UGA goes 9-1 and beats Bama. Will that satisfy the CFP?

Georgia quarterback D'Wan Mathis (2), Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18), Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) during the Bulldogs’ practice session in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

Georgia will be working without its No. 1 quarterback of the past three seasons. His presumptive replacement came to Athens and left three days after the team’s first scrimmage. It’s unclear who’ll start at quarterback this week in Fayetteville. It’s unclear if this Saturday’s starter will keep the job for long. Oh, and we’re in the grips of a pandemic. For the Bulldogs, as for all of us, clarity is in short supply.

Does such uncertainty preclude us from trying to guess how Georgia’s season will play out? It does not.

Sept. 26, at Arkansas (4 p.m.): The bad news is that this tacked-on opener has them traveling to the Ozarks. They should, however, find a soft landing. The Razorbacks haven’t won an SEC game since Oct. 28, 2017. They’re 1-23 over the past three conference seasons under three head coaches. The first was Bret Bielema, a strange fit. The second was Chad Morris, the worst SEC hire ever. The third was Barry Lunney, who went 0-2 in interim duty after Morris was canned. The new head Hog is Sam Pittman, who spent four years coaching Georgia’s offensive line, though the 2019 season wasn’t his finest hour. After losing the SEC title game to LSU, Kirby Smart took pains to say his team hadn’t run the ball nearly as well as it should have last season. Within the month, Pittman had found a new job. Georgia 33, Arkansas 3.

Oct. 3, Auburn (7:30 p.m.): Here’s a curious stat. Gus Malzahn has had greater success against Alabama (three wins in seven tries) than Georgia (two wins in eight, the Prayer at Jordan-Hare included). The Tigers put up little resistance at home against Georgia last year, losing 21-14 after trailing 21-nil. A week later, they scored 48 points in beating the Crimson Tide, albeit sans Tua Tagavailoa. Not so long ago, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry tended to favor the road team. Well, Malzahn is 0-3 in Sanford Stadium. Another fun fact: These two ancient rivals have collided 124 times since 1892. This will be their earliest staging of Georgia-Auburn ever – unless you count the 1892 tilt, which was held Feb. 20 (!) in Piedmont Park. Auburn won 10-0. That won’t happen this time. Georgia 24, Auburn 14.

Oct. 10, Tennessee: If you’re among those who believe the Volunteers are about to get good again, this looms as a Trap Game. The Big Orange will arrive in Athens just after Auburn and before Georgia’s first trip to Tuscaloosa since 2007. The Vols opened last season 2-5, leading some to think Jeremy Pruitt mightn’t make it through Year 2. (His athletic director is Philip Fulmer, former Tennessee coach.) The Vols finished 6-0, which sounds dandy until you check the six victims: South Carolina, UAB, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Indiana. This apparently was enough to dazzle Associated Press poll voters; the Vols are No. 16, having yet to play. It isn’t enough to convince this correspondent, who recalls Tennessee opening last season by losing to Georgia State. Georgia 30, Tennessee 13.

Oct. 17, at Alabama (8 p.m.): Depending on how Clemson is looking, this could be for the No. 1 ranking. (Ohio State won’t have played yet.) On the one hand, Georgia prevailed in its last trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium. On the other, the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide have met five times since, Bama going 5-0. In the past two meetings – one for the national title, the other for the SEC championship – the Tide prevailed without taking a snap while leading. No Nick Saban deputy has risen to topple the great man, but this is a year like no other. Why not pick a result that forlorn Georgia fans believe is no longer possible? Remember, Bama has a new quarterback. Remember, too, that Bama’s defense hasn’t been Bama-like for a while. Remember also that the Bulldogs are overdue for a spot of luck. Georgia 35, Alabama 30.

