After a bye week, the Auburn football team will host rival Georgia the third weekend in November. For the most part, the Bulldogs have had Auburn’s number in recent years. winning five of the last six meetings. The Bulldogs again will present the Tigers with one of their greatest challenges next season.
In his first year since being promoted in January, new offensive coordinator James Coley should enjoy solid playmakers across the board on offense.
At the center of it all is junior quarterback Jake Fromm, who took the Dawgs to the national championship game as a true freshman in 2017 and has since become one of the best signal-callers in college football.
After recording 30 touchdowns with only six interceptions with an efficient 67.4 completion percentage last season, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback comes into 2019 with a lot of hype.
The junior has been named to the preseason All-SEC second team and is in the top 10 for Vegas odds to win the Heisman as well as being on the watchlists for multiple national awards.
Fromm has the ability to pick defenders apart when he has a clean pocket to throw from and has shown ability to make high-level NFL throws during his time in Athens.
Speaking of a clean pocket, Fromm will likely enjoy one quite often. Georgia returns four of its five starters from an already dominant offensive line unit — all four returners were named to a preseason All-SEC team.
Junior left tackle Andrew Thomas, an Associated Press All-American in 2018, is one of the most dominant offensive linemen in the country.
Paired with 6-foot-7, 340-pound right tackle Isaiah Wilson, the Dawgs will enjoy a strong presence on both ends of their line.
On the inside, junior Solomon Kindley and Ben Cleveland create a fearsome duo in the trenches. Kindley and Cleveland were named to the preseason All-SEC second and third teams, respectively, and help round out a group that could have more NFL talent than any other team in the country.
Despite losing 1,000-yard rusher Elijah Holyfield, the Dawgs will have another bona-fide star in the backfield.
After a career-high 186 rushing yards last year against Auburn, 5-foot-9 junior running back D’Andre Swift has a chance to take that domination to another level in 2019.
The Athlon Sports preseason All-American had 1,346 all-purpose yards to go along with 13 touchdowns last year.
A bit undersized, Swift makes up for the lack in size with excellent speed, patience and ability to make defenders miss.
Swift is also a valuable option in the passing game that has the chance to be one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country.
Behind him, senior Brian Herrien is a veteran who hasn’t had that big of a role in Athens thus far. Nonetheless, Herrion has had 250 or more rushing yards in each of his previous three years on campus, and with Holyfield’s departure he could become a valuable backup for the Bulldogs.
With all the talent UGA has at those positions, there’s more uncertainty regarding the team’s group of pass catchers.
Gone are the team’s top five receiving options from last year and what’s left is a hole that desperately needs to be filled by unproven talent.
Most pressingly, the Dawgs will have to replace dynamic receivers Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman — a duo that combined for 1,102 yards and 16 TDs in 2018.
Other than Swift, UGA’s leading returning receiver is backup tight end Charlie Woerner, who finished last year with 148 yards but no touchdowns. Now expected to be the full-time starter, Woerner is expected to shine and was named to the preseason All-SEC third team. Georgia will need the 6-foot-5 senior to have a big year if they want to continue passing the ball effectively.
Georgia then has a host of talented yet unproven wideouts — many of whom can fill voids left by Ridley, Hardman and others.
Senior Tyler Simmons is a versatile weapon that can do damage both catching and running the ball. His experience and veteran presence should help the 6-foot receiver carve out a larger role.
Redshirt junior Demetris Robinson couldn’t quite crack the rotation last year. However, the 6-foot, 190-pound wideout comes into 2019 with a lot of hype as he caught 50 balls for 767 yards and seven TDs in 2017 at Cal and was named a freshman All-American.
Robinson has turned heads during the spring and without multiple NFL receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, should be ready to take the next step.
Lastly, and one that Auburn fans should be well aware of, freshman George Pickens has a chance to contribute right away for the Dawgs. Pickens, a. five-star prospect out of Hoover, flipped from Auburn to the Dawgs on National Signing Day in February.
