Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

OK, that's enough time: Looking ahead to 2016 college football season


It's 235 days until college football begins again in earnest on Sept 3.

Patience, young Grasshopper .

I don't normally do this kind of thing after having done so little research, with the possible exception of every week in Weekend Predictions. Research, pfffft. But here's a very, very, very, I mean, like, really very, early look at Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia State going into next season, keeping in mind that official schedules haven't been announced yet.

GEORGIA

Last season: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC (Gator Bowl win over Penn State).

Significant changes: An almost entirely new coaching staff, with former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart now in charge, with his hand-picked assistants, replacing Mark Richt and most of his staff.

The quarterback picture: 2015 is over, mercifully. Touted recruit Jacob Eason is on campus as an early enrollee in the spring semester and likely will start next season, even assuming both Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey are back. But -- and I know this isn't likely to happen -- folks should keep their expectations in check because true freshman quarterbacks generally come with growing pains: turnovers, sacks, slow reading of defensive coverages, failure to spot the open receiver. Eason hasn't taken a snap yet and I already feel kind of sorry for the kid because of the criticism he may endure next season. Kid: stay off Twitter.

Schedule: Georgia opens the season in the Chick-fil-a kickoff  in the Georgia Dome against North Carolina on Sept. 3. The Bulldogs' hope is that it goes better than the last time they were in the game (annihilation by Boise State). Georgia will be favored to win, same as in the other three non-conference games against Nicholls State, Louisiana and Georgia Tech (all at home). Richt lost to Tech twice at Sanford Stadium. Smart will want to avoid that distinction. Georgia has only three home conference games (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Auburn), four on the road (Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky) and the Florida game in Jacksonville. I see the greatest potential for losses against Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Auburn, Ole Miss and Florida.

Early projection, subject to change: 9-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC.

GEORGIA TECH

Last season: 3-9 overall, 1-7 in the ACC (no bowl game).

Significant changes:  Coach Paul Johnson hired a new offensive line assistant and a special teams coach is gone. The only other noteworthy thing: The miserable season has prompted Johnson to open himself up to new ideas and schemes. Johnson, via Ken Sugiura: " While you don’t get any carryover, and you don’t think about it, just two seasons ago, we won 11 games and the Orange Bowl So, it’s not like you blow up the whole thing and go, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ but you have to be realistic and look at it and go, ‘Hmm, we’ve got do better at this or this or this.’ We’ve got to.”

The quarterback picture: Justin Thomas will be back for his senior season. Thomas had a disappointing year. His 2014 numbers: 18 touchdowns, six interceptions, 51.3 completion percentage, 10 sacks. His 2015 numbers: 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 41.7 passing, 14 sacks. The offensive line was a significant problem all season, but Thomas made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes and often tried to do too much to make up for the Jackets' other deficiencies. If he's not better, Tech won't be better, either.

Schedule: The Jackets open the season with an ACC game against Boston College in Dublin, Ireland. Their four non-conference games are against Mercer, Vanderbilt, Georgia Southern and Georgia. It's an attractive home schedule, so that should please marketing people: Miami (a new version of Richt vs. Johnson), Clemson (coming off a national championship appearance and led by DeShaun Watson), Virginia and Duke. The non-Ireland road games: North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech. There's a number of potential losses there but I'm most intrigued by three games: Georgia (Johnson's first game against Kirby Smart), Clemson (Tech has engineered upsets of the Tigers in the past) and obviously Miami (Richt comes back to Atlanta with a different team).

Early projection, subject to change: 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the ACC.

GEORGIA STATE

Last season: 6-7 overall, 5-3 in the Sun Belt (Cure Bowl loss to San Jose State).

Significant changes: At this time, it appears Trent Miles' staff will remain intact.

The quarterback picture: It goes from stable to uncertain again. Nick Arbuckle is done after throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 28 touchdown passes and being named Sun Belt player of the year. The competition for starter will be between graduate transfer Connor Manning from Utah, redshirt sophomore Emiere Scaife and freshman Aaron Winchester.

Schedule:  The Panthers will open the season at home against Ball State on Sept. 1 or 2. Their other non-conference games will be at Air Force, at Wisconsin and home against Tennessee-Martin. They play Air Force and Wisconsin in the second and third games of the season, so it's not an easy start to the year. The Sun Belt hasn't announced the conference schedule yet and there are no automatic opponents since there are no divisions. The only near certainty is there will be a home game against Georgia Southern, which no doubt will remember how the regular season ended in Statesboro: Georgia State 34, Georgia Southern 7, which made the Panthers bowl eligible.

Early projection, subject to change: Obviously difficult without the schedule. But Miles is starting to build some depth in the program and his ability to get players to buy in was evident late in the season when the Panthers won four straight.  So, taking a shot: 6-6 overall, 5-3 in the Sun Belt.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.