Welcome back to Rock M Nation’s annual opponent preview series of the upcoming season. Each week we will break down one opponent from the schedule in chronological order. Given that rosters are ever fluid - and this is done by a hobbyist rather than a pro - there could be some errors in history and current roster makeup. All mistakes are done on purpose and with ill intent because I don’t like you or your team.
Catch up on previous 2023 opponent previews!
*Note: I could take to time to mention the post-celebration death of a UGA player or the recent revelations of a massive issue with vehicular-related law enforcement on the Bulldog football team, but others have covered that better than I could so I suggest going there if you want more info on that.
In writing these previews I always struggled to talk about the teams that have everything going for them and are constantly one or two bounces away from a national championship, as opposed to one or two bounces away from righting the ship or going 7-5.
I mean...look at this ****ing chart:
Georgia chased out Mark Richt for being merely “consistently excellent” in the toughest college football conference, then replaced him with a Saban acolyte that cranked recruiting from “Top 5” to just plain “Top” which finally got them over the edge, winning two straight national titles while cresting the elusive “30+ points better than the average college football team”. Yawn.
Instead, let’s put last year’s Georgia team into perspective.
The 2022 Georgia Bulldogs entered the season having lost an unprecedented 15 players to the NFL Draft, including five 1st Round guys. The question was “how important were those guys?” and if the systems crafted by OC Todd Monken and departed DC Dan Lanning were good enough to utilize the previous year’s backups effectively. WELP. The ‘22 team was 5 points better (according to SP+) and waltzed through their schedule mostly unfazed:
Three games featured the Bulldogs “struggling”, and the definition of such is having a post-game win expectancy less than 95%. The culprits? Ohio State in the First Round Playoff game (64%), LSU in the SEC championship (85%), and...Missouri on a random Saturday night in October (91%). Go figure.
And that team - one that struggled to put away a mediocre Missouri squad - finished as the second-best team of the millennium, according to SP+:
It’s true that not all college football seasons are the same, so the ability to be 32 or 28 points better than the “average” team fluctuates as well. But still: to be 37 points better than an average team is an absurd quality that has only been summited twice before. Hat tip to Kirby Smart and the ‘Dawgs.
Kirby Smart - 8th Year - 81-15 (49-12)
I’ve written enough about Kirby Smart over the years that I’ve just about run out of stuff to say. I will point this out though: his teams look a lot like the Nick Saban teams of the mid 2010s.
I don’t want to come across as denying Nick anything, to be clear. He won a Natty at LSU and has won six titles at Alabama, three of those without Kirby on staff.
But Saban’s recent teams look a little lighter, especially on defense, whereas Georgia seems to be the team that fields the Dreadnaught-class defensive line with the multi-tooled linebackers and lengthy, shut down corners. Again, Saban’s success on the field and off the field was not just Kirby Smart’s doing, clearly, but it sure seems like Smart has been siphoning away Alabama’s mojo these last few years as Saban has been playing coordinator-musical-chairs.
Mike Bobo - Offensive Coordinator: Bobo was Mark Richt’s offensive coordinator from 2007-2014, and his quarterbacks coach since 2001, before becoming Colorado State’s head coach once Smart took over. Bobo took a lot of flack from the UGA fanbase for his play calling style which, to be fair, is rather uninspiring. But if anyone is wringing their hands, wondering how he will deviate from Todd Monken’s genius-level acumen, I wouldn’t stress much about it: Smart most likely took a page from Saban’s “program management 101” book and kept Monken’s designs in, while tasking the new OC to learn and call from that book. Regardless of how its done, I’m sure this UGA grad will do just fine in the new role.
Glenn Schumann - Defensive Coordinator: There’s a good chance that the UGA defense is purely of Smart’s design and whoever is the DC just calls the stuff that Smart has preapproved. Regardless, Schumann and Muschamp did excellent work last year and will probably see great success again this year. Boring!
