As usual at this time of year, with preseason practice taking place in Athens, the talk turns to Georgia football whenever more than one Dawgs fan gathers. That’s certainly the case with the King brothers, and in recent get-togethers we’ve discussed how we think the coming season will play out. Like most of Bulldog Nation, we’re looking for Kirby Smart’s Dawgs to pick up where they left off last year. Of course, my brother Jon predicts an undefeated season and national championship every year. Last year, he came awfully close to being right. Kirby Smart leads a team with a tremendous amount of talent, but quite a few new starters. This year, my other brother, Tim, who normally is a bit more circumspect in his season prediction, cast aside any caution and actually was first out of the gate with his own prediction that Georgia will win the natty. (I’ll share my own season prediction below.) As for other things we see happening this season, until Saturday’s unfortunate ACL injury, brother Tim also was predicting that Zamir “Zeus” White would be the No. 1 tailback by the third game. I thought that sounded a bit too optimistic for the freshman, especially since I believe we saw enough last season of projected starter D’Andre Swift to know he is the real deal. Even with White now gone for the season, I think we’ll see more of a tailback-by-committee rotation than last year, when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel dominated most of the carries. I think Elijah Holyfield will be the second tailback in most of the time, but I expect Brian Herrien and speedy freshman James Cook also to be regular on-field presences. Cook likely will be targeted as a receiver out of the backfield quite a bit, just as Swift was last year. There’s also been a lot of discussion of quarterback, of course. I think Jake Fromm keeps the starting job, but we get to see plenty of highly touted freshman Justin Fields in relief, and maybe occasionally a run-pass option package in the red zone. Other predictions: While Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin are always big-play threats, and California transfer Demetris Robertson is a big addition to the Dawgs, I think Riley Ridley will continue his late-season surge from last year and become Fromm’s go-to possession receiver, filling the role formerly filled by Javon Wims. Receiver Riley Ridley came on strong late last season. Can he pick up where he left off? (University of Georgia) Overall, I think the offense may have to carry the defense in the early part of the season (a reverse from last year), as Mel Tucker works to rebuild after losing seven starters from last year’s lineup, including All-American Roquan Smith and nose guard John Atkins, who did a fine job of clogging up the middle. The defensive situation is not as dire as it might look on the surface, though, because Tucker was able to play a lot of folks last season, so there’s a good bit of returning experience, led by Natrez Patrick. But, if I’m going to pick a likely stand-out player in the front seven, I think it will be sophomore linebacker Monty Rice, who started one game (Missouri) last year. I expect big things from defensive lineman Tyler Clark, too. As for special teams, I think the placekicking game will remain a strength, thanks to the big leg of Rod Blankenship, but punting could be a lot more of an adventure this season (unfortunately). Handicapping Georgia’s schedule TOUGHEST GAME: My brother Jon sees South Carolina and Florida as the toughest games on the schedule, but I’m thinking that, at this point, Auburn is likely to be the biggest challenge the Dawgs face this season. On the plus side, the game is in Athens, where Auburn hasn’t performed particularly well in recent years. PREDICTION: Really, Georgia should be favored to win every game except, possibly, this one. I’d say this is the possible regular-season loss. NEXT LEVEL DOWN: Everybody, especially the national football press, seems to be pointing to South Carolina as a potential road loss for Georgia, but I have a sneaking suspicion that LSU will wind up being the tougher game (Saturday night in Baton Rouge). Yes, the road trip to play the Gamecocks in Columbia does come early in the season (second game), which probably will see the Georgia defense still developing, but I figure Smart and his staff already are keying on that one, so a good game plan should counter any early-season deficiencies. Another early road trip that could prove tricky is Missouri, with Drew Lock against Georgia’s still-developing secondary an iffy proposition. However, Derek Dooley will be calling the plays for Mizzou (something he’s never done before), and the Tigers probably still won’t have a defense. Monty Rice (32) and Tyler Clark (52) look like possible standout players for the Georgia defense. (Andy Harrison/UGA) PREDICTION: Georgia wins all three, though one of them could be uncomfortably close. JACKSONVILLE: Again, a lot of national press already is on the Dan Mullen bandwagon, expecting a quick turnaround at Florida. The Gators definitely have a lot of talent, and they’re likely to have more of an idea what to do with it than last year, but the lack of a reliable QB remains a rather large obstacle for them. PREDICTION: Georgia makes it two in a row. NEXT LEVEL DOWN: Georgia Tech, with its tricky offense, always is a challenge, but, even if they’re looking ahead to the postseason, you can bet the Dawgs will have it drilled into their heads that the Jackets can’t be allowed to notch a third-straight win in Athens. Kentucky, with a running game led by Benny Snell, looks like the toughest of the remaining conference games. Jeremy Pruitt didn’t inherit a lot of talent at Tennessee, so I don’t think the Vols will be back yet, and Vanderbilt doesn’t look like much of a threat, either. PREDICTION: Georgia sweeps these games. EASIEST GAME: That, of course, will be the opener against FCS opponent Austin Peay, a game that will be a less taxing for the Dawgs than an intrasquad scrimmage. The rest of the nonconference schedule — Middle Tennessee and UMass — shouldn’t be much tougher. PREDICTION: We see a lot of Fields at QB, and the bench empties in the third quarter of all these games. MOST IMPORTANT GAMES: For the Dawgs’ SEC East hopes, that’s obviously South Carolina and Florida. After those two, the road trips to LSU and Missouri loom large. Can Jake Fromm lead his team to the playoffs for a second straight season? (David Weikel/UGA) PREDICTED SEASON RECORD: I think Georgia once again will have an 11-1 regular season record (with the single loss coming either in a conference road game or, more likely, to Auburn). Still, I see the Dawgs winning another SEC East title. Beyond that, my crystal ball is murky. I’m thinking next season looks like a much better bet for a national title, though I certainly hope my brothers prove to be on the money about this year. Speaking of which, brother Tim predicts the toughest game this season will be the SEC Championship vs. Bama. He sees the Dawgs winning that one by 10, and, then, it’s on to the College Football Playoff, which ESPN figures Georgia has a 46 percent chance of making — ranking behind only Clemson (67 percent chance) and Alabama (47 percent chance). In the playoff, Tim figures “the Dawgs beat Washington in a dog fight, Clemson beats Bama or ‘Wishconsin,’ and the Dawgs win the national championship over Clemson by 17.” There you have it, the King brothers’ early take on the 2018 season. What are your predictions? The post Georgia football 2018: Toughest games and other predictions appeared first on DawgNation.