Every UGA fan has their Bulldog buddies — friends with whom they anticipate, relive, celebrate and anguish over every aspect of Georgia Bulldogs football.
Two of mine are Joel and Scott, guys I’ve been talking Dawgs with for better than 25 years. Every August, shortly before Georgia opens the football season, the three of us get together for dinner to hash out what sort of season we think our team will have.
This year’s dinner is coming up the week before the Vandy game, but we don’t wait until then to start making our predictions. We’ve been discussing the prospects for Kirby Smart’s fourth year at the helm for the past couple of weeks. Plus, I’ve been talking Dawgs, as usual, with my brothers, Jonathan and Tim, and my son, Bill, all devout UGA fans.
Among other things, we’ve discussed what we think will be the toughest games, and the most important ones that will be the key to Georgia getting to play for the SEC title again (and contend for a spot in the College Football Playoffs).
Overall, we’re pretty bullish (bulldoggish?) on the season, with the main debate being whether Georgia will make it through the regular season unscathed, and whether this is the year my brother Jon, who predicts an undefeated season and national championship every year, finally is right again. (He came awfully close two seasons ago.)
So, here’s how how my Bulldog buddies and I rank this year’s opponents at this point, and how we see the season unfolding:
Toughest regular season game?
Joel thinks Georgia’s toughest game will come against Auburn. His reasoning: “It’s at Auburn … and it comes at a bad point in the season — after two tough SEC East games, Florida and Missouri, and just before the Texas A&M game. So, the Auburn game worries me.”
He thinks Texas A&M will be the second-toughest game. “They have talent, and Jimbo [Fisher] is a good coach who will have them ready,” he said. “But we play them at home, so I think we’ll win.”
As for the key, or most important, games on the schedule, Joel sees three:
“Notre Dame. It’s our first real test, assuming we don’t face-plant against Vandy, and it will set the tone for the rest of the season. Tennessee. It’s at Neyland and they’ll be improved. Florida. As always, it will probably come down to us and the Gators for the SEC East. And we just need to keep beating Florida. Every year.”
Scott agreed that “Auburn looks very difficult, but if the wheels start coming off the Gus Bus due to a brutal schedule early (Oregon, at A&M, at Florida, at LSU) then they could be in total disarray by November. That’s always the thing about Auburn — if they get rolling, it’s Katy bar the door. But, if they stumble, the circular firing squad usually shows up.”
Scott also pointed out that “the toughest games are always hard to tell at beginning of the season, because depth becomes so key as the year wears on.”
So, he decided to go with “Notre Dame being the toughest game, despite being in Athens. They have a lot of talent, though they certainly lack our great depth. But that may not matter in September.”
Tim, meanwhile, picked A&M as Georgia’s toughest game, followed by Notre Dame, and then Auburn. He also sees Florida and Missouri as key games.
Jon agrees with Scott that Notre Dame is the toughest opponent on the regular season schedule, followed by Texas A&M.
My son considers four teams to be in contention for toughest opponent: Notre Dame, Florida, Auburn and A&M. “I think, if we lose, it comes from there,” he said. “Notre Dame has the best quarterback of those four, Florida has the deepest roster, Auburn has home field, A&M has a good coach and growing talent.”
As young Bill sees it, “the team that beats us figures out how to expose our defensive line and relative youth at linebacker, and forces [Jake] Fromm to beat them with young wide receivers, by stymieing the run game. Auburn fits that bill, because of its defensive line and offense, but I am also still not certain that team is any better than last year’s version. A&M could be a scary one. I think Kirby rolls in Jacksonville.”
As for me, overall I think the Georgia offense will be pretty awesome with Fromm and D’Andre Swift, and the defense should at least be on a par with last year.
My own first inclination was to go with the knee-jerk Georgia fan reaction of always considering Auburn as likely to be the toughest game. However, I think my son has a point: I’m not sure Auburn, which may have a true freshman QB (Bo Nix), is better than last year. And, while A&M’s late spot on the schedule is a bit worrisome, I tend to think Fisher is still a year away from having a team up to his usual standards.
So, I’m going with the early-season matchup of two Top 10 teams at night on national television as the toughest game: Notre Dame.
After that, I’d say either Auburn or A&M will be the next toughest, with Florida occupying a spot right behind them. I’m still not sold on the Gators as a possible Top 10 team in Dan Mullen’s second year, what with the depth problems he’s going to be battling.
Also, Mizzou and Tennessee both have been circled as possible “trap” games by quite a few college football observers.
