The Bulldogs will need to come up big in SEC play to overcome a weak non-conference schedule
The Georgia Bulldogs' path back to the College Football Playoff should be easier in 2018. And they will likely be favored in every game along the way. However, a lackluster non-conference schedule that features zero road games and just one Power 5 opponent (Georgia Tech), won't do them any favors with the CFB Playoff selection committee at season's end. That leaves a thin margin of error for Kirby Smart's Bulldogs as they navigate their way through a somewhat difficult slate of SEC games for 2018.
Tough road contests against LSU and South Carolina should help bolster the Georgia resume, as will the home matchup against cross-division rival Auburn. The neutral-field game against SEC East foe Florida should also carry some weight. And while the remaining conference games don't appear to be quite as formidable this season, there are some compelling matchups there as well.
Bye: Week 8
Week 1 — Sept. 1 vs. Austin Peay (Athens, Ga.)
The Governors are a team on the rise thanks to 2017 FCS Coach of the Year Will Healy. While they are still no match for Georgia, this should make for a nice tune-up game before the Bulldogs hit the road to take on SEC East foe South Carolina.
Week 2 — Sept. 8 at South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.)
Georgia kicks off SEC play against long-time rival South Carolina in the first true road test of the season. The Bulldogs have won each of the last three games in the series. However, the Gamecocks continue to show significant improvement under Will Muschamp. This matchup should provide a good measuring stick for the Bulldogs moving forward.
Week 3 — Sept. 15 vs. Middle Tennessee (Athens, Ga.)
The Bulldogs and Blue Raiders meet for the first time since 2003. Middle Tennessee isn't a complete pushover, but this should give Georgia a slight breather between more difficult SEC road games.
Week 4 — Sept. 22 at Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
Georgia gets back on the road to face a potentially high-powered Missouri offense led by All-SEC quarterback Drew Lock. The Tigers put up 28 points against the Bulldogs last year in Athens. However, question marks remain for a Mizzou defense that gave up 53 points in that same contest. And as loaded as Mizzou appears to be on offense, the departure of offensive coordinator Josh Heupel could prove to be a setback.
Week 5 — Sept. 29 vs. Tennessee (Athens, Ga.)
Georgia's first SEC home game of the season just so happens to coincide with Tennessee's first conference road game of 2018. The dramatic “Hail Mary” conclusion the last time Tennessee visited Sanford Stadium was a testament to just how competitive this series had become. But the gap widened significantly after Georgia's 41-0 blowout victory in Knoxville last season. Vols' first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt is now challenged with the tall-task of narrowing that gap and restoring order to this great rivalry.
Week 6 — Oct. 6 vs. Vanderbilt (Athens, Ga.)
Derek Mason's Commodores pulled off a stunning 17-16 upset against the Bulldogs the last time they visited Athens. Georgia paid them back with interest last season in the form of a 45-14 beatdown in Nashville. Vanderbilt returns some key pieces for 2018, including quarterback Kyle Shurmur and his entire offensive line. However, a repeat of 2016 is highly unlikely.
Week 7 — Oct. 13 at LSU (Baton Rouge, La.)
It's been a decade since the Bulldogs last visited Baton Rouge to take on the Tigers. And while Georgia was victorious in that last trip (52-38 in 2008), there are no easy wins for the visiting team in Tiger Stadium. This will be the Dawgs' biggest road test of the season.
Week 9 — Oct. 27 vs. Florida (EverBank Field - Jacksonville, Fla.)
The Bulldogs managed to put an end to the Gators' three-game win-streak with an emphatic 42-7 victory last season. Georgia should have the edge this time around as well. That said, the Gators still have plenty of talent on tap. And if new head coach Dan Mullen can finally get the Florida offense in order, this heated rivalry could get interesting for the first time in a long time. Both teams should be well rested coming off bye weeks.
Week 10 — Nov. 3 at Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)
Georgia heads to Lexington to face a Kentucky team coming off back-to-back bowl seasons for the first time since 2010. The Wildcats also return elite running back Benny Snell Jr. for 2018. Regardless, the Bulldogs will be heavy favorites to come away with their ninth consecutive win against the Wildcats.
Week 11 — Nov. 10 vs. Auburn (Athens, Ga.)
The Bulldogs will make their return to Sanford Stadium for the first time in over a month. And it couldn't come at a better time as Auburn rolls into town to renew the “Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.” Following the very different outcomes in the two games between these schools last season, it's anyone's best guess what will happen this time around. But all the ingredients are in place to suggest that this will once again be Georgia's toughest opponent of the regular season.
Week 12 — Nov. 17 vs. UMass (Athens, Ga.)
This will be the first-ever meeting between UMass and Georgia. The Minutemen have been a thorn in the side of SEC opponents over the last two seasons. They even took Mississippi State and Tennessee to the wire last season on their home fields. It will be a much taller order for UMass to put a similar scare into Georgia in 2018.
Week 13 — Nov. 24 vs. Georgia Tech (Athens, Ga.)
The Bulldogs close out the regular season with a third straight home game for the annual get-together with their in-state rivals. Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets scored a 28-27 upset over the Bulldogs in their last trip to Athens in 2016. But after a 38-7 trouncing in Atlanta last season, it seems Kirby Smart now has a firm grasp on how to defend Johnson's triple-option attack. “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate” looks to be very one-sided over the next few years.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.