Will Muschamp - Co-Defensive Coordinator
Dell McGee - Running Backs
Bryan McClendon - Wide Receivers
Todd Hartley - Tight Ends
Stacy Searels - Offensive Line
Tray Scott - Defensive Line
Chidera Uzo-Diribe - Outside Linebackers
Fran Brown - Defensive Backs
The #1 passing team in the country - and 11th best offense overall - was so good at so many things that it’s not even worth writing about the details. Todd Monken loved Stetson Bennett and relied on the former 2-star JUCO transfer to pilot his impressive offensive schemes with the best collection of offensive talent in the country. With Monken now calling plays for the Baltimore Ravens and Bennett (apparently) impressing at the LA Rams, the torch moves to old UGA grad and assistant Mike Bobo and a bevy of 4-star quarterbacks. The skill talent is still there, as is the talent on the line; the real question is if Bennett and Monken had the magic touch or any combo of dudes can succeed when the skill position talent is lightyears ahead of the competition.
Quarterback - Carson Beck - Junior
The 4th-year junior has had front-row seats to this offense running at peak performance, so despite only 58 passes thrown, Carson Beck should be primed to take over the helm of QB1. And, to be sure, reports out of spring camp indicated him seemingly taking full control of the spot. Assuming no fall surprises or injuries, Beck seems to be the guy to start UGA’s second-straight title defense.
Running Back - Daijun Edwards - Senior
Daijun Edwards and Kenny McIntosh had an almost identical number of carries and an almost identical stat sheet in every running metric possible. Of course, McIntosh is now a Seattle Seahawk so Edwards will have to be the lead back for a running back room that only lost McIntosh from last year’s rotation.
Tight End - Brock Bowers - Junior
Of all the 4- and 5-star receiving talents on this roster, elite tight end Brock Bowers led the team in targets (87), catches (63), and yards (942). The receivers get a bit of a reset with Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint suspended and Kearis Jackson, Darnell Washington, and Dominick Blaylock no longer with the team. Of course, UGA benefits from the theft of Dominc Lovett from your beloved Missouri Tigers as well as plenty of other blue-chippers just waiting for their turn to see the field.
Again...if you need me to detail just how good the 3rd-best defense in the country was in words then let me know. Just understand that, at this point, Kirby Smart has fielded exactly one defense that didn’t finish 13th or better in the country, and that was his first defense at UGA in 2015.
Defensive Line - Nazir Stackhouse - Senior
Yes, Georgia loses Jalen Carter, but that’s it. Nazir Stackhouse led the rest of the group with 459 snaps but Smart’s defenses are an effort by committee and the fact that the line loses one dude is bad news for the rest of the SEC.
Linebacker - Jamon Dumas-Johnson - Junior
Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon led the team in tackles and tackles for loss and both are back. The Bulldogs lose almost every linebacker that provided depth to those guys but the fact that their most used backers return means that they’ll probably be excellent once again. Shocker!
Defensive Back - Malaki Starks - Sophomore
Kelee Ringo and Christopher Smith are gone but every other defensive back returns, including defensive snap leader Malaki Starks. I mean, at this point, it’s not even fair that Georgia returns so many guys. We need to have a rule where, if you have a blue-chip ratio over 85% and win a national championship, all the starters have to declare for the NFL Draft. Or something like that. This is absolutely ridiculous.
So what does it all mean?
Hey guess what? Georgia is going to be awesome next year. And the year after that. And probably every year after until Smart starts losing too many assistants to keep up and some younger whippersnapper steals his gas and starts cooking elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable but...well, it’s going to be a rarity to see them lose.
You can talk yourself into a scenario where Mike Bobo is such a massive downgrade from Todd Monken that the offense becomes regressive to save the defense. Or the ‘Dawgs go on such a NFL Draft exodus that they (somehow?) don’t have enough youth prepared to step up.
But when you’re the best recruiting team in the country with unlimited resources and two national championships that have, literally, just happened, it’s hard to craft a scenario where the ‘Dawgs aren’t shoo-ins for the SEC championship game and a Playoff appearance.
Obviously Missouri showed they could hang last year, and that was without an even competent offense to throw at them. But 9 times out of 10 Georgia should easily win this game. Let’s hope this year is that 1 game out of 10.