Here’s how Georgia’s football season will play out

Georgia football-national media-2021 season

Credit: UGA Athletics

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart addresses the team during ’ practice Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

Credit: UGA Athletics

Soon after I cited wide receiver George Pickens’ injury as the only real concern for Georgia football in 2021, word of ailments and absences for players at that position and others started trickling out of Bulldogs camp. Too bad No. 5 Georgia can’t ease into the season. The Bulldogs are diving right in against No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte on Saturday.

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Those developments do nothing to change my bullish outlook for the Bulldogs. They have plenty of good players available because coach Kirby Smart recruits better than anyone outside of Alabama. Georgia will finish the regular season 11-1, and I know exactly which game they’ll lose. OK, I don’t know, but I’m going to make a prediction anyway.

It’s very difficult to forecast the results of every game before the season begins. Injuries and other variables change from week to week. That’s why I reserve the right to change my forecast as new information is gathered. Of course, if I end up being right about all of this, then it will have nothing to do with luck or the fact that the outcomes of at least eight Georgia games really are not in doubt.

Here’s how Georgia’s 2021 season will play out:

vs. No. 3 Clemson (Charlotte), Saturday

The Tigers didn’t face a great defense in 2020 until they got to the College Football Playoff semifinal. They scored a season-low 28 points against Ohio State, with seven of them in garbage time. Now Clemson swaps out all-time school greats Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne for sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and a cast of mostly unproven playmakers. Clemson’s defense will be better, and UGA’s JT Daniels isn’t Justin Fields, but Smart’s Bulldogs are elite again on defense and win on Jack Podlesny’s late field goal.

vs. UAB, Sept. 11

Alabama-Birmingham officials were set to eliminate the football program after the 2014 season, Bill Clark’s first as coach, before reversing course. The Blazers rebooted for the 2017 season and have won two of the past three Conference USA title games. However, UAB is 0-4 against opponents from the Power 5 leagues since then, with a scoring margin of 138-48. Georgia has some early frustrations against UAB’s solid defense before finding a rhythm and pulling away.

vs. South Carolina, Sept. 18

That weird victory at Sanford Stadium in 2019 ended up as Will Muschamp’s crowning achievement as South Carolina coach. He’s a coach for Georgia now. Muschamp’s successor at South Carolina, Shane (son of Frank) Beamer, signed a bunch of transfer players to smooth the transition. Older Gamecocks players take the field for warm-ups and reminisce about the time they won there. Then Georgia wins big.

at Vanderbilt, Sept. 25

Georgia’s first true road game of the season is against the Commodores, who lost all nine games they played in 2020. They didn’t play a (twice-scheduled) game at Georgia because COVID-19 protocols and attrition left them under the SEC’s scholarship limit. This time the Commodores have enough players to field a team or, if they don’t, forfeit the game per SEC rules. That’s a win-win for the Bulldogs.

vs. Arkansas, Oct. 2

The Bulldogs started slowly last season’s opener at Arkansas before dominating in the second half. The Hogs showed some new energy under coach Sam Pittman, one of Smart’s top assistants. They won at Mississippi State the week after losing to Georgia, beat Tennessee and lost on a last-second field goal at Auburn. The problem for Arkansas is their QB in 2020, Feleipe Franks, plays for the Falcons now. The Hogs give a respectable effort but lose by a touchdown.

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Georgia Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) warms up before an NCCA football game on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) warms up before an NCCA football game on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens.    (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

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Georgia Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) warms up before an NCCA football game on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

at Auburn, Oct. 9

This could be when Auburn coach Bryan Harsin, formerly of Boise State, begins to understand what he’s up against. A week after playing at LSU, Auburn returns home for the latest installment of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. As a special treat for Harsin, Auburn’s usual punishing schedule this year includes a trip to No. 19 Penn State on Sept. 18. Those games prepare the Tigers for this one. Harsin leans on coordinators Mike Bobo and Derek Mason, both old hands in the SEC, and the Tigers score an upset victory over the Bulldogs.

vs. Kentucky, Oct. 16

Georgia and Kentucky seemed to have an understanding for last season’s 14-3 Bulldogs victory in Lexington. The Wildcats would not take any of the risks associated with attempting to score points. In exchange, the Bulldogs would allow Kentucky to keep the margin respectable by running out the clock with a numbing series of handoffs. It will be a different story with Georgia at home and Daniels at QB. Bulldogs romp.

vs. No. 13 Florida (Jacksonville), Oct. 30

Florida fielded a great offense in 2020, and the Bulldogs couldn’t keep up. Now Georgia doesn’t have to tangle with tight end Kyle Pitts (No. 4 overall draft pick to the Falcons), wide receiver Kadarius Toney (No. 20) and quarterback Kyle Trask (No. 64). This time coordinator Todd Grantham’s Gators defense must deal with Daniels, who passes the Bulldogs to victory.

vs. Missouri, Nov. 6

Remember how the Tigers won two SEC East titles soon after joining the league that was supposed to overwhelm them? It’s strange that no one seems to acknowledge that ever happened. Georgia has won seven games in a row against Missouri since losing the 2013 meeting at Sanford Stadium. There have been some close games during that time, but this won’t be another one. The Bulldogs keep rolling.

at Tennessee, Nov. 13

Georgia’s 44-21 victory at Tennessee in October was the first sign that Jeremy Pruitt had not, in fact, turned the Volunteers around. After the usual offseason clown show, Tennessee hired Josh Heupel to rejuvenate a program that hasn’t won 10 games since 2007. Tennessee was pretty good on defense with Pruitt, and several defenders opted for a fifth season. But the Vols can’t score enough to keep pace with Georgia.

vs. Charleston Southern, Nov. 20

Charleston Southern plays in the Big South of the FCS. The Buccaneers have faced 13 opponents from the Power 5 conferences. They scored more than 10 points in two of those games and allowed 60-plus points eight times. The Bucs takes their licks against Georgia and cash the check.

at Georgia Tech, Nov. 27

Smart’s first Georgia team lost at home to Tech while squandering a two-touchdown lead after halftime. The Bulldogs have won the past three meetings by a combined score of 135-35. The Jackets are better this season. Geoff Collins takes a couple of gambles that pay off, and Tech is competitive into the second half. But the Bulldogs still are just too good. Georgia earns another convincing victory on The Flats. Next up: Alabama in the SEC Championship game.