Sept. 4, Louisiana-Lafayette: The offense will look great. The defense will look ferocious. Aaron Murray will throw two touchdown passes, one to Logan Gray, whom Murray beat out for the quarterback job. Georgia fans will seize on this game as evidence that the Bulldogs are better than they’ve been at any time since 2002 if not 1980, but we have to remember the opponent. Prediction: Georgia 45, La-La 10.
Sept. 11, at South Carolina: Mark Richt hasn’t lost in Columbia, but he has had three very close calls. (The Pollack snatch-and-grab in 2002, the comeback in 2004, the narrow escape in 2008.) This is the biggest game of Steve Spurrier’s tenure in Columbia,and the Evil Genius surely has one last trick left. The Gamecock D flusters Murray on a day when neither team scores much. Prediction: South Carolina 16, Georgia 13.
Sept. 18, Arkansas: Through two games, Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense has held up its end. Here’s where the D wobbles. This is the Razorbacks’ first real game, and it’s one Bobby Petrino and Ryan Mallett have long awaited. For all his excesses, Petrino can design an offense, and Mallett is a a thrower of the first rank. It won’t quite be the Dogs-Hogs shootout of last season, but it will be close. Prediction: Arkansas 31, Georgia 27.
Sept. 25, at Mississippi State: Georgia has two losses. The other Bulldogs, who will have already played Auburn and LSU, could have two losses. And Georgia must travel to Starkville and endure the mellifluous strains of the cowbell. But here’s where the Bulldogs and Murray start to grow up. What seems another scary road test becomes instead just another of those Richt road triumphs. Prediction: Georgia 24, Mississippi State 17.
Oct. 2, at Colorado: The Buffaloes will be honoring the 1990 team, which won the Associated Press national championship. (Georgia Tech, you’ll recall, took the UPI title.) Richt is already fretting that Colorado and its crowd will be pumped for the occasion. Big deal. It’s still only Colorado, which finished 3-9 last season and figures to be looking for a new coach soon. Prediction: Georgia 30, Colorado 17.
Oct. 9, Tennessee: This will be one of the strangest days in Georgia history. Vince Dooley’s son brings his team to play in the house Vince-didn’t-quite-build-but-expanded-a-bunch-of-times. And Tennessee, which has beaten Georgia four times since 2003, has become a nemesis. Not this time. Derek Dooley’s team was picked to finish behind Kentucky in the SEC East, for good reason. Prediction: Georgia 30, Tennessee 10.
Oct. 16, Vanderbilt: Georgia is rolling now, and Vanderbilt isn’t a team capable of stopping the surge. The Commodores have a new coach but the same players, and the reason Bobby Johnson stepped aside in July was the reality of all his hard work resulting in a 2-10 season in 2009. This is the day the Georgia offense really gets going, the day a victory over Florida begins to seem possible. Prediction: Georgia 45, Vanderbilt 3.
Oct. 23, at Kentucky: Trouble is, Georgia still has a week to go before it heads to Jacksonville, and first it must make a stop at Commonwealth Stadium. This seems a classic look-ahead game, when means there’s danger involved, but we must recall that the Wildcats are working under a new coach in Joker Phillips and don’t appear primed for a big year. Georgia wobbles but prevails. Prediction: Georgia 24, Kentucky 19.
Oct. 30, Florida at Jacksonville: Every Bulldog season comes down to this game, and Georgia, having won five in a row, goes to Jax believing this is finally the year the series turns. The Gators have no Tim Tebow, no Brandon Spikes, no Charlie Strong. They do still have Urban Meyer and an array of talent the Bulldogs can’t quite match. Maybe it’ll be different in 2011. Prediction: Florida 21, Georgia 20.
Nov. 6, Idaho State: ISU’s nickname is the Bengals. It won once in 2009. Its victory was in the season finale against Portland State, which finished 2-9. Its first two games of 2009 resulted in losses to Arizona State and Oklahoma by the aggregate tally of 114-3. It is coached by John Zamberlin, who’s 5-29 in three seasons in Pocatello. Georgia will set some records this day. Prediction: Georgia 70, Idaho State 3.
Nov. 13, at Auburn: It was the second-biggest win in a strange season. Georgia fell behind Auburn 14-0 at home and was poised to slip to 5-5, but the Bulldogs rallied to win 31-24 last November. (Then they lost to Kentucky the next week. Like I said: Strange season.) This time the game’s at Auburn, which doesn’t mean much in this series. And Georgia has better players. Prediction: Georgia 28, Auburn 20.
Nov. 27, Georgia Tech: The biggest win of 2009 was the emphatic back-to-basics defeat of the Jackets, who were ranked No. 7 in the nation. The belief here is that Georgia will be far better this season and that Tech won’t be quite as good. The belief here is that Georgia, having started the season 1-2, will wind up 9-3 and stamp itself as one of the teams to beat in 2011. Prediction: Georgia 27, Tech 24.
This was another sneak peek into Sunday’s special AJC College Football Section, which will appear in the print AJC. The 34-page section will preview Tech, Georgia, Georgia State, the SEC and ACC, top games, Heisman candidates and more.