At 6-foot-3, Pickens has good size to pair with excellent hands. He was a top-five receiver in the class of 2019 and with the lack of established talent at his position, could be an impact player from day one.
Georgia’s 19.2 points allowed per game ranked No. 15 in the nation in 2018 as the Dawgs also ranked in the top five in the SEC in both rush and pass defense.
The Dawgs lost some strong contributors from last year’s defense — especially on the front seven. Regardless, new defensive coordinator Dan Lanning likely expects another year leading a top defense in the SEC — something Georgia is definitely capable of.
On the defensive line, senior tackle Tyler Clark should lead the unit. Clark is a veteran starter who recorded 31 tackles and 4 tackles for loss last season and was named to the preseason All-SEC third team.
Joining him, senior tackle Julian Rochester and sophomore nose tackle Jordan Davis should help the Bulldogs create a strong presence in the trenches.
Davis was a freshman All-American in 2018 and, with a 6-foot-6, 330-pound frame, has all the physical tools to be a dominant force in the middle.
At linebacker, Georgia will have to replace Natrez Patrick and the team’s best pass rusher in D’Andre Walker.
As far as established talent goes, senior Tae Crowder, despite only starting five games last year, finished fifth on the team with 53 tackles. Crowder also added 6 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Junior Monty Rice’s 59 tackles was third on the team last year and the 6-foot-1, 235-pound linebacker should once again be one of the top tacklers for the Bulldogs.
UGA also has a pair of five-star freshman at linebacker in Nakobe Dean and the nation’s top recruit, Nolan Smith. While they both may not be starters from day one, both Dean and Smith are too talented to keep off the field for long.
Current New York Giant Deandre Baker led the Bulldog secondary in 2018 as one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Now that he’s gone, someone must step up as the team’s lockdown corner.
Sophomore Tyson Campbell is a tall, lengthy corner who made 10 starts as a true freshman last year. At 6-foot-2, Campbell has a rare combo of size, speed and tackling ability that could vault him into stardom.
Campbell had a bit of an up-and-down season in 2018 but still managed to lead all UGA freshmen in tackles with 45 while also adding two fumble recoveries and a TD.
When Campbell struggled late in the season, redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes took his place. Stokes frequently stepped up when his number was called and led the team with nine passes defended.
At safety, the Bulldogs have a much larger sense of certainty. Redshirt senior J.R. Reed is entering his third year as a starter and has the chance to be one of the best safeties in the SEC.
Reed registered 66 tackles and two INTs last season and enters 2019 as a preseason All-SEC first team selection.
Alongside him, junior Richard LeCounte III helps UGA create one of the best safety duos in the country.
At 5-foot-11 and 190-pounds, LeCounte is a bit undersized. Regardless of size, the junior is one of the best coverage safeties in the SEC and actually led the Bulldogs in tackles last year with 74.
LeCounte is on the preseason All-SEC third team and if he can improve on a missed tackle issue that has held him back in the past, Georgia’s secondary could be lethal.
Senior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is really the only special team’s players on the roster worth mentioning.
Blankenship is certainly worthy of that mention, however, as the kicker, perhaps most famous for the goggles he dons while kicking, is one of the best in the country at his position.
The veteran connected on 19 of his 23 field-goal attempts last year, including eight for 10 on attempts from 40 yards or longer. Blankenship also ranked second in the NCAA in touchbacks and has become one of UGA’s most reliable and underrated weapons.
Georgia will likely present the Tigers with their biggest challenge to date and if Auburn isn’t prepared, the Dawgs could very easily see their rivals as a stepping stool towards yet another SEC Championship appearance.
Fromm and Swift create one of the best QB/RB duos in the country and with an offensive line like Georgia’s to protect them, the Dawgs should have no problem putting up points.
Wide receiver is a real concern for the Bulldogs. A lack of established talent could put a ceiling on the Dawgs offensive potential — especially early in the season.
On defense, UGA needs to find a pass rusher to replace D’Andre Walker but should stop the run at an elite level.
The team’s secondary is one of the best in the conference and if things happen according to plan, the Bulldogs should be a playoff contender.