ATHENS – Welcome to the 2018 football season. If the Georgia Bulldogs are your team, it’s going to be a good one.
College coaches picked Georgia as the No. 4 team in the land yesterday and that sounds about right to me. I mean, I’ve been over it and over it and I don’t see the Bulldogs losing a game, not in the regular season anyway.
If you’ve heard me or read me in these weeks and months leading up to preseason camp – which begins today – you’ve heard me warn of the dangers of the trips to the SEC’s two Columbias in the September. In all these years, I’ve never witnessed the Bulldogs play South Carolina as their conference opener over there and not get all they can absolutely handle. As it is, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks are considered the second-best team in the East this year.
And no team in the division wants to go to Missouri. It’s not that it’s an intimidating place to play. It’s just a hassle to get there, hard to get up for and it seems like the Tigers always have a good quarterback. This year, Drew Lock is considered the best the league has to offer.
All that said, when you get down to brass tacks and start comparing personnel, it really shouldn’t be close. Neither team has the kind of defense that should present the Bulldogs major problems, and each game is preceded by a scrimmage of sorts as Georgia will tune up against Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee, respectively. It’ll get harrowing at times, but the Bulldogs eke out the two road victories.
That means they’ll come home to face Tennessee as a 4-0 team. By contrast, the Vols likely be dragging two Ls by then. The Fighting Jeremy Pruitts have one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2018, opening against No. 20 West Virginia in Charlotte and getting Florida in Knoxville the week before they come to Athens. The Bulldogs will be the second in a five-game stretch that sees Tennessee also face Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina. It’d be a challenging gauntlet for a talented team, and talented this one is not.
Then Vanderbilt comes to town. No disrespect, Derek Mason, but we’re going to leave it right there.
Fittingly, the crossroads of Georgia’s season will come in the bayou. The Bulldogs make a rare trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU in what almost certainly will be one of those dreaded night games in Tiger Stadium. But there’s a better chance that Georgia will meet a battered and beat-down team there than the traditional championship contenders the Bayou Bengals regularly field. LSU will have faced Miami, Auburn, Ole Miss and Florida. If those go the way early predictions say they will, the drum beats surrounding coach Ed Orgeron will have gotten considerably louder. And based on hotel and flight availability in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the Dawg Nation is coming in force. This is the destination game of 2018.
After that, Georgia gets its normal bye week before the Florida game. It will be well-needed coming off a stretch of four consecutive conference games and the inherent bruises that come with that. The Gators will be doing some healing as well. They will have played six legitimate FBS opponents in row at that point, with Mike Bobo’s Colorado State Rams wedged between five SEC opponents. The Gators weren’t as bad as last year’s 42-7 loss to the Bulldogs in Jacksonville would indicate, but there’s a reason Dan Mullen is now the coach and not Jim McElwain. It’ll probably go back to being dramatic, but after all the drama we witnessed the last third of last season, it just feels like it Georgia is built to win those kinds of games these days. So it wins here, too.
So that makes Georgia 8-0 heading into the final stretch, and that string just doesn’t look as intimidating as it usually does. It starts with a trip to Lexington and ends with three straight home games. Kentucky will probably give the Bulldogs fits as it usually does at Commonwealth Stadium, but Georgia will prevail and then settle in for a November home stand.
Auburn stands as the best opponent on Georgia’s 2018 ledger. The only team to beat Alabama last year and one of two to beat the Bulldogs, the Tigers have a lot of those players back, quarterback Jarret Stidham chief among them. Likewise, they are expected to again be in the SEC and national championship mix. But so is Georgia, and Sanford Stadium has transformed under coach Kirby Smart back to being a very, very tough place for visiting teams to play. The Tigers haven’t won between the hedges since 2005 and they won’t again this year.
UMass and Georgia Tech round out the schedule. Having beaten the Bulldogs on their last two trips to Athens, Georgia should be especially motivated to host the Yellow Jackets. With so much on the line, there will be no overlooking the team they love to hate.
If everything goes as expected, that will set up a national championship rematch between the Bulldogs and Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Television executives are already salivating over the prospect.
And here’s where it gets really interesting. If both teams are indeed undefeated at that point, then they’ll be 1 and 2 coming in. One of them will have to lose, and then what?
The Crimson Tide made it into the playoffs last year from the safe confines of Tuscaloosa by not having to bother playing in the conference championship game. A lot of folks weren’t happy about that. Should a No. 2-ranked Georgia team that loses to No. 1 Alabama – or vice versa — in a squeaker of a title game still get an invite to the College Football Playoffs? I’m going to go ahead and say, heck yeah!
But first things first. Georgia begins practice today. Thanks to a week of rain and an overnight monsoon, that’ll likely begin today in the indoor building now affectionately known as “The House of Payne.” Then there’s an open practice at Sanford Stadium for Fan Day on Saturday.
That’ll be our first hard look at a team built of recruiting classes ranked 6, 3 and No. 1 in the nation. There’s not another team on the schedule built that way. Accordingly, Georgia won’t lose to any of them. The postseason may be another story.
I can’t believe I’m writing it, but I’m picking the Dogs to go 12-0 this season. Am I crazy?