The wait is almost over. We’ve made it through yet another seemingly interminable span between the college football national championship game and the kickoff of a new season.
Every season holds some level of anticipation. Will this be Auburn’s year? Is Georgia ready to move forward as a program?
What would constitute a successful season? Here’s one last look at our four schools. Kirby Smart, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the goal is “the same every year: get the most out of the team.”
But that’s impossible to measure before the season, even for a coaching staff that knows its personnel better than anyone.
So by “getting the most out of a team,” we need to define that as something that’s reasonably attainable. Sure, all four of our schools could conceivably make the College Football Playoffs. But just because it’s conceivable doesn’t mean it’s realistic.
Alabama: Speaking of being reasonable. Too many fans still have the all-or-nothing mentality. I’m not going to say last season’s team underachieved. Yeah, they could have beaten Clemson. But to call a team that finished 14-1 with a true freshman playing quarterback and the distraction of Lane Kiffin leaving amid the playoffs would be unreasonable.
Still, this is Alabama, and simply being very good is not nearly good enough. At a minimum, the Crimson Tide needs to win the SEC and make the playoff. Fair or not. This is simply the best program in the conference.
A loss to Florida State in the season opener really wouldn’t have much bearing on how the regular season is measured. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Alabama could lose to FSU, run off 12 straight wins and not be one of the four teams.
My call: Bama beats FSU, stumbles somewhere along the way, but wins the SEC.
Auburn: There’s so much hope based on the return of two good running backs, the addition of a starting quarterback, a defense that should keep the Tigers in every game, and a kicker who can win any close game. The optimism is legitimate. There’s too much talent on the roster to be satisfied with anything less than 10 wins. But to say anything less than winning the West would be a failure is wrong.
Here’s one very possible scenario. Say Auburn beats Clemson. The Tigers could be 11-0 going into the Iron Bowl and lose a close game to Bama and not win the West. I’d have a hard time labeling that a bust. A disappointment or a letdown, perhaps, but not a failure.
We know Clemson and Alabama could be playoff contenders, or at least a top 10 team. But so could somebody else in the West and possibly Georgia.
This much is certain, though. For this season to be considered a success, the Tigers must beat Georgia at home. A loss to the Dogs would be their 10th in 12 seasons. The last time that happened was 1940-52. They need to regain control of the Georgia rivalry before they can worry about surpassing Alabama.
My call: Similar to Bama. Auburn beats Clemson, maybe stumbles somewhere along the way, beats Georgia but loses to Bama.
Georgia: For starters, this much is simpler. The Bulldogs cannot lose to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech as they did last year. Period. But simply correcting those missteps alone would not be enough. They must accomplish two things that go together: they must beat Florida for the first time in four years and they must win the East.
The Bulldogs should have won the East last year, and this team is better. Jacob Eason is experienced, and so are two of his best targets, Riley Ridley and Isaac Nauta. Terry Godwin is improved. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are fully healthy. The defense is experienced across the board and deep in the front seven.
The only real concern is about the offensive tackles. The Dogs were below average there last year and lost both starters. Two of the top three candidates to replace them – Isaiah Wynn and Dyshon Sims – are better suited to play guard. The other candidate, Andrew Thomas, is a freshman.
Top to bottom, this is the most talented roster in the East. Anything less than winning the division would be underachievement.
My call: The Bulldogs lose three games – Florida, Auburn and maybe South Carolina or Kentucky.
Georgia Tech: What makes the Yellow Jackets so difficult to read is their inconsistent nature. They can look so bad one week and turn around and look impressive the next week. They won nine games last year, a huge improvement after going 3-9 in 2015. But three of those losses were not really competitive – to Clemson by 19, to Miami by 14 and to North Carolina by 28.
That’s what they need to eliminate. You’re going to lose some games, and sometimes you’re going to lose badly. But to be so consistently inconsistent is not the mark of a solid program.
The ACC Coastal Division is getting tougher. Virginia Tech and Miami are back on the rise. The Jackets need to keep pace.
My call: Same song, different verse. The Jackets win eight games, which includes an upset of somebody, but have a clunker loss along the way and finish with a loss to Georgia.