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Georgia senior safety J.R. Reed stops Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn during last season's 41-13 Bulldogs win in Sanford Stadium.

EXPECTATIONS

Three years ago, the Kirby Smart era at Georgia opened with an 8-5 team that lost to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech in the same season for the first time since 1961. Then 2017 happened, a remarkable thrill ride that contained 13 victories, including one at Notre Dame and a double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. Georgia was on the doorstep of its first national championship since 1980 and led Alabama 20-7 midway through the third quarter in the title game of the four-team playoff before losing in overtime. The Bulldogs followed that with the nation's No. 1 signing class in February 2018, so expectations were forever launched from just winning the SEC East to being the nation's best. Georgia was on the verge of the four-team playoff last season but again lost a double-digit lead to Alabama, this time in the SEC title game. With Jake Fromm, D'Andre Swift and a loaded offensive line, anything short of the playoffs would be disappointing.

CONCERNS

Fromm replaced an injured Jacob Eason in the opening game of the 2017 season and never looked back. Last year, Fromm repelled the challenge of Justin Fields and now has managed to send Eason and Fields, two former five-star signees, elsewhere as transfers. There was a comfort the past two seasons that the Bulldogs had viable backups in case of injury, but the reserves this season are redshirt sophomore Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on, and true freshman D'Wan Mathis, who had a cyst on his brain removed in May and was limited at the start of this month. The top four receivers from last season are gone, with Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman in the NFL and with Jeremiah Holloman getting dismissed this summer. Top tight end Isaac Nauta must be replaced as well. The schedule is more challenging compared to a year ago, with both Notre Dame and Texas A&M visiting Sanford Stadium.

WHAT'S NEW

Notre Dame's visit to Athens will be a first, with the Bulldogs having topped the Irish in the Sugar Bowl after the 1980 season and two years ago in South Bend, when Georgia fans comprised more than 40% of the crowd. The Georgia-Notre Dame ticket will be the most expensive of the 2019 college football season, as the cost on StubHub just to get into the Sept. 21 showdown was $650 as of a week or two ago. The game will be televised by CBS in prime time. Both of Georgia's coordinators — James Coley on offense and Dan Lanning on defense — are new to their roles but not new to the program. Coley coached Georgia's receivers during the 2016-17 seasons and has handled quarterbacks since, while Lanning came to Athens last year and oversaw the outside linebackers. Redshirt freshman running back Zamir White hopes to make his debut after tearing his ACL last August, while Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens were touted receiver signees.

OUTLOOK

Barring a rash of injuries, the Bulldogs are incredibly deep on both sides of the line of scrimmage, as well as at linebacker and in the secondary. Where Georgia could be vastly improved this season is from a pass-rushing standpoint, with the Bulldogs adding Jermaine Johnson and Nolan Smith earlier this year. Johnson was the nation's No. 1 junior college prospect, while Smith was the No. 1 high school prospect. There is quality leadership across the board with Fromm on offense, senior safety J.R. Reed on defense and fifth-year kicker Rodrigo Blankenship on special teams. Even if Georgia beats Notre Dame and is 7-0 entering its second open date, the Bulldogs have a November schedule consisting of Florida, Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M and Georgia Tech. This will be the first November in which Georgia has faced four SEC teams in addition to Georgia Tech.

KEYS TO SUCCESS

This starts with keeping Fromm healthy, since the dropoff to his reserves appears to be much steeper this year. Whether it's a veteran like Tyler Simmons or Demetris Robertson, or one of the newcomers such as Blaylock, Pickens or Miami graduate transfer Lawrence Cager, somebody must develop into a trustworthy receiver for Fromm. Until that develops, the Bulldogs do have Swift and an offensive line that can provide plenty of challenges for opposing defenses. The biggest game from an electricity standpoint will be Notre Dame's visit, but beating an improving Florida program under Dan Mullen likely will be Georgia's biggest game from a postseason standpoint. Georgia has lost three straight years to an SEC West team on the road, so the Auburn trip can't be understated, either.

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