Way-too-early Georgia football road game rankings in 2019

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Georgia football stumbled out of the gate against Tennessee last season before cruising to a 38-12 win in Sanford Stadium.,

ATHENS — Georgia’s annual with grudge match with border state rival Tennessee just got a bit more intimidating for Bulldogs fans planning to make the trip to Rocky Top.

The Vols announced they will be selling alcohol in common areas at already rowdy Neyland Stadium this season.

Tennessee joins Vanderbilt, Missouri, Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas in its decision to sell alcohol in common seating areas.

It’s hard to imagine Rocky Top getting rowdier, even with more beer-infused fans.

The SEC presidents voted at the league’s spring meetings in Destin, Fla., to give schools autonomy where alcohol policy is concerned, provided they stay within conference-wide parameters.

RELATED: Details of SEC historic vote on alcohol legislation

ESPN labeled Tennessee as a potential “trap game” for Georgia.

“The Bulldogs might be feeling pretty good about themselves heading into an Oct. 5 trip to Tennessee,” ESPN’s Alex Scarborough wrote. “Assuming they handle their business against Vanderbilt, Murray State and Arkansas State, and assuming they win a tough nonconference game against Notre Dame, they’ll likely be ranked in the top three. But coming out of that stretch and the bye week that follows could have Kirby Smart’s squad feeling too good about themselves.

“Though it’s going to be easy to overlook Tennessee, which Georgia beat 38-12 last season, don’t discount the motivation that loss will provide Jeremy Pruitt’s upstart Vols, who return their starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.”

The guess here, is that Tennessee will not be the first or second or maybe not even third most difficult road environment for Georgia this season.

Way-too-early ranking of Georgia’s toughest road games

1. At Auburn, Nov. 16

It’s a hot-seat season for Coach Gus Malzahn, the sort that has boom or bust written all over it.

That said, the Tigers will still get up for the Bulldogs regardless of their record or circumstance, as evidenced last season. Auburn didn’t trail against Georgia last season until the final 3 minutes of the second quarter.

Kirby Smart is the first to admit Malzahn’s offensive creativity presents a unique challenge, and that it’s about surviving the first quarter and getting dialed in on the Tigers’ plan.

“Auburn’s a hard team to play, I’ve got a lot of experience playing that offense,” says Smart, who was the defensive coordinator at Alabama prior to his role leading UGA. “They’ve got a script, they sub, they change, they go fast. They do a great job using their skill set. Usually, you can make some adjustments, figure things out.”

Add into the equation that Auburn has a bye the week before it plays Georgia — and the Bulldogs will be coming off a home game against what’s expected to be a strong Missouri team — and the plot thickens.

Finally, a terrific Tigers defensive front makes this game tough from a matchup standpoint, as well.

2. At Florida (Jacksonville), Nov. 2

Georgia has won the past two meetings, but that doesn’t change the game’s location or travel itinerary.

Florida takes a 72-mile bus ride, the Bulldogs load up equipment trucks and take to the air to reach a different climate zone 332 miles away.

The stadium pageantry includes a 50-50 ticket split in Jacksonville’s NFL coliseum, but the Gators’ players say they can feel the home field advantage.

“It’s basically a home game for us,” Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga said at SEC Media Days last month.

“That’s what Coach (Dan) Mullen says, ‘It’s our home game, it’s our field. we’re the Florida Gators, and we run this state so we’ve got to show everybody.’ ”

QB Feliepe Franks agreed: “We’re just right down the road. It feels just like a home game running out there with all the Florida fans, so it’s an awesome feeling.”

Kirby Smart has made it clear it’s not an awesome feeling for him to be missing out on what would be the biggest home SEC recruiting weekend of the season every other year.

“Our version of the LSU-Alabama game is held in Jacksonville and we don’t have prospects, so it’s not conducive to recruiting, absolutely it’s not,” Smart has said. “We’re trying to figure out how to get better, and the best way to get better is to have opportunities to present in front of those kids.”

Tim Tebow and Steve Spurrier are on record as wanting the game to stay in Jacksonville.

“When I was coaching at Florida, I said it’s to our advantage to get on the bus, and they’ve got to get on the airplane,” Spurrier said during an exclusive Q&A with DawgNation last summer. “We’re in the state of Florida, (and) the stadium used to be called the Gator Bowl.”

Both Florida and Georgia have true home games before the annual showdown this season. The bye before the Florida game is something UGA has historically requested to the league office in annual scheduling talks.

3. At Vanderbilt, Aug. 31

Yes, Vanderbilt, and keep in mind the Commodores have won three straight over the Vols before suggesting Tennessee will be a tougher game.

That said, the Vols do figure to beat Vandy this season and be a better team than the Commodores.

The key here is that Georgia will be a much, much better team in October than September.

The reason the season-opening game at Vandy presents challenges is because Georgia is breaking in a new receiving corps.

There are questions as to how in sync QB Jake Fromm can be, and it’s a safe bet Commodores coach Derek Mason will press that issue by loading the box.

Conversely, Vandy is a little bit of a wild card with different quarterback options and three skill position players that pose a threat if the Commodores can offer and sort of offensive line play.

4. At Tennessee, Oct 5

The bye before the start of the succession of SEC games was also requested by Georgia, and obviously the Vols requested the same thing because both teams have byes.

There’s no doubt that new Tennessee OC Jim Chaney can provide the sort of insight into the Bulldogs’ personnel that would provide the Vols’ an advantage.

The same was true last season when former UGA linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer opened the book on the Bulldogs, along with what UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt already knew from his time recruiting players who were still on the roster.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that the only game Jake Fromm has not thrown a TD pass in throughout his career was last year’s victory over Tennessee.

The Vols will be coming off a bye week, but the week before, they will have traveled to The Swamp for a game that annually sets the tone.

Win or lose at Florida, Tennessee figures to be ranked entering the contest.

That will get Georgia’s attention as much as film from a game with the Vols last season that was much more contested than the 38-12 final score suggests.

5. At Georgia Tech, Nov. 30

The Yellow Jackets are breaking in a new football coach in Geoff Collins and moving away from option football.

That’s good news and bad news for Georgia.

The good news is UGA doesn’t have to designate a part of each practice toward working against the unique intricacies of depending the option

The bad news is that should the Yellow Jackets get competitive running a more conventional offense, it creates more competition for in-state skill position players.

The answer for Georgia is simple: keep dominating and winning by decisive margins.

Georgia Tech doesn’t figure to pose much of a challenge this season in a rivalry game that has mostly become lost on the national landscape.

The  Yellow Jackets are transitioning on offense with players who were recruited to play an offensive-style attack, and it figures to take Collins a season or two to find players that fit his scheme.

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