ATHENS — Carson Beck is preparing for a homecoming start that has been a long time overdue.

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs have a bye this week before traveling to Jacksonville, Fla., to face the rival Gators in the annual neutral site series at EverBank Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 28.

It’s a 340-mile trip from the Athens campus for the Georgia players, but for Beck it’s going home.

“It’s super cool, growing up their my whole entire life,” said Beck, who led Jacksonville’ Mandarin High School to a Class 8A state championship in 2018, winning the state’s coveted ‘Mr. Football’ award in the process.

“The last time I played in that stadium I was 11 years old for the city championships.”

The stakes this time are much higher.

Georgia will put its top ranking on the line along with trying to maintain control of its own destiny playing without All-American Brock Bowers, who is sidelined indefinitely after suffering an ankle injury last Saturday that required surgery.

Florida, coming off a momentum-shifting 41-39 road win at South Carolina, was the last team to beat the Bulldogs in a regular season game back in 2020.

That Georgia team, like this one, was dealing with the loss of a future College Football Hall of Fame in the previous game, as Outland Trophy winner Jordan Davis had suffered an elbow injury that required surgery.

The Bulldogs were also without preseason All-SEC pick Richard LeCounte, who suffered serious injuries in a Halloween Night motorcycle crash after posting a career-high 13 tackles in a 13-3 win at Kentucky earlier in the day.

The Gators seized the opportunity to pounce on the wounded Bulldogs, coming from 14-0 down to beat Georgia 44-28 en route to winning the SEC East Division.

Beck was a freshman on that UGA team, then buried deep on the depth chart behind starter Stetson Bennett, sophomore D’Wan Mathis and then-still-injured transfer J.T. Daniels.

But this is Beck’s offense now, and it will be up to him to lead the Bulldogs through a backloaded schedule and return the team to the SEC Championship Game.

Beck has flashed his NFL arm talent through this season, particularly in Georgia’s 51-13 win over Kentucky.

Beck was 28-of-35 passing for 389 yards with 4 touchdowns and one interception in that game, sparking some talk that he could involve into a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Bowers had 7 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown in that win over Kentucky, so Beck and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will have to adjust as Georgia taps into different weapons.

Beck sounded confident the Bulldogs will and can do just that when he was asked about Bowers’ injury after the 37-20 win over Vanderbilt.

“Obviously at Georgia we’re fully expected for the next guy to step up and make plays, but it does hurt to not have him out there,” Beck said.

“But we’re expecting the next guy to make plays.”

Having a recovering Ladd McConkey (back) back in the fold at receiver will help, as will the maturation of freshman tight end Lawson Luckie, who will be playing his third game since coming off the TightRope ankle surgery he underwent in August.

Coach Kirby Smart indicated right tackle Xavier Truss, who left the Vanderbilt game with an ankle injury, does not need surgery and will be back sooner than later.

“There’s no player that we’re asking to step up and do more than you can,” Smart said. " As a collective effort, every player’s going to do more.”

Beck, certainly, is at the top of that list and he can’t wait to play in front of his hometown fans.