The Georgia Bulldogs’ road to SEC supremacy and an appearance in the national championship game was anything but easy last season. The path back to prominence appears to be far less daunting in 2018. Georgia is one of just two SEC teams that will not play a single non-conference game away from home this season. The non-conference slate also features just one Power 5 opponent (Georgia Tech).
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Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs must still navigate their way through a handful of difficult SEC games. However, it’s hard to imagine that they will not be favored in each of those matchups as well. That could leave Georgia with little margin for error in the eyes of College Football’s Playoff Selection Committee.
Here is a more in-depth look at Georgia’s 2018 football schedule, with the games ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 1 vs. Austin Peay
Will Healy, last year's FCS Coach of the Year, has Austin Peay heading in the right direction. But the Governors are out of their league against the defending SEC champions on the road, both literally and figuratively. The Bulldogs’ season opener will serve as little more than a tune-up before hitting the road to face rival South Carolina the following week.
11. Nov. 17 vs. UMass
Despite being substantial underdogs, the Minutemen put a real scare into both Mississippi State and Tennessee in SEC road matchups last season. That scenario isn’t likely to repeat itself this season in Athens in the first-ever meeting between Georgia and UMass.
10. Sept. 15 vs. Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders return seven starters on defense and feature a formidable passing attack, spearheaded by quarterback Brent Stockstill and wide receiver Ty Lee. That may be enough to include them in the Conference USA title conversation. However, they are still no match for the Bulldogs on the road. Georgia’s first meeting with Middle Tennessee since 2003 also provides a welcome reprieve between tougher SEC road matchups.
9. Oct. 6 vs. Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur returns after setting the school record for touchdown passes last season (26). Charles Wright and Joejuan Williams return as legitimate playmakers for the Commodore defense as well. Beyond that, Derek Mason’s squad has more questions than answers heading into 2018. Kirby Smart also will be quick to remind his team of the embarrassing 17-16 loss to the Commodores the last time they visited Sanford Stadium.
8. Nov. 24 vs. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense has been a great equalizer against more talented Bulldog teams in recent years. In fact, Georgia Tech has come out on top in each of its last two trips to Athens for the annual end-of-season in-state rivalry. But if last season’s 38-7 Bulldogs victory in Atlanta was any indication, Kirby Smart not only has a big edge in talent, he now has the formula to neutralize Paul Johnson’s tricky option-oriented attack. Despite being the only Power 5 opponent on Georgia’s 2018 non-conference schedule, Georgia Tech is not a serious threat.
7. Sept. 29 vs. Tennessee
The Volunteers left the Georgia faithful in shock following the dramatic "Hail Mary" conclusion the last time they visited Athens. However, this once highly competitive rivalry took a dramatic swing in favor of the Bulldogs after last season’s 41-0 blowout victory in Knoxville. Tennessee will look to narrow that gap to some degree under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, but the Bulldogs will still be heavy favorites for good reason. This will mark Georgia’s first SEC home game of the season, as well as Tennessee’s first conference road matchup of 2018.
6. Nov. 3 at Kentucky
Georgia would be remiss to completely overlook the Wildcats in Lexington. And that is a real possibility considering that this game falls between much bigger matchups against Florida and Auburn. Kentucky is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances, bolstered by the return of elite running back Benny Snell Jr., to go along with eight starters on defense. That said, if Mark Stoops fails to find a capable replacement for Stephen Johnson at quarterback, even a less-than-inspired Georgia team should have no trouble cruising to its ninth straight win over the Wildcats.
5. Sept. 22 at Missouri
Missouri returns nine starters from an explosive offense that led the SEC in both scoring (37.5 ppg) and yards per game (502.2) last season. That includes record-setting All-SEC quarterback Drew Lock. The only fear is that the Tiger offense could regress without offensive coordinator Josh Heupel calling the shots, as we saw against Texas in the Texas Bowl. Mizzou has some serious questions to address on the defensive side of the football as well. However, if the Missouri offense can return to elite form under new OC Derek Dooley, the Bulldogs will still need put a heap of points on the scoreboard.
4. Oct. 27 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
New Florida head coach Dan Mullen clearly has some catching up to do after the Bulldogs snapped a three-game losing-streak to the Gators with a convincing 42-7 victory last season. But the talent gap isn’t as wide as last year’s score suggests, and Mullen’s track record of doing more with less speaks for itself. If Mullen can somehow get the Florida offense firing on all cylinders by mid-season, we might even see one of the SEC’s most heated rivalries return to competitive form sooner than expected.
3. Sept. 8 at South Carolina
The Bulldogs open conference play with a big early-season road test against the rival Gamecocks. South Carolina was the only team in the SEC East that was even remotely competitive against Georgia last season. And with the healthy return of elite playmaker Deebo Samuel, to go along with quarterback Jake Bentley, and a defense that always comes to play for Will Muschamp; this matchup should prove to be even more challenging for Georgia this time around in Columbia. At a minimum, it will provide a great measuring stick for the Bulldogs moving forward.
2. Oct. 13 at LSU
Georgia returns to Baton Rouge to take on LSU for the first time in a decade. While the Bulldogs have the edge in talent, the Tigers’ roster is far from lacking in legitimate star power of its own. More importantly, wins are never easy to come by in Death Valley, even with an edge in talent. This will be the Bulldogs’ biggest road test in 2018.
1. Nov. 10 vs. Auburn
There is little doubt that Auburn will be Georgia’s toughest regular season opponent in 2018. Despite the outcome of last year’s SEC Championship Game, and the Tigers’ lack of success against the Bulldogs in Athens in recent years, this year’s matchup has all the necessary ingredients to result in an epic battle, with major ramifications within the SEC and on the national stage. Heisman hopeful Jarrett Stidham returns at quarterback for the Tigers, along with perhaps the best defensive line in all of college football.
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--Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.