touchdowns.

This season the Tar Heels open the season against a SEC team from the East. Will the results be the same? Or will Carolina finally get the signature win the program needs to establish itself as one of the best in the country?

Head Coach: Kirby Smart. Career Record 0-0. This will be his first season at Georgia which is his only head coaching stop. Kirby Smart has spent the last ten seasons as an assistant under Nick Saban. He previously played at Georgia and was named All-SEC his senior year.

Best Graduate: CB Champ Bailey. 12 Time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro. Career 909 tackles, three sacks, 52 interceptions, and seven forced fumbles. Bailey led the league in interceptions in 1998. He also holds three NFL records and is the all-time interceptions leader in Pro Bowl history.

Second Best Graduate: DE Richard Seymour. Three-time Super Bowl Champion, seven-time Pro Bowler, and five-time All-Pro. Career he had 496 tackles, 57.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two interceptions. Richard Seymour was a very versatile player. He made the pro-bowl as both a 4-3 DT and a 3-4 DE. He also played fullback early in his career, ala William “The Fridge” Perry.

Hershel Walker is probably the most well recognized former Bulldog. However, when compared to Seymour and Bailey, his numbers fall just short.

Last Season: Went 10-3 (5-3 in SEC play). Finished third in the SEC East Division. Season highlights include starting the season 4-0 and getting as high as 7th in the AP poll. They followed that up by losing three of their next four. All three losses came to the top two SEC East teams and Alabama. They finished the season by winning five in a row including beating rival Georgia Tech for the 13th time in 15 seasons.

Two major things happened last season. First was the loss of star running back Nick Chubb to injury. Chubb went down with a knee injury in a game against Tennessee. This ended up being a blessing in disguise as it allowed for Sony Michel to take over, inadvertently creating a two-headed monster for the upcoming season.

The second was the firing of Mark Richt at the end of the season.

Richt had been at Georgia for 15 seasons and had won 145 games. His firing led to Smart’s hiring. Smart will be the first of seven new head coaches UNC faces this season. New coaches can be great for a program. They can also bring learning curves early in the season.

This Season: Georgia faces five teams that had a winning record last season. All of those teams went to a bowl game. With the return of Chubb and the eventual return of Michel, Georgia will be one of the top teams in the East. If Smart is as good as his mentor, Georgia could be a team to fear for quite some time.

However, new coaches often need some adjustment time, so they may not be Playoff bound just yet. With such a weak schedule though, a 9-3 season makes the most sense. They may also have a real chance to win the SEC East with both Tennessee and Florida coming to Athens this year.

Best Player: RB Nick Chubb. Last season, he rushed for 747 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. Chubb’s season was cut short when he got injured on the first offensive play in the team’s sixth game of the season. Before the injury Chubb was on the short list for Heisman candidates.

Chubb rushed for over 100 yards in all five games he finished last season. If he had continued his pace for the whole season, Chubb would’ve finished the season with 1,937 yards and 18 touchdowns. Both would’ve been top ten in the FBS last season.

Matchup: Saturday, September 3rd in Atlanta at 5:30pm

Prediction: The game is far from neutral. Atlanta is only an hour from Athens and you can expect the sold out crowd to be mostly Bulldog fans. However, an hour away is still better than no hours away, so it could be a lot worst. The return of Chubb also makes this game more difficult than originally envisioned for the Heels.

Final score: UNC 35, Georgia 31. Chubb may be tough to stop, but the uncertainty at quarterback is going to help the Heels. Elijah Hood reintroduces himself to America with 150 yards and three touchdowns. The Heels are the talk of ESPN Monday morning as a potential dark horse playoff team.

This would be a huge statement win for UNC. As learned last year a loss may not look bad at first, but can doom a team later on. A win puts that aside whether the Bulldogs fall apart or not.