Georgia should have won the national championship in Year 2 of the Kirby Smart era.
Months after the College Football Playoff overtime loss to Alabama, that statement likely is simultaneously a source of genuine optimism and painful flashbacks. Apologies if it triggered the latter, but it's an important point to remember.
We're still pretty early in the Smart era in Athens, and the expectations are already through the roof. Can the 2018 version of the Bulldogs hold up their end of the bargain?
The recruiting stars say the talent is there for a return trip to the playoff, but don't discount the valuable veteran leadership and production lost from the 2017 on both sides of the ball. Gone are Roquan Smith, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and several other key pieces to last season's SEC championship roster.
So what games are the scariest for Bulldogs fans?
Non-conference games against Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass seem like mere formalities, but the pesky Yellow Jackets are always a challenge during the final week of the regular season.
But the Georgia Tech rivalry game is not the one that should worry Georgia most. A Week 2 road trip to face a rapidly improving and ever-hungry South Carolina program may be more of a test for the Bulldogs than they bargain for so early in the season.
Florida is rebuilding, but that game always causes Georgia fans to hold their breath no matter what the records say. Same with Auburn, which beat Georgia in the regular season last season but will have to travel to Sanford Stadium this time around.
A trip to LSU also presents an unfamiliar midseason test for the Bulldogs.
Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Georgia in 2018.
Georgia Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s not easy to go undefeated, but I’m having a hard time finding a loss for Georgia this season. The favorable path is a big reason why I think the Bulldogs are back in the CFB Playoff this fall. Defense led the way for Georgia in 2017, but the focal point of the team is likely to shift to the offense. Quarterback Jake Fromm is back, and there’s no shortage of skill talent in place, as running back D’Andre Swift is primed for a huge season, and the addition of Demetris Robertson adds to a deep receiving corps. Coach Kirby Smart does have a few voids to fill on defense. Replacing standout linebacker Roquan Smith isn’t going to be easy, and this unit has to retool a bit up front and in the secondary. Considering the firepower on offense and the favorable schedule, Smart should have plenty of time to find the right answers on defense. Road trips to South Carolina, Missouri and LSU are challenging. However, with Auburn coming to Athens this year, I think Georgia finishes the regular season at 12-0 and sets up a monster showdown with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Georgia is once again the class of the SEC East in 2018... and for the foreseeable future. There will be some tough tests, but I believe Georgia has as good of a chance as any team in the nation of ending the regular season without a loss. Auburn is the best team the Bulldogs will play, but the most difficult games to win could come on the road — at South Carolina, at Missouri and at LSU stand out — or the neutral-site game with Florida.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
I keep thinking that the Bulldogs will take a step back with the loss of team leaders like Roquan Smith and Nick Chubb but then I look at what they've got coming back for 2018 and one of the weaker schedules in the SEC and it's enough to pencil them in for another trip to Atlanta in December. The offense has a chance to be the best in the league and far more explosive than last season, which should allow any new faces on defense some time to get up to speed. The Dawgs are going to destroy more than a few foes given the talent disparity and this remains Alabama's biggest threat to repeat in the conference.
Nick Cole (@NickColeSports)
This team is too talented to project multiple losses, but there also appear to be too many challenges to comfortably predict that the Bulldogs will run the table in the regular season. The game that stands out to me as a difficult test will be Week 2 at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks' faithful will be as hyped for a game as they have been in several years. Smart's team will have to be clicking on all cylinders to get out of there with a win. Keep an eye on the road trip to LSU and the rematch with Auburn, as well. Those are potential hiccups.