As for the rest of the schedule, the season opener conceivably could be tricky for Georgia, because they’ll be on the road against Vanderbilt, but … it’s Vandy, and there won’t be any distractions ahead of time, so I think the Dawgs take care of business handily in Nashville.
I don’t see South Carolina being any better than they were last year, and apparently their fans don’t, either. After the early departure of Benny Snell, the likelihood is that Kentucky won’t be as good as they’ve been the past couple of years. And, without Paul Johnson’s gimmick offense, which always was tricky to handle, I think Geoff Collins’ Georgia Tech will get a stark reality check about the disparity between the Institute’s talent level and that of UGA.
The less said about the Murray State and Arkansas State games, the better.
As for key games, a win over Notre Dame certainly could set the tone for the whole season. Winning in Jacksonville for a third consecutive year would be big, as well. And, the late-season game in Athens against A&M looms large.
Season record prediction time!
“I’m in Pollyanna mode — 12-0,” was Scott’s prediction. “On paper, we have more talent and depth than any team on our schedule.”
Tim is even more optimistic, taking his prediction all the way to Jan. 13, 2020, in New Orleans: “15 and 0 baby!! National Champions!!”
And Jon’s prediction? “Same as always.”
Joel, meanwhile, thinks the Dawgs will go 11-1, but still win the SEC East. “They have the talent to win them all, but it’s tough for even the best teams to avoid a letdown during a 12-game season.”
My son hedged his bets: “I think we are either 11-1 or 12-0 in the regular season.”
Looking beyond that, he said, “Unfortunately, I don’t think we beat Bama in SEC title game. Tua [Tagovailoa] was not healthy when we played him last year, and they have all the talent we have.” After squeakers over the Dawgs the past two times the schools have met, he said, Bama “will be ready” for Georgia this time, even though “I think we are good enough” to beat the Tide.
As for the Dawgs’ playoff chances if they lose in the SEC Championship game, Bill said, “Beating Notre Dame will help a lot. It will be us, the Big 10 champ and the Big 12 champ vying for last two spots. If we go 12-0 in the regular season, I think we get the fourth slot,” even as the conference runner-up.
My own season prediction? I’m also going with 11-1. Georgia should be favored in all its games, but I think the odds are they slip up at some point (hopefully, not due to another fake field goal attempt).
I also agree that a regular season loss probably would mean Georgia has to win the SEC Championship in order to make the playoff. But, if they enter the SEC championship game undefeated, I think they make the playoff, win or lose.
How do you see the Dawgs faring this season? And, would you be disappointed with a one-loss regular-season record?
Brother Tim’s crystal ball is so finely tuned that it predicts the Dawgs’ biggest margin of victory this season will be by 48 points in one of the easier games. “It could be higher if Zeus is on the loose,” he said, referring to Zamir White. Tim also is predicting “a game where we have three backs getting a 100-plus yards.”
That would be fun!
I have a few more predictions, too:
- If Georgia has a lead going into the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game, I think the roar of the crowd as fans “light up Sanford” might wind up being the loudest any of us ever have heard that stadium, topping even the ear-ringing final minutes of the 2013 win over LSU.
- I think freshman wide receiver George Pickens will be a national name by the end of the season.
- If the Dawgs win the SEC, and D’Andre Swift has the sort of season everyone’s expecting, I think he’ll be among the three players invited to New York City for the Dec. 14 Heisman Trophy presentation.
- I was asked recently if I think there’ll be a black-jersey game this season. The Bulldogs haven’t worn them since 2016 (Louisiana-Lafayette), but nearly every recruit that visits UGA gets their picture taken wearing the black jersey. And, Fromm and other players have indicated they’d love to wear black tops again in a game. However, I’m sorry to say I don’t think that will happen this year. If there were a late-season cupcake game, or if Kentucky was the last conference game in Athens this year, I’d think there might be a chance, but I doubt Smart is going to want to shed the traditional home jerseys for a major game like Texas A&M. I suppose it’s possible they might break out the alternate tops for one of the early cupcake games, but I get the impression Smart mainly sees the black jerseys as a recruiting tool, and prefers his Dawgs in red when they’re Between the Hedges.
- With this past week seeing Tennessee and Vandy hopping aboard the bandwagon of SEC schools who plan on selling alcohol in public areas of their stadiums this season — joining Arkansas, LSU, Missouri and Texas A&M — I predict UGA will capitulate eventually, perhaps as early as next year.