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Georgia Football: Bulldogs' 2019 Schedule Analysis

Georgia Football: Bulldogs' 2019 Schedule Analysis

Georgia Football: Bulldogs' 2019 Schedule Analysis

The Georgia Bulldogs enter 2019 as the likely favorite to win the SEC East, and with the potential to make another run at the College Football Playoff. Head coach Kirby Smart has built one of the most talented rosters in America, and though he'll have new coordinators on both sides of the football, the Dawgs are capable of beating any team on their schedule.

On that note, Georgia faces a tough slate that includes a visit from 2018 playoff team Notre Dame, as well as the addition of Texas A&M in the SEC cross-division rotation. There are few easy victories — especially in SEC play, in which six opponents have two or more weeks to prepare for the reigning East champs. However, the Bulldogs play seven home games, plus the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech in nearby Atlanta. If the Bulldogs win the East again, UGA will make the short drive down Highway 316 again the following week for the SEC Championship Game.

In other words, the Dawgs are scheduled to leave Georgia just four times in 2019, and when they do, will only visit the border states of Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. Few (if any) FBS teams will travel fewer total miles this season.

Georgia Bulldogs 2019 Schedule

Byes: Week 5, Week 9

Week 1 — Aug. 31 at Vanderbilt (Nashville, Tenn.)

Georgia hasn’t played a season opener on the road since 2016 when the Bulldogs faced North Carolina at the Georgia Dome. The last time the Dawgs opened on an opponent's home field was 2013, when Georgia fell 38-35 at Clemson. The Bulldogs also haven't faced an SEC opponent in Week 1 in a quarter-century, meaning this year's season opener at Vanderbilt is a very rare event.

Nevertheless, Georgia should be well equipped to face the Commodores in Nashville. Though Vanderbilt features one of the top skill position trios in the conference in running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney, the Dores must break in a new starting quarterback and replace five of their top seven tacklers, plus two starters on the defensive line.

Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Murray State (Athens, Ga.)

FCS opponent Murray State would be a more traditional Week 1 opponent for the Bulldogs, but the Racers travel to Athens in Week 2 instead. Murray State showed improvement with a 5-6 record in 2018, including a 5-3 mark in Ohio Valley Conference play. Kentucky, the only FBS opponent Murray State faced last year, beat the Racers 48-10.

Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. Arkansas State (Athens, Ga.)

Arkansas State has proved itself as one of the top programs in the Sun Belt Conference and an annual bowl contender. However, the Red Wolves haven't quite developed into giant killers and are currently riding an 18-game losing streak against opponents from Power 5 conferences. Last year, Arkansas State was humbled by Alabama 57-7, but rallied to win eight games. Also of note: the Red Wolves' trip to Athens comes one week after traveling to Las Vegas to take on UNLV.

Week 4 — Sept. 21 vs. Notre Dame (Athens, Ga.)

Georgia will host Notre Dame in of the premier non-conference games of the 2019 college football season. It's a return trip for the Fighting Irish, who lost to the Dawgs 20-19 in South Bend in 2017. Both programs have appeared in the College Football Playoff since, and both are on the short list of contenders this season as well. A win in this game would be a nice addition to either resume, though a close loss shouldn't hurt much, either.

Notre Dame welcomes back starting quarterback Ian Book, who stabilized the offense a year ago to lead the Irish to an undefeated regular season. Book must rely on several new weapons following the departure of his leading rusher and four of his top five targets from last year's squad, while the defense is starting over at linebacker and must also find a replacement for highly talented cornerback Julian Love, who opted to leave school early for the NFL.

Week 6 — Oct. 5 at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Following a bye week, the Bulldogs leave the Peach State for the first time in more than a month to take on Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. Though the Volunteers were disappointed to finish 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the SEC last year, there's excitement — including a fair amount of Top 25 buzz — leading into Year 2 of the Jeremy Pruitt era.

Tennessee welcomes back one of the most experienced rosters in the conference, and Jarrett Guarantano is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the SEC. Guarantano should excel under former Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney in 2019, and he also has the benefit of a deep receiving corps led by freaky athletic Marquez Callaway and a full stable of running backs. The defense must rebuild up front, but the back half is well-stocked with talent.

Week 7 — Oct. 12 vs. South Carolina (Athens, Ga.)

South Carolina is just as experienced as Tennessee, and following a more successful season in 2018, the Gamecocks have an opportunity to insert themselves into the SEC East race this season. Though Will Muschamp's squad must travel to play between the hedges, South Carolina has an extra week to prepare following an off week.

Quarterback Jake Bentley enters 2019 with 32 career starts, one of the top receivers in the league in Bryan Edwards, and four highly capable running backs to lean on. Defensively, the Gamecocks return nearly three-quarters of last year's tackling production, as well as 90 percent of sack production. The Bulldogs should be favored, but South Carolina is often a tricky matchup.

Week 8 — Oct. 19 vs. Kentucky (Athens, Ga.)

Last year, No. 11 Kentucky hosted No. 6 Georgia in one of the biggest games in Wildcats football history. Though the Dawgs won 34-17 to capture the SEC East title, Kentucky would go on to finish 10-3 overall and 5-3 in the SEC. The 2018 season was only the third time ever the Cats won 10 games, and it also marked the program's first winning record in league play since 1977, as well as the first time since '84 UK finished ranked in the final AP poll.

