SEC fans, how much do you know about some of your nonconference opponents? If you haven’t studied up yet, we’re doing a series this week that will look at some of the marquee nonconference games involving SEC teams in 2016 and the opponents they will face.
Next up is Georgia, which faces North Carolina in Atlanta in Week 1.
Opponent: North Carolina
Date of matchup: Saturday, Sept. 3
Offseason storyline: After winning double-digit games (11) for the first time since 1997 and winning the ACC's Coastal Division, the Tar Heels return in 2016 with a handful of talent and a few important faces to replace. The biggest star that needs replacing is record-breaking quarterback Marquise Williams. The good news is that the Heels already have his successor ready. That would be junior Mitch Trubisky, who had a very impressive 2015 season as Williams' backup. He completed 40 of 47 attempts (85.1 percent) for 555 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions last season. He also ran for 101 yards and three scores. That means that an offense with four returning starters up front and three at receiver shouldn't miss a beat. Oh, and those three receivers were the Heels' top three wideouts, combining for 140 receptions for 2,080 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Don't forget that Hood is one of just five returning Power 5 running backs with at least 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns and an average of 6.0 yards per carry.
What's at stake for Georgia: This is Kirby Smart's official debut as Georgia's head coach. The former Georgia defensive back is back home, which is great, but it also means the pressure is on for him to succeed early. Having that title of Alabama defensive coordinator for nearly a decade also attaches lofty expectations to Smart's name. Fair or not, that's the way it is, and with a team that has a load of defensive talent, Smart could really hit the ground running with a win against the Tar Heels in Week 1. North Carolina is coming off of one of its best seasons ever, and could be a favored to win the Coastal again. Some key figures are gone from that team, but they will be no pushover in the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs will have a new-look offense, with a rebuilt offensive line, a relatively unproven receiving corps, and quite the competition at quarterback. Georgia also doesn't know if it will have a completely healthy Nick Chubb in the opener. Regardless of a win or loss, Georgia will have a long way to go after facing the Heels, but a win would be a major confidence-booster for the Dawgs.