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Kirby Smart and Nick Saban have met twice as head coaches.

Ranking Georgia’s possible first opponent from easiest to most difficult

Georgia and every other member of the SEC will learn its full-schedule on Monday, as the conference announced on Sunday it would be releasing the entire schedule with dates on Monday at 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

The Bulldogs already know their 10 opponents for the 2020 season, as they will host Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi. Georgia visits Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama and plays Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Bulldogs won’t have to wait all day though to learn who they’ll be playing first, as the SEC also announced that it will be reveling each team’s first opponent on the Paul Finebaum Show at 3 p.m. ET.

The first game will be played on Sept. 26, and it will be Georgia’s first chance to show how the team has changed from a season ago. The Bulldogs are overhauling their offense, as they replace a majority of their starters from a season ago and will also have a new play-caller in Todd Monken. The defense though does figure to once again be excellent, with the group returning many contributors from the No. 1 ranked rushing and scoring defense from a season ago.

In the old schedule, Georgia’s first opponent was set to be Alabama, with the two teams playing on Sept. 19. As we explain below, of the SEC foes the Bulldogs have, the game against the Crimson Tide figures to be the most difficult on paper. If the Bulldogs were to draw an easier, less talented opponent, they’d likely have a better time integrating and implementing a new-look offense.

So which would be the easiest opening opponent for the Bulldogs? And which games figure to be the most difficult, besides Alabama? We sort that out below.

Easiest: 1. Vanderbilt

Why: The Commodores went 1-7 against the SEC a season ago and don’t figure to be all that much better this season, even with Derek Mason returning for another season. The main reason we have Vanderbilt over Arkansas is due to the fact that this game will be played in Athens, Ga. With all the added pressures that come with traveling during a pandemic, home games figure to be even more important this season, even if there aren’t any fans in the stands.

Related: Georgia has ‘great plan’ for football game attendance model, projected numbers

2. At Arkansas

Why: Worse than Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks went winless in SEC play last season. The Razorbacks brought in a new coach and it’s one that knows the Georgia program very well, as Arkansas hired former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman.

The familiarity should help Arkansas, even if it is a minuscule benefit. The Bulldogs should still be significant favorites over a re-building Arkansas, but Pittman’s knowledge of the team, along with Georgia having to travel for this game does make it slightly tougher than Vanderbilt.

3. At Missouri

Why: The Tigers will also be under new leadership this season, with Eliah Drinkwitz taking over for Barry Odom. The Bulldogs still have a talent edge over the Tigers, though not as significant as it does over Arkansas. Drinkwitz also has more head coaching experience than Pittman, as the former was the head coach at Appalachian State last season.

4. Mississippi State

Why: This is the third of the three teams that Georgia faces that will have a new head coach in 2020. Though Mike Leach, formerly of Washington State and Texas Tech, has accomplished much more than Pittman and Drinkwitz.

Related: Instant reactions to Georgia football 2020 SEC-only schedule

Leach is undertaking an even more drastic overhaul at Mississippi State given his past offenses. While he doesn’t have the ideal personnel yet to run what he wants to know, not having any possible tape on this team would make it a tricker week one opponent than say if the two teams meet in the middle of October.

5. at South Carolina

Why: This is a revenge game for the Bulldogs after losing 20-17 at home to the Gamecocks last season.

The Gamecocks will have a new offensive coordinator in Mike Bobo. He knows Georgia well, given his time as the offensive coordinator under Mark Richt and being college teammates with Kirby Smart. Georgia should win this game, but the Gamecocks figure to have a tough defense that should make things difficult on Georgia’s offense.

6. Tennessee

Why: The Volunteers ended the 2019 season on a six-game winning streak and have recruited slightly better than the Gamecocks in each of the past two seasons. It’s also Jeremy Pruitt’s third year on the job and this team figures to have much more of his identity than either of the last two.

Tennessee does still have a few questions, specifically on the offensive side of the ball as it must replace its top two wide receivers from last season. There is also the matter of Cade Mays, as the former Georgia offensive lineman is still waiting to find out if he will be immediately eligible for this upcoming season.

7. at Kentucky

Why: Like Tennessee, the Wildcats figure to have an elite offensive line to go along with a stout defense under Mark Stoops. Kentucky must replace do-everything star Lynn Bowden, but it does get starting quarterback Terry Wilson back after his 2019 season was cut short due to injury. The Wildcats also could have former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood eligible as well.

What makes this game slightly more difficult than Tennessee it the fact that the Volunteers and Bulldogs would be playing in Athens, while Kentucky gets to host the Bulldogs this season.

8. Auburn

Why: It actually might benefit Georgia to play Auburn sooner rather than later this season. The Tigers must replace a few key pieces on defense, chiefly defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. By a later date in the season, one would imagine defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has that aspect figured out.

Auburn is also breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris. He’s expected to help elevate Bo Nix’s game and with more game reps under his belt, Nix may do just that. The Tigers are clearly a cut above talent-wise over the teams above them on this list.

9. Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.

Why: This game, as it seemingly has the past two seasons, will likely decide the SEC East this year. Both teams figure to be ranked in the top-10 and the Gators have starting quarterback Kyle Trask returning, leveling the playing field a bit compared to the questions Georgia has at quarterback.

Related: Georgia football offense overhaul: Healthy quarterback derby tops 3 things to watch

What makes this game tricky to schedule is the fact that it’s in Jacksonville. And the Jacksonville Jaguars are set to host the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 24, just two days before the opener. A more likely date for this game would either be on Oct. 24, when the JAgaurs are on a bye week, or on Oct. 31, with Jacksonville playing the Los Angeles Chargers the next week.

10. Hardest: at Alabama

The Crimson Tide are probably the one team on the schedule that could say it is more talented than the Bulldogs. While Alabama must replace Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Crimson Tide bring back Devonta Smith, Najee Harris, Jaylen Waddle and a stout offensive line.

Both these teams are the favorites to get to the SEC title game this season. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this game early in the season, especially when the SEC previously scheduled this game as the conference-opener for both teams. It would be the toughest of tests for Georgia, but in the long run, it may help the Bulldogs out to play Alabama early on.

While Georgia’s first game isn’t until Sept. 26, the Bulldogs hold their first practice on Monday, though the team will only be in helmets. Georgia will have 25 practices between Monday and the opener on Sept. 26.

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