Mark Stoops has built great momentum in Lexington, but expectations are still modest for the Wildcats following the departure of record-setting running back Benny Snell and first-round NFL draft pick Josh Allen. Quarterback Terry Wilson is back for his second year as a starter, and All-SEC-caliber wideout Lynn Bowden returns as well. But Kentucky must replace 57.44 percent of its tackling production from last year's unit — the third most among Power 5 defenses (behind TCU and Texas) and eighth most in the country.

Week 10 — Oct. 21 vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.)

The 338-mile trip from Athens to Jacksonville marks the longest commute of the regular season for the Bulldogs, and as luck would have it, it's a trip the team makes every year. In terms of total miles traveled, Georgia's four trips outside Athens total just 1,126 miles. For comparison, the Gators will have already racked up a combined 1,754 miles to games in Lexington, Baton Rouge, Columbia, S.C., and Jacksonville, and must later make the 1,012-mile trek to Columbia, Mo., in November.

Of course, with both teams scheduled for a bye in Week 9, both squads should be rested. And, as usual, the SEC East is likely to hang in the balance, so there should be no emotional letdown. Florida lost three defensive starters and a running back early to the lure of the NFL, but still boasts one of the most talented and experienced teams in the SEC. If quarterback Feleipe Franks continues his progression under Dan Mullen and the Gators avoid jetlag, Florida has the potential to challenge for a playoff spot in addition to the division crown.

Week 11 — Nov. 9 vs. Missouri (Athens, Ga.)

Trap game? Georgia hosts Missouri in the sandwich week between the annual clash with the Gators in Jacksonville and the odd-year trip to Auburn — a pair of rivalry contests likely to have both SEC and national championship implications. At this point in the preseason, it appears the Dawgs will likely be favored in every game through the first 10 weeks of the season, with Florida a potential toss-up. In the best-case scenario for Georgia football fans, the Dawgs would take an 8-0 (5-0) record into the Mizzou game. However, a 6-2 (4-1) record, or worse, is also possible should the Bulldogs trip up along the way. With that in mind, Georgia's SEC and playoff hopes could already be on life support when the Tigers come to Athens.

Also, Georgia has the potential to overlook Barry Odom's squad with Auburn and Texas A&M on the horizon. With a favorable schedule of its own, Mizzou could already have seven or eight wins, and the Tigers also have the built-in extra prep time with a bye week in Week 10. Regardless of whether or not Missouri has its bowl ban overturned by kickoff, the Tigers will have an important role to play in the East race.

Week 12 — Nov. 16 at Auburn (Auburn, Ala.)

Auburn also has an extra week to prepare for the Bulldogs following a Week 11 bye. For those counting at home, six of Georgia's first seven SEC opponents have at least two weeks to prepare for the Bulldogs. And with FCS opponent Samford on the schedule in Week 12, the Tigers shouldn't be looking too far ahead to the Iron Bowl Nov. 30, either.

Gus Malzahn's squad enters 2019 with modest expectations, but that's also traditionally when the Tigers are most dangerous. Auburn's personnel questions at quarterback, receiver and linebacker will most likely have worked themselves out by the time Georgia travels to Jordan-Hare, and the Tigers should still have one of the top defensive lines in all of college football. If the veteran yet underachieving offensive line finally gels, Auburn has the raw talent to beat any team on its schedule.

Week 13 — Nov. 23 vs. Texas A&M (Athens, Ga.)

Despite playing in the same conference since 2012, Georgia and Texas A&M have never met as SEC foes. In fact, the Dawgs and Aggies have played exactly once in the history of their storied histories: a 44-20 Georgia victory in the 2009 Independence Bowl. Nevertheless, the Week 13 cross-division matchup could be one of the most important games of the year in the conference and is yet another game with national implications for the Bulldogs.

Texas A&M faces an absolutely brutal schedule in 2019, but the Aggies are still considered one of the top contenders to Alabama in the SEC West. QB Kellen Mond made huge strides in his first year under Jimbo Fisher, and despite heavy personnel losses on defense, at running back and tight end, the Aggies should prove formidable.

Week 14 — Nov. 30 at Georgia Tech (Atlanta)

For the first time in the Kirby Smart era, and the first time overall since 2007, Georgia won't have to spend the final practice week of the regular season preparing for Paul Johnson's triple-option offense. Johnson, who beat Georgia three times in 11 tries (twice over the last five seasons), retired following the 2018 campaign and was replaced by former Temple head coach Geoff Collins.

A former defensive coordinator at Florida and Mississippi State, Collins is very familiar with the Bulldogs. He also has a well-deserved reputation as a recruiter and should tighten the talent gap between Tech and Georgia in future years. However, 2019 could be a "Year 0" situation for the Yellow Jackets wherein Collins and his coaching staff are more worried about molding the roster to fit his philosophy than wins and losses.

Still, Johnson upset Georgia in his first Clean, Old Fashioned Hate, and no first-year Georgia Tech head coach has missed a bowl game since 1992. In addition to concerns over building a playoff resume, given the bragging rights within the state and tougher recruiting battles on the horizon, it would be wise for the Dawgs to stay focused.

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFBWinningEdge. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.