Georgia returns 13 starters from a 10-win team including star playmakers Nick Chubb, Malcolm Mitchell, Isaiah McKenzie and defensive leaders Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Only time will tell if losing offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who helped lead the Bulldogs to the most points per game in the SEC in last year, will affect the offense going forward.
With one of the best running back trio’s returning and a defense led by second-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia is the heavy favorite to win the SEC East and advance to Atlanta to play for the conference championship.
Georgia should be favored in every game except three this fall. Alabama and Tennessee are shaping up to be pick ‘em games, while the Bulldogs will probably be underdogs at Auburn. This sets up a favorable schedule for the remaining nine games of the season, but Georgia can ill afford a slip up against a lesser opponent like Mark Richt’s team has done in the past.
Here are Georgia’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 26 vs. Southern
This will be the first meeting between the Jaguars and Bulldogs and SU’s first-ever game against an SEC opponent. The Jaguars finished strong last year, going 9-4 and losing in the SWAC championship game to Alcorn State. The Jaguars have never defeated an FBS team in eight tries and Georgia is 8-0 in the last eight years versus FCS teams, winning by an average of 39 points per game. Georgia will win by the end of the first quarter.
11. Sept. 5 vs. ULM
In 2005, Georgia defeated ULM 44-7. Nothing changes in 2015. ULM is a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt team and Georgia has only lost one home opener in the Richt era. This won’t be number two. The Bulldogs will start their 2015 campaign 1-0.
10. Sept 12 at Vanderbilt
This game used to be a cause for concern, you know, back when Vanderbilt had a good coach. The Commodores return 18 starters from a three-win team and will need every one of them. Georgia cruises to a 2-0 start of the season.
9. Nov. 7 vs. Kentucky
Kentucky is an improving team but still doesn’t have the depth needed to compete in the SEC. The Wildcats will have a productive offense but are not equipped on the defensive side of the ball just yet. The only trouble Georgia figures to have is stay focused on the task at hand and not look forward to the following week’s showdown against Auburn.
8. Nov. 21 vs. Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern is a defending conference champion, albeit the Sun Belt. Georgia should handle the Eagles pretty easily but with this matchup falling a week after the Auburn game, the Bulldogs could be dealing with a slight case of letdown, regardless if they are coming off a win or a loss to the Tigers. The Eagles’ triple option offense also should be a nice tune up to what Georgia will see the following week in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.
7. Sept. 19 vs. South Carolina
Since Steve Spurrier took the head coaching position at South Carolina, he has been a constant headache for Richt and Georgia. The teams have split the past 10 meetings which makes this a must-watch game each and every year. Georgia is trending up while it looks like Spurrier may be losing his edge in Columbia.
6. Nov. 28 at Georgia Tech
No one will really have a clue on how this game will go until after Nov. 14 when all of Georgia’s SEC games are over. If Georgia is in the SEC East hunt with a shot at making the College Football Playoff, I don’t see this being a game the Bulldogs take lightly. Again, this game rests on whether Georgia actually takes it seriously. The Yellow Jackets are talented but shouldn’t be in the same conversation as the Bulldogs this year.
5. Oct. 17 vs. Missouri
Even though Missouri has won the SEC East the last two years, the Tigers will have revenge on their minds as they were humiliated last year in their own stadium by Georgia 34-0. The SEC East is still the first goal Georgia has to reach and Missouri is high on the list of must wins.
4. Oct. 31 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
Georgia and Florida will both be coming off a bye headed into this Halloween day game. Weird things happen on Halloween and even weirder things happen in this rivalry. Last year, Florida literally ran Georgia out of Jacksonville, piling up more than 400 yards rushing and defeating the Bulldogs 38-20. Georgia should head into this matchup with a very good record and revenge will just be icing on the cake.
3. Nov. 14 at Auburn
Georgia only has three true road games this year, playing at Vanderbilt, at Auburn and at Tennessee. Georgia dominated Auburn last year 34-7, but that was last year. This is a new Auburn team and with 12 starters returning and the addition of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, this figures to be a much-improved team that the media fell in love with at SEC Media Days. Georgia doesn’t need to defeat Auburn to win the East but it will be a must-win if the Bulldogs are in the Playoff race headed into November.
2. Oct. 3 vs. Alabama
I know a lot of people may not agree with me on this pick, but looking at the big picture, Alabama is only the second-most important game of the 2015 season. Georgia can win this game and playing in Athens will surely help its cause. But Georgia not getting run out of Sanford Stadium is more important. A loss to the Tide doesn’t necessarily ruin the Bulldogs’ chances of reaching Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game or even the Playoff. But getting blown away will leave a lasting impression. Bulldog fans remember well the last time Alabama came to Athens. It will forever be known as “The Blackout.” The Georgia faithful are hopeful of a better outcome this time around.
1. Oct. 10 at Tennessee
An early October trip to Knoxville will be the biggest game for the Bulldogs this fall. This game is important for two big reasons. Not only will it be a road test, which in itself is difficult enough, it also will put Georgia in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, as the Bulldogs should be 2-0 in the division entering this game. If Georgia has ANY plans of making a Playoff run it must first win its division. The Volunteers appear to be the Bulldogs’ only real threat in the East and return a very young, but capable team. Georgia has won its last five against Tennessee, including back-to-back trips to Knoxville. However, Georgia will be coming off of its clash with Alabama. In the last four years teams that go on the road the week aftaer playing Alabama are 6-7. A win over Tennessee would help bolster even more momentum going into the second half of the season and could help propel Georgia to earn a trip to Atlanta for the first time since 2012. Lose and it could mean another long season of hoping for someone else to slip up. Either way, this is the date that should be circled in the Bulldogs’ locker room.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.