Oct. 24, at Kentucky: Georgia is 4-0 and (maybe) No. 1 in the land! It finally beat Bama! World domination awaits! Hold those horses. The next opponent is Kentucky – a state known for horses, get it? – in Lexington. With Florida in Jacksonville on the horizon. This could be the Trap Game to end all Trap Games. The Bulldogs wouldn’t be human if they didn’t thrash around for a while, and Kentucky under Mark Stoops is as good as Kentucky’s apt to get. The Wildcats are 18-8 over the past two seasons. They’re also 0-2 against Georgia, suggesting the inherent talent gap remains. Upset Alerts will be flying as the Bulldogs trail throughout, but in the end this will become a Georgia-Kentucky game, of which there’s only one winner. Georgia 27, Kentucky 24.

Nov. 7, Florida in Jacksonville (3:30 p.m.): After last year’s game, Dan Mullen said he’d been hoping his team would get a lead because the Bulldogs weren’t adept at playing from behind. His team never did, rendering the point moot. Still, it was clear Mullen, now in Year 3 as head ball coach, gives much thought to the Bulldogs, against whom he’s 1-4 as a head coach, the victory coming in 2010 with Mississippi State. Even Jim McElwain, gone from Florida after three years, beat Georgia twice. This game has become a crusade for Mullen’s Gators, same as beating Alabama was for Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs – and we’ve just seen that breakthrough occur, right? Here’s another. Gators get ahead and stay there. Gators seize the lead and tiebreaker in the SEC East. Florida 20, Georgia 16.

Nov. 14, at Missouri: We know by now that one loss won’t disqualify Georgia from College Football Playoff consideration, especially in a year where the big conferences are playing a varying number of games. Georgia must keep chopping wood, as it were. Nothing from here on appears un-choppable. Missouri has a new coach in Eliah Drinkwitz, imported from Appalachian State. He was 12-1 at Appy last season, his first as a head coach. En route, the Mountaineers beat South Carolina, which was more than Georgia did. UGA fans still recoil at the 2013 home loss to Mizzou, but that remains the only time the Tigers have beaten the Bulldogs. This is a take-out-the-frustration game. Georgia 42, Missouri 7.

Nov. 21, Mississippi State: Say hello to the always-intriguing Mike Leach. We know him for his love of pirates, “swing your sword,” having become a personal credo. We know him as the offensive coordinator who moved from Hal Mumme’s Air Raid at Kentucky to do big things at Texas Tech. He fell out with Craig James, the former ESPN broadcaster who alleged that Leach mistreated his son as a Red Raiders player. That led to Leach’s firing, which led to his lawsuit against Texas Tech. He alit at Washington State. In 2018 he led the Cougars to a No. 10 ranking in the final AP poll. Now he’s in Starkville, Miss., having already had to apologize for a tweet that included a photo of a noose. You’re getting all this info because I can think of nothing to say about this game. Georgia 42, Mississippi State 14.

Nov. 28, at South Carolina: Last year’s meeting might have been the strangest result of the 21st century. By game’s end, South Carolina was down to its No. 3 quarterback. Jake Fromm, who entered having thrown no interceptions, threw three, the first being a pick-6, the second coming in the first overtime. Rodrigo Blankenship, who entering having not missed a kick, missed a field-goal try in regulation and again in the second OT. This stunning loss – South Carolina finished the season 4-8 – kept Georgia’s claim as being CFP-worthy as a non-SEC-champ from gaining traction. Will Muschamp, who lasted four seasons at Florida, is entering Year 5 with Carolina. Given that the Gamecocks don’t face Clemson, this figures to be the former Bulldog’s last chance at a signature victory. Forget that. Georgia 30, South Carolina 3.

Dec. 5, Vanderbilt: Scoreboard-watching, anyone? Florida will be playing at Tennessee. If the Gators enter 8-1, a Vols win would propel Georgia into the SEC Championship game. The guess, however, is that Florida won’t lose a regular-season game, thereby blocking the Bulldogs from a fourth consecutive trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The guess also is that Florida will lose to Alabama in Atlanta, handing the CFP committee an agonizing choice. Of three one-loss SEC teams, which two make the field of four? Surely Alabama because it’s the SEC champ, but will Florida’s victory over Georgia hold sway? Or will Georgia’s win over Bama? Whoa, Nellie. Georgia 51, Vanderbilt 0.

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