Coach: Kirby Smart, fourth season (32-10, all at Georgia).
Last year’s record: 11-3 overall, 7-1 in the SEC (1st in the East). Lost to Texas 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl.
Last year’s game: The Gators took a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Freddie Swain, but things went downhill from there for Florida. The Bulldogs outscored the Gators 23-3 the rest of the way to pull away for a 36-17 win. Jake Fromm threw for 240 yards and three TDs and D’Andre Swift rushed for 104 yards and a TD for UGA.
Starters returning: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)
Strengths: Heading into his third season as the starter, Fromm is considered one of the nation’s top quarterbacks and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. The more responsibility the coaches give him, the better Fromm seems to get. Fromm and Swift will benefit operating behind a strong and deep offensive line that returns four of five starters, led by standout tackle Andrew Marshall. Defensively, the Bulldogs should again been salty up front. Two starters return on the defensive line, led by tackle Tyler Clark. The Bulldogs are replacing three starters at linebacker, but the new group features more overall experience than last year’s, so no dropoff is expected. Three of four starters return in what should be one of the SEC’s best secondaries.
Possible problem areas: The biggest concern is the receiving end of the passing game. Fromm basically has no experience and proven receivers in the lineup. The top five receivers (WRs and TEs) from last year are gone, including dynamic wideout Jeremiah Holloman, who was dismissed from the team earlier this summer for striking his former girlfriend. Those five receivers combined for 155 receptions and 27 touchdowns in 2018. UGA’s leading returning receiver is Swift. The other concern is the lack of proven depth behind Fromm.
The schedule: UGA will be tested in the opener against Vanderbilt on the road. This is a Vandy offense that should be atypically explosive. The Dogs entertain Notre Dame three weeks later and go to Tennessee the week after that. Late in the year, the Dogs have a tough stretch with consecutive games against Florida, Missouri, Auburn and Texas A&M.
Quotable: “UGA is a special place both athletically and academically. One of the themes our players have adopted this year has been to do more. It’s a great theme because it’s simple. We like it because we understand how close we’ve been to taking the next step. And although 24-5 the last two seasons is good, it’s not good enough. It’s not where we expect to be at the University of Georgia.” — Kirby Smart