ATHENS — Georgia football’s most challenging 2022 regular-season game might be its opener, just like last season, presuming teams hold to their somewhat current form.
The one-time-transfer rule and the lure of NIL deals have made for an active free-agent market, and there will be plenty of action still ahead.
But that shouldn’t change the general tone of the Bulldogs’ upcoming slate, which is trickier than it might seem at first glance.
There will be an offseason of angst leading up to a countdown for the showdown with Pac-12 favorite Oregon on Sept. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Coach Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs will have more talent than first-year head coach Dan Lanning does with the Ducks, and the game will be played in nearby Atlanta.
Oregon, however, proved last year at Ohio State that its Nike-funded program can indeed prove all its quacked up to be on the national stage, beating the Buckeyes 35-28.
The Ducks are Georgia’s highest-ranked regular-season opponent in ESPN’s Way-too-early Top 25, checking in at No. 12.
RELATED: Of course, Stetson Bennett is coming back to Georgia, why wouldn’t he?
Still, Georgia will be the prohibitive favorite, even if there’s still some uncertainty as to who the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback will be, and between 12 and 15 players will be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
RELATED: Georgia has record-setting NFL draft class on tap
Smart also needs to replace five of the seven players from a dominant defensive front, and two key starters leaving out of the secondary.
Here’s a way-too-early look ranking Georgia’s 2022 schedule, which is doable enough for the Bulldogs to be favored to repeat as SEC East Champions:
WATCH: Likable Dan Lanning puts happy face on Oregon football
1. Oregon, Sept. 3
The Ducks lose Top 5 NFL pick Kayvon Thibodeau and leading rusher/receiver Travis Dye to USC, gain rising star head coach Dan Lanning and Auburn QB Bo Nix. Bulldogs will be on upset alert with ESPN GameDay in Atlanta.
2. At Kentucky, Nov. 19
The Wildcats are No. 21 in the way-too-early Top 25, but more notably, return QBN Will Levis and leading rusher Chris Rodriguez and get the Bulldogs in Lexington in mid-November (Brrrr!). This game could decide the SEC East.
3. At South Carolina, Sept. 17
The early-season timing and road location favors the Gamecocks, who have reloaded with former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler. Shane Beamer’s team is No. 25 in ESPN’s way-too-early Top 25.
4. At Mississippi State, Nov. 12
Remember the last time the Maroon Bulldogs faced Kirby Smart’s Dawgs? That was then, this is now (well, Nov. 12), but the game will be played in Starkville, with plenty of cowbells.
5. Florida, Oct. 29
It’s Georgia’s year to be the designated home team, but the contract remains in Jacksonville for now, and the Gators will be sky-high. New Florida coach Billy Napier has a plan, and more importantly, the Gators are stepping up their resources.
6. Tennessee, Nov. 5
It’s a home game for Georgia, or this game would be ranked considerably tougher. QB Hendon Hooker had 31 TDs and 3 interceptions and led SEC in pass efficiency n a “Heupeled-Up ‘offense, but the Vols must solidify their defense to compete for title.
7. Missouri, Oct. 1
The Tigers always seem to be a bit of a mystery, but with four returning starters on the offensive line and a dynamic incoming WR signee. Eli Drinkwitz needs is a great QB out of the portal to plug into his offense to be competitive.
8. Auburn, Oct. 8
The Tigers are in reload mode after Bryan Harsin fired OC Mike Bobo and DC Derek Mason left. Coach Bryan Harsin starts the season on the hottest seat in the SEC. The game is in Athens, too.
9. Vanderbilt, Oct. 15