Dean Legge/Dawg Post

UGA's Most Important Games of 2016

ATHENS - Dean Legge ranks UGA’s most important games of the year.

1. vs. Florida - When was the last time UGA blew the Gators out? Folks will quibble with this being the most “difficult” game of the year - maybe, maybe not - but this game is the most consequential. Georgia has won three of the last five games against the Gators, but the last two losses have been quite meaningful. A loss to the Gators cost the Dawgs a shot at the SEC title in 2014. The 2015 loss cost Mark Richt his job. This is Georgia’s most important game of the year. The Gators are also the only program to defeat UGA in the last two seasons. ?This game has determined the winner of the SEC East in all but one (2013) of the last five seasons.

2. vs. Tennessee - There are a lot of skeptics about the Vols, and with good reason. Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC East in nine seasons. They’ve lost 11 games in a row to the Gators. They’ve lost nine in a row to the Tide. They’ve lost five of six to UGA. Since the year 2000, Tennessee is a combined 13-35 against the Gators, Dawgs and Tide. Couple those daunting stats with the fact that Butch Jones has defeated three ranked teams in nine years as a head coach. It is no wonder that Tennessee enters the 2016 season as a favorite to win the East, but with some hesitation. With that said - Tennessee can score. Their game with UGA in early October is a critical test for both UGA and the Vols.

3. at Ole Miss - Fresh off their first Sugar Bowl win in 46 years, Ole Miss is probably going to hover around the top ten the entire season. Certainly they will start off there. The Rebels that UGA will see a few weeks into the season might be a different bunch than starts the season off highly ranked - at least their perception might be different. Keep in mind that Ole Miss could very well lose two games before they play the Dawgs - against Florida State and Alabama - and still be one of the better teams in the country. Like the Vols, Ole Miss has shown the ability to really score. Will Nick Chubb play in this game? This is UGA’s first road game of the season - how will the starting quarterback, if it is a new one, react to playing on the road? Matthew Stafford, a future No. 1 pick, struggled in Oxford in 2006 going 7 for 18 with only 91 yards. UGA won 14-9, but it was ugly. Something tells me the Dawgs are going to have to score dozens more to win in Oxford this time. 

4. vs. Auburn - The Tigers are not expected to challenge for the SEC West this season, but this game is always one of the critical tests of the year for both teams. UGA won last year in what was one of the worst-played games in the 100-plus years of the two teams meeting on the gridiron. Georgia had fewer than 100 passing yards. Not to be outdone, Auburn threw for only 67 yards passing. Gross. It was bad football to be sure. The question coming into this season is if Auburn can figure out how to score more than they have of late against the Dawgs. Auburn has scored only two touchdowns in the last two games against Georgia. In four of the last five games, Auburn has averaged only 6.75 points per game against UGA. They’ve also been blown out in Athens the last two times they’ve shown up. No one knows what the season will hold by November, but this conference game is always a big one. 

5. vs. Georgia Tech - The last three games against the Jackets have been barn burners. But as exciting as last year’s conclusion was, the game was another offensive skunk on both sides. Why isn't this game higher on the list? This game is critical, but its not a conference game. Yes, Tech could be considered UGA’s biggest rival, but the outcome of this contest won’t prevent Georgia from winning the conference, which is the real goal of the season. That’s the major reason why this game is so far down this list. Beating Tech, in that moment, is the most important thing in a season. But good to great UGA teams beat Tech. Even bad UGA teams have beaten the Jackets in the last three decades. Kirby Smart needs to continue the Dawgs’ dominance over the Jackets.

6. vs. North Carolina - Who will start at quarterback for UGA? Will Nick Chubb be back? The questions are much more about the Dawgs than the Heels heading into this one. The reality is that Georgia “should” win this game, but the team could be very different looking even a few weeks later during back-to-back games out west (Missouri and Ole Miss). This game has me as interested as I have been in a very long time to watch UGA play. There’s so much we don’t know. But the reality is that the outcome of the game probably is irrelevant as soon as it ends. This isn’t a conference game, and UGA can lose it and still have a good season. A win won’t get Georgia any more national praise - this is a can't-win situation for the Dawgs. 

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