NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Georgia has done just about everything right the past two years, winning 24 games and reaching the national championship game once, and the Bulldogs look to take the final step this season starting with Saturday's opener at Vanderbilt. The third-ranked Bulldogs return plenty of firepower from last season's 11-win squad, with junior quarterback Jake Fromm and junior tailback D'Andre Swift back to lead an offense that averaged 37.9 points per game.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network. LINE: Georgia -21
"Win or lose, it is not going to define you," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart told reporters Monday in discussing opening the season on the road. "What's going to define you is how you respond." Vanderbilt begins the post-Kyle Shurmur era at quarterback with two candidates to get snaps in graduate transfer Riley Neal and junior Deuce Wallace, although head coach Derek Mason has said he will not announce who gets Saturday's start. "We need a quarterback battle," Mason told reporters earlier this month. "That just talks about the talent that's in the room." Whoever takes snaps will have all-conference first-team senior receiver Kalija Lipscomb and senior running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn to help shoulder the offensive load.
ABOUT GEORGIA (2018: 11-3)
Fromm passed for 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns a season ago, completing 67.3 percent of his passes, and for the first time he enters the season as the unquestioned starter. Swift emerged as a go-to back last season, rushing for 1,049 yards with 10 touchdowns, and while four starters return on the offensive line, the Bulldogs are inexperienced at receiver. The Georgia defense lost several key contributors from a unit that allowed just 19.2 points per game in 2018, but it brings back its two leading tacklers in junior defensive back Richard LeCounte (74 tackles) and senior defensive back J.R. Reed (66 stops).
ABOUT VANDERBILT (2018: 6-7)
Vaughn rushed for 1,244 yards last season (most by any returning SEC running back) and 12 touchdowns last season, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and ended the year with 243 yards in the Texas Bowl. Lipscomb led the conference with 87 receptions a season ago and is six touchdowns shy of breaking the school record. Defensively, the Commodores lost two of their top three tacklers but bring back sophomore linebacker Dimitri Moore (84 tackles last season) and junior defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo (6 ½ tackles for loss).
1. Vanderbilt returns senior TE Jared Pinkney, who caught 50 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns a season ago.
2. Georgia senior K Rodrigo Blankenship made 19-of-23 field-goal attempts last season and begins 2019 with 154 consecutive made extra points.
3. The Bulldogs have won 21 of the past 24 meetings with Vanderbilt, including a 41-13 rout at home last season.
PREDICTION: Georgia 37, Vanderbilt 14