Since 2010, three new division one college football programs have started in Georgia, bringing to total teams that play in either the Football Bowl or Football Championship Subdivision to six.
Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State all play in the FBS, while Mercer and Kennesaw State both play at the FCS level.
With all six teams having wrapped up their respective seasons, let’s take a look back at where each program ended up in 2016, and how they stacked up compared to one another in terms of relative success this past year.
No. 6 – Georgia State (3-9, 2-6 Sun Belt)
Firing a head coach in the middle of the season is never a good sign for any college football program, but even without this evidence, the Panthers of Georgia State have given their fans the biggest let-down from last season.
At 0-2, State almost took down an eventual Cotton Bowl champion Wisconsin team on the road in Madison in game three, then it was mostly all down hill from there.
The Panthers fired Trent Miles in mid-November after a 2-8 start, then beat Georgia Southern the very next week. After a bowl appearance in 2015, this past season was a huge disappointment for GSU fans.
Yes, State beat Southern head-to-head, but the overall record, and let-down loss to end the season dropped the Panthers back to the bottom of the pack. All this being said, 2017 has the potential for the biggest upswing among Georgia teams.
No. 5 – Georgia Southern (5-7, 4-4 Sun Belt)
A brand new coach gets some grace on lists like these, and the Eagles have had some tough losses in 2016. That combined with a close loss on the road at Ole Miss keeps Georgia Southern off the bottom of the barrel for now.
Southern could have easily ended up as the bottom feeder among Georgia’s division one football programs for the season, having loss to a really bad Georgia State team, but a finale win over a ten win, bowl champion Troy team provided some redemption.
As mentioned before, Southern lost head-to-head to State, but had considerably more positive points to point back to during the season, such as a strong kicking game from Younghoe Koo, a Lou Groza Award finalist.
After a 3-0 start, the Eagles only managed to win one of the next eight before that strong finish versus Troy. After a couple of productive seasons breaking into FBS in the Sun Belt, GSU fans weren’t thrilled with Tyson Summers‘ first season at the helm.
No. 4 – Mercer (6-5, 4-4 Southern)
One of Georgia’s two FCS programs, Mercer had its third winning season in its four year modern history under coach Bobby Lamb.
Most casual fans might not realize that Mercer’s football history actually has roots as one of the early members of the old Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association along with big brothers Georgia and Georgia Tech before disbanding the “Baptists” during World War II.
As a member of the Southern Conference, the Bears have found it more difficult to replicate the success seen in their inaugural season in the Pioneer League when the team went 10-2. Close losses to SoCon foes The Citadel and Samford made what could have been a pretty solid season for Mercer end up just… okay.
While the Bears did beat a common opponent that Kennesaw State lost to in East Tennessee State, Mercer barely broke .500, and didn’t have any notable standout performers on the national scale.
No. 3 – Kennesaw State (8-3, 3-2 Big South)
Brian Bohannon built the Kennesaw State football program from scratch, and has led the Owls to a winning record in each of its first two seasons.
KSU earned the first ranking in program history in 2016, and was a season finale win at Charleston Southern away from a Big South Conference title share, and probably an FCS playoff appearance, but fell short.
Improving from 6-5 to 8-3 in just its second year in existence makes a strong case that, aside from Georgia Tech’s upswing in 2016, Kennesaw might be carrying the most stability and momentum of any Georgia program into 2017.
In his second season at KSU, redshirt senior defensive back Dante Blackmon finished with the second most interceptions in the FCS with six. The Appalachian State transfer was also top ten with 117 interception return yards.
On the other side of the ball, redshirt sophomore quarterback Chandler Burks led his team in both passing (1250) and rushing (799) managing the option for KSU.
Without a 17-20 loss to ETSU in the season opener, the Owls would have tied Georgia Tech with nine wins on the season, and would have probably moved up to No. 2 on this list.
No. 2 – Georgia (8-5, 4-4 SEC)
True freshman quarterback Jacob Eason had flashes of greatness, passing for over 2,400 yards, but looked bad in a few games like Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Florida. Inconsistency is expected for a true freshman in a major conference, but he’ll need to get more reliable in 2017.
For a team with a first year ever head coach, the Bulldogs had a pretty solid season, at least on paper, but fans were left a little disappointed with losses to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, and Georgia Tech all in the same season for the first time ever.
UGA also lost to a bad Ole Miss team, and needed every last second to beat a bad Missouri squad. Fans shouldn’t be down on the Dogs, however. They wanted a rebuild, and doing that while winning eight season and a bowl is difficult.
A win over Georgia Tech would have certainly elevated Georgia up to No. 1 on this list, but it wasn’t to be.
No. 1 – Georgia Tech (9-4, 4-4 ACC)
Head-to-head results made picking the top college football program in the state this past season rather easy. Georgia Tech beat Mercer, Georgia Southern, and Georgia on their road to a nine win Gator Bowl championship season.
The Yellow Jackets went 3-0 against SEC East teams, only lost to Clemson 26-7 (..and yes, this is a positive thing), and were a field goal loss to Pittsburgh away from being winning ten games this season.
After a disappointing three wins in 2015, Tech more than rebounded this past season, sending senior quarterback Justin Thomas out on a high note in a year that may have had Paul Johnson coaching for his job.
Thomas got back to his old ways, managing over 1,500 yards through the air, and over 600 on the ground, all while managing to keep the interceptions to a minimum.
Tech finished the season ranked No. 9 nationally in rushing with 3355 total yards on the ground, and landed lineman Parker Braun on ESPN’s 2016 True Freshman All-American Team.