The game: Oct. 27 in Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m.
Last year’s result: Sony Michel had touchdown runs of 74 and 45 yards to lead the Bulldogs to a 42-7 rout of the Gators. UF quarterbacks Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks combined to throw for only 66 yards. UGA was so strong on the ground that true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm attempted only seven passes.
Key players returning: QB Jake Fromm (2,615 yards passing last season), WR Terry Godwin (38 receptions, 639, six TDs last season), CB Deandre Baker, RB D’Andre Swift (618 yards rushing last season) and kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
Key losses: RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel, LB Roquan Smith, OT Isaiah Wynn and WR Javon Wims.
Scouting the offense: Losing two running backs (Chubb and Michel) who combined for 2,572 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns last season seems huge, but the ’Dogs are set to reload with a trio of talented backs. D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield flashed their big-time ability last season. But the next elite UGA back could be true freshman Zamir White, the nation’s No. 1 running back coming out of high school. The next elite UGA quarterback has already arrived. That would be Jake Fromm, who is coming off a remarkable true freshman season. With Chubb and Michel gone, he’ll be asked to do more in the passing game, which shouldn’t be a problem based on how he well responded when he needed to throw in 2017. He has a standout go-to wide receiver in Terry Godwin and a playmaking tight end in Isaac Nauta. The Bulldogs have three starters back on the line.
Scouting the defense: With the UGA losing six starters from last year’s defense, including All-American linebacker Roquan Smith, the perception is the Bulldogs could be vulnerable early in the season while some younger players are still emerging. The ’Dogs are led by senior end Jonathan Ledbetter and senior cornerback Deandre Baker, one of the nation’s best cover corners. Coach Kirby Smart has recruited well and the Bulldogs are talented across the board, but a lot of the talent is young and unproven.
Scouting the special teams: The ’Dogs have one of the country’s best field-goal kickers in junior Rodrigo Blankenship, who was good on 20 of 23 attempts last season. He made a 51-yard field goal in overtime against Alabama in the national championship game. Punting is a question mark. Freshman Jake Camarda and sophomore Marshall Long will compete for the starting role. UGA has a dangerous return man in Mecole Hardman.
“You should feel privilege to have pressure to win games, to have expectations. Everybody is talking about the expectations. Last year at this time, they were talking about the same expectations for the University of Georgia. I went back and reviewed my notes for this event, and it was the same thing. Georgia is expected to do this, to win the East, to win championships.” — Kirby Smart