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Kirby Smart enter his fifth season as Georgia's head coach.

ESPN claims Florida, not Alabama, is Georgia’s most important game in 2020

The Sept. 19 contest against Alabama has long been circled by Georgia. It will be the Bulldogs first time back in Tuscaloosa, Ala., since 2007. It will be Kirby Smart’s first trip there after serving as Nick Saban’s long-time defensive coordinator.

It will also be the first time Saban and Smart meet during the regular season and away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The first two times these two teams played with Smart as Georgia’s head coach, Alabama came up victorious in ways that can only be described as painful for those who root for Georgia.

Given no former Saban assistant has ever beaten him while at Alabama, the game is a chance for Smart and his team to make a real statement. That they are just as good as one of the clearly elite teams in college football. It’s an opportunity for Smart to show that the program he’s built is equal or perhaps superior to the one that Saban has put together.

But for all that is at stake in the Sept. 19 contest, ESPN does not see it as Georgia’s most important game in 2020. That distinction, in the eyes of ESPN’s Alex Scarborough, belongs to the Oct. 31 game against the Florida Gators.

“The Gators have been building since coach Dan Mullen’s arrival, and the emergence of quarterback Kyle Trask gives them a real chance of contending in the East,” Scarborough wrote. “If Georgia doesn’t want to let the division flip this season and possibly in the long term, then extending the win streak to four games is a must.”

Georgia has beaten Florida in each of the past three seasons, with Mullen being the head coach of the Gators for two of them. Florida was ranked in the top-10 in each of the last two contests and yet the Bulldogs were still able to come away with a victory.

Smart’s teams, dating back to his time at Alabama, have long flummoxed Mullen’s, as Mullen is 1-11 all-time against teams with Smart on staff, including an 0-3 record when both are head coaches.

Florida and Georgia both figure to be ranked in the top-10 when the season begins and Florida does have the benefit of bringing back quarterback Kyle Trask. Georgia conversely will be breaking in a whole new offense with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Georgia will also likely have a new starting quarterback, with it looking like Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman being the front-runner for the job.

Related: Position Plus/Minus: A detailed look at the Georgia football quarterback position in 2020

While the Gators obviously have an edge on what they bring back on offense, Georgia figures to have the edge on defense. The Bulldogs bring back eight starters from a defense that in 2019 ranked first in the country in both scoring defense and rushing defense. The Bulldogs also seem set to get bigger contributions from sophomores such as Travon Walker, Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith.

Georgia, as has just about every team, been hurt by the loss of spring practice and it will be interesting to see how the offense looks early on in the season.

To Scarborough’s point about the SEC East, the winner of the annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has represented the SEC East in each of the past five seasons. The Bulldogs have done so in each of the past three years and will look to be doing so again. In the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs could get a second crack at Alabama, as it is favored to win the SEC West.

In each of the past three seasons, Georgia has finished the regular season record with an 11-1 record. In the past two, the Bulldogs entered the Florida game with a blemish on the record, and still found a way to win the game and division title. With the early-season contest at Alabama, Smart and company may have to repeat that task for a third-straight season.

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