Up next in our key stretch series is Georgia.
Key Stretch: at Ole Miss (Sept. 24), Mississippi State (Oct. 1), at Tennessee (Oct. 8), at Vanderbilt (Oct. 15)
Breakdown: Georgia's toughest part of the season comes right out of the gate against Boise State and South Carolina, but even if Georgia begins the year 0-2, the SEC East isn't out of reach. Georgia's chances at an East title start to really be on the line during the middle of the season. At first glance, this doesn't look like the most rigorous schedule out there, but the Bulldogs have to go on the road three times during the four-week span before heading down to Jacksonville, Fla., to take on the Gators. Ole Miss is coming off a 4-8 season and is loaded with youth across the board, but the game is in Oxford and the Rebels are on a mission to rebound from last year's disaster. That game in Athens against Mississippi State should have SEC implications on both sides of the division. Mississippi State has become a popular dark-horse pick this season and coach Dan Mullen will look to build off the success he had at Florida against Georgia. Since 2004, Georgia has lost four games to Tennessee, with two coming in Knoxville. And there is new life at Vanderbilt. Coach James Franklin has this team overflowing with confidence heading into the fall.
Prediction: Georgia enters the 2011 season with issues on offense. The Bulldogs are still searching for a solid No. 2 option at wide receiver. They will most likely be breaking in a freshman in Isaiah Crowell at the No. 1 running back spot and they're an injury away on the offensive line from finding themselves in a world of hurt. Fortunately, quarterback Aaron Murray is arguably the best at his position in the conference and has developed the leadership skills to put this team on his back. If Georgia wants to make it back to Atlanta for the SEC title game, it has to come out of this stretch with a winning record. Two or more losses will likely be too many. Coach Mark Richt's seat in Athens is hotter than ever and it might not cool down unless his team either makes it to the SEC championship or is in contention right until the end. The Bulldogs are 9-5 all-time in Oxford and I think Georgia is too talented on both offense and defense to start this stretch off with a loss to the Rebels. I also think the Bulldogs avoid a letdown in Nashville at the back end of the stretch. That leaves the middle with Mississippi State and Tennessee. I think the Bulldogs split those two, going 3-1 during the middle part of the season. That would leave Georgia in the thick of the SEC East race with Florida, Auburn and Kentucky still remaining on the schedule.