Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia forecast: Bulldogs to go 9-3, finish second in SEC East

For the 25th consecutive year (possible exaggeration, albeit slight), Georgia has been picked to win the SEC East. Often I’ve made the same pick. I'm not making it this time.

The belief here is that the Bulldogs will go 9-3 and lose the division title due to a flop – stop me if you’ve heard this one – in Jacksonville. There’s part of me that thinks that Georgia could and maybe will have a manpower advantage in every game it plays. There’s another part that will note that having the division’s best talent has never stopped this program from messing up before.

Kirby Smart’s first year was a raging dud – much worse than Mark Richt’s Year 1, if we’re still keeping that scorecard. Richt’s 2001 Bulldogs won at Tennessee. Smart’s 2016 team lost at home to Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. For the record, I picked Georgia to go 11-1 in Richt's Year 2 and then win the SEC, which it did. (Blind squirrel. Acorn.) I feel less optimistic about this head coach’s Year 2, largely because I feel no great confidence in this head coach. On that cheery note …

Appalachian State, Sept. 2: With UGA eyes on the Irish in Week 2, the Mountaineers have a chance to shock Ye Olde World in Week 1. The Bulldogs will hear much from their coaches about App State’s near-miss opener in Knoxville last year, but it remains to be seen if these players will stick to their task. If they do, that’ll be a good sign. I’m guessing their minds will wander enough that this will remain a game through three quarters. Georgia 31, App State 21.

At Notre Dame, Sept. 9: Either Brian Kelly remembers how to coach or Brian Kelly gets fired -- those are the only possible outcomes for this Irish season. I’m not sure Kelly coaching at peak capacity will be enough against Georgia. Remember that part about having the better players in every game? Here’s where it starts to show. Georgia 27, Notre Dame 20.

Samford, Sept. 16: This could get interesting, assuming Georgia is still riding its post-Irish high. Chris Hatcher coaches the other Bulldogs, and he’s from the Hal Mumme/Air Raid coaching tree. Heck, Hatcher played quarterback at Valdosta State – he would later be head coach there – under Mumme. Against Mississippi State (yet another brand of Bulldogs), Samford scored 41 points last season. Lost by 15, but still. Georgia 45, Samford 27.

Mississippi State, Sept. 23: Speaking of those maroon Bulldogs, they’re led by Nick Fitzgerald, a quarterback from Richmond Hill, Ga. He mightn’t be Dak Prescott, but he might be the second-best returning quarterback in the high and mighty SEC. Oh, and Todd Grantham, once (but not lately) the toast of Clarke County, Ga.? He’s the State defensive coordinator. Pretty good game here. Georgia 27, State 23.

At Tennessee, Sept. 30: I’m on record as having sworn off all hope for Butch Jones as a championship coach. Indeed, I’d be surprised if he’s Tennessee’s coach in 2018. But this game reminds me of Georgia’s visit to Knoxville in 2007. That year the Vols were 2-2 and the locals were howling for Phillip Fulmer to be given the gate. They beat maybe Richt's best team by three touchdowns. The Orange will again be 2-2, having lost to Georgia Tech and Florida. Consider this a dead cat bounce. Champions of Life 20, Georgia 17.

At Vanderbilt, Oct. 7: Grrr. The Bulldogs return to the Volunteer State in a foul mood. Georgia 41, Vandy 3.

Missouri, Oct. 14: Drew Lock’s an OK quarterback. On Oct. 12, 2013, Mizzou stunned Georgia in Athens. Regarding this nondescript game, that’s all I’ve got. Georgia 31, Missouri 13.

Florida in Jacksonville, Oct. 28: For like the thousandth time in Cocktail Party annals, Georgia should win – but it won’t. Hated Gators 24, bumfuzzled Bulldogs 20.

South Carolina, Nov. 4: I might have mentioned this a time or two, but here it is again. Will. Muschamp. Is. Not. A. Head. Coach. Georgia 30, South Carolina 6.

At Auburn, Nov. 11: Here’s one of those dastardly facts that drive Georgia fans crazy. The Bulldogs have taken nine of the past 11 installments in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. The two times Auburn won, it played for national titles. Not saying these Tigers are a playoff team, but the guess is that they’ll win this one. Auburn 29, Georgia 28.

Kentucky, Nov. 18: This should be Mark Stoops’ best team. Being a UK alum, I’ve heard it all before. Georgia 35, Kentucky 17.

At Georgia Tech, Nov. 25: It took some doing to blow last year’s game against the Jackets, but those Bulldogs managed. Missteps aside, this will be a much better Georgia team, and maybe by season’s end we’ll be calling Smart a pretty good coach. Maybe, I said. Georgia 30, Tech 23.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.