There is new energy in Athens with head coach Kirby Smart heading into his first season at the helm of the Georgia football program. Taking over for longtime coach Mark Richt won't be easy, but Smart is already off to a strong start. Georgia landed the No. 7 recruiting class for 2016, according to 247Sports' Team Composite rankings. Also, the Bulldogs had a lot of positives in spring practice, most notably, the performance of true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason.
Georgia should have an advantage over most of its SEC counterparts when it comes to scheduling. The Bulldogs will have to travel to Ole Miss in week four, but that likely will be the only road game where they aren't favored to win. In all, Georgia only has to travel to four SEC foes — Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Kentucky. It's not exactly murderer's row. However, the 'Dawgs will face a potentially dangerous non-conference schedule.
Here is a look at Georgia's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest:
12. Sept. 10 vs. Nicholls State
There just isn't much to say about Georgia's week two game. The Colonels of Nicholls State finished 2-8-1 last season after a tough year in the Southland Conference. In one game against Power Five opponent Colorado, the Colonels were beaten 48-0. This one should be over by halftime. Hopefully, both teams will get to play some underclassmen and nobody will get hurt.
11. Nov. 19 vs. UL Lafayette
Georgia and UL Lafayette have met once, back in 2010. Georgia won that game 55-7. After four consecutive nine-win seasons, Lafayette fell to 4-8 last year. There are some bright spots on this year's roster, such as running back Elijah McGuire, who has more than 3,000 career rushing yards. But the Ragin' Cajuns are not a team equipped with enough talent to hang around with one of the top contenders in the SEC East. As a side note, if you are an SEC fan that has the unfortunate duty of attending a fall wedding, try to get the bride and groom to schedule it for the weekend of Nov. 19.
10. Nov. 5 at Kentucky
Some people think Kentucky is this year's sleeper team in the SEC East, which sounds good on the surface. The Wildcats do bring back nine starters on an offense that showed promise at times last season. It's the defense that can't say the same. With only four returning starters on that side of the ball, it's hard to believe Kentucky will be much better. Georgia has mostly scored at will against Mark Stoops-coached Kentucky teams, averaging close to 50 points per game against the Wildcats over the last three years.
9. Sept. 17 at Missouri
With eight starters back, Mizzou will be fine on defense, especially with former defensive coordinator Barry Odom now promoted to head coach. It's the offense that is the biggest concern. The Tigers must find a way to score touchdowns if they expect to compete with Georgia to open SEC play. The last time these teams played in Columbia, Georgia blanked the Tigers 34-0.
8. Oct. 15 vs. Vanderbilt
Getting Vanderbilt at home will be tougher than traveling to Missouri and Kentucky? Call me crazy, but I think so. The Commodores return 12 starters from last year's team. Even though Vanderbilt was beaten up pretty badly in some games, it got better overall. Derek Mason may finally have this team in contention for a bowl game when all is said and done, and the defense is going to be salty once again. Georgia had to earn it against the Commodores last year. Vandy won't go down without a fight in Athens.
7. Oct. 8 at South Carolina
The Gamecocks sum up a handful of SEC East teams that Georgia should beat. The Bulldogs have a much better roster in place for their first-year coach as opposed to what Steve Spurrier left behind. But South Carolina could be dangerous if Will Muschamp revitalizes the defense earlier than expected, plus, this game is in Columbia. Last year the 'Dawgs pummeled the Gamecocks 52-20 in Athens.
6. Nov. 26 vs. Georgia Tech
"Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." That's the motto in the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. This one goes way back, more than 120 years to 1893, specifically. The Bulldogs have owned their Peach State brethren, having won 13 of the last 15 matchups between the two teams. But the last few have been close, with the Yellow Jackets squeezing out a win in 2014. Georgia Tech looks to be a middle-of-the-road contender in the ACC Coastal Division this season, despite posting a 3-9 record last year.
5. Nov. 12 vs. Auburn
If Auburn is the fifth-toughest game on Georgia's schedule, that's probably good news for Bulldogs fans. Auburn is in a make-or-break year under head coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers don't have a lot to work with right now on offense. With that said, this is a rivalry game, and literally anything can happen when these two teams meet on the gridiron. See 2013's "Prayer in Jordan-Hare." Also, Auburn could be fighting for bowl eligibility at this point in the season. Georgia has won eight of its previous 10 matchups with the Tigers.
4. Oct. 29 vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.)
So, is there any team Georgia isn't rivals with? Honestly, this may be the SEC's nastiest rivalry. Alabama and Auburn fans would most certainly beg to differ, but Georgia and Florida hate each other. A lot. The "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" in Jacksonville is usually one of the SEC's most-anticipated regular season games, but it has been lopsided the past two seasons with Florida taking it to the Bulldogs. If there is one team on the schedule that Georgia would like to get its hands on, it's probably the Gators. The Bulldogs lead the series 49-42-2.
3. Sept. 3 vs. North Carolina (Atlanta)
One would be hard-pressed to find a team that wanted a piece of North Carolina last season. After an embarrassing week one loss to South Carolina, the Tar Heels reeled off 11 straight wins and gave Clemson all it wanted in the ACC Championship Game. This year, UNC has to replace some key contributors on both sides of the ball. Still, the Tar Heels return running back Elijah Hood, as well as the ACC's best offensive line. Georgia will have its hands full to open the season, but playing in the Georgia Dome should give the 'Dawgs a needed edge.
2. Oct. 1 vs. Tennessee
Up to this point in the schedule rankings, Georgia probably will be the favorite to win in every game. But there's no doubt the boys in Vegas will have this line set pretty close to even. Since 2011, Georgia and Tennessee haven't played a game that was decided by more than eight points. It's almost guaranteed to go down to the last possession in this series. The Volunteers won last year's meeting, 38-31 in Knoxville. There's also a good chance that this game could decide the winner of the SEC East.
1. Sept. 24 at Ole Miss
No doubt, this game will be a tough out for Georgia. But fans should be happy about the fact that the Bulldogs don't have to deal with Alabama or LSU, at least in the regular season. Chad Kelly is an exceptional quarterback, and Georgia may be at a disadvantage with the loss of pass rushers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. However, one thing Georgia has working in its favor is the fact that Ole Miss will be coming off a physical battle with Alabama. A victory in Oxford could pay off big time down the road for the 'Dawgs.