Preface: it's obviously too early, but why not. Also note that this isn't a "power poll" of the opponents, but more so my opinion taking location, timing, etc. into account. Obviously we can't know everything yet such as game times and such. Last year I had @SC #1 and Florida #4, but whiffed on Tech (as did UGA special teams late in the game).
1. at Auburn
Though it seems we've handled them when we should over the last few years, we should know going down to Auburn is never an easy task. Gus Malzahn is going to score points. He did it with Chris Todd, and has proven able with whatever talent he has. Last year we cracked them on defense, but I'm not sure the outcome is the same if the game isn't in a rocking Sanford Stadium. They will supposedly be able to stretch the field vertically this year with Johnson who has a nice compliment in Duke Williams. The offense is now more solidified in the system, and the defense looks to capitalize on the talent it has been amassing with the tutelage of Muschamp. Lastly, it falls near the end of the season. It could be a huge game for Auburn, but despite the size of the game Auburn always proves a hostile environment. They would be #2 in my power poll of opponents, but playing this one on the road vaults them to number 1. Just one of those games I feel like we're not talking about with Bama and Tennessee looming early.
2. at Tennessee
For many, this is the clear number one. I am not devaluing that notion at all. It will be a chance to Tennessee to get that big win they've been searching for on a national stage for a few years now. Going to Neyland is never easy. The only reason I have this one here is my comparison to Auburn, and the positive factors for UGA I have listed against Bama below. We do match up well against the Vols who averaged giving up 160 rush yards per game last year. They also should be plenty beat up having played at Florida and vs. Arkansas in the two weeks before (though we come off the Bama game). This game isn't hiding in the shadows behind Bama this year, as UGA certainly knows it's importance looking down the schedule. After two years of really ugly games, we should expect another. They are number 3 on my power poll of opponents, but #2 on the schedule list.
This is the most talented team we will play this year. However they are in this position in my mind for a couple reasons. One, it's at home. If you don't think Sanford will be rocking well then you think people will have over served themselves during the day and half the crowd won't make it into the stadium. It's a perfect chance for UGA to reassert themselves (and Sanford Stadium for that matter) as a foe to be reckoned with. Two, it's timing in the season. I'd rather get them as early as possible than the alternative. With new offensive weapons having to get established better to play them early. Third, it will be Alabama's first road game with said new offense. Their biggest tests prior to are Wisconsin in Dallas and Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa. What will surely be a 3:30 or night game in Athens would hope to prove an eye-opening experience for the young Tide team in a rocking atmosphere. If we can remember to play the man rather than the name (or lack thereof) on the helmets and jerseys it has the potential to be a great day in Athens.
4. at Georgia Tech
I am probably giving this team too much credit from a talent standpoint, but as last year proved if you fall asleep in this one it can be your undoing. Revenge is certainly on the minds of the Dawgs. Even though you'll have about 25 fans cheering against you in Bobby Dodd, it has still proven over time a difficult place to play. The Jackets offense will surely be in end of season form, but our young defense should have a year of experience (plus a test vs. GA Southern the week before) in defending the option. I don't know why, but I'm very scared of this one... and I feel just as bad saying that.
The talent may not be there, and the O-Line is very very thin. After last year, I revert to the notion that you can never predict this game. With a who knows what the heck is going to happen offense in Gainesville, playing them later in the season can only help the Gators get more established. The defense should still be fine this year. I may be giving this team too much credit, but I will not understate that we all know you never know what happens in this game.
6. South Carolina
It feels strange putting them here, but this may be the year we become less scared of the Gamecocks. Getting this one as a night game in Athens certainly helps the cause as SC will be breaking in a new QB in a hostile environment. We're about due for a game that isn't close in this one. I feel like this is finally the year. If this game was away it would be in the top 3 or 4, but one should assume that the Athens home field advantage is the biggest factor in this one.
It wasn't so pretty the last time they were in Athens, but we played much better obviously last year in Columbia. I think it's time to reset the course of Missouri in the SEC East. Getting them at home is a plus, and with key departures at WR and on defense they may struggle a little more this year. It won't be easy, and turnovers are always key versus a team you feel more talented than. The game also comes after the Bama / @Tennessee gauntlet, so hopefully the Dawgs still have something left in the tank before the bye week.
Sandwiched between the all important Florida and Auburn games, this could be a week where you're happy to just stay healthy and advance with any winning result. At times last year Kentucky showed glimpses of being able to play with anyone, having an excellent start to the season with a near win over Florida and win over the Gamecocks. Towards the end of the year they trailed off with blowout losses to LSU and Tennessee (UGA's was a blowout, but if you recall not really until the 2nd half). Towles will return who should lead a decent offense with a Stoops defense, but having this game at home makes it less dangerous than the bi-annual what the heck is going to happen game in Lexington.
9. at Vandy
Something in me wants to be scared of the outside factors of a second week 3:30 CBS away game, but after watching Vandy last year I feel a little less scared. Still it has the makings of a potential letdown game even in a win for the Dawgs, but it also could be another chance to develop momentum heading towards the Gamecocks in week 3. Their offense was anemic last year and seemed to lose a ton of momentum with the Franklin departure. I expect this year to hold more of the same for the Dores.
10. Georgia Southern
I could have honestly ranked them above Vandy in a power poll comparison, but the location places them here. They are picked to finish near the top of the Sun Belt once again and the option generally takes Georgia a bit to warm up to when we play them. They do return their leading rushers and QB, but over the years Georgia has proven to hold serve against the Eagles (though hopefully we don't give up 300+ rushing yards like the last time we played them).
11. Louisiana Monroe
After two years with a tough opponent to open, we revert back to the standard supposed cupcake. It couldn't come at a better time either as we will be breaking in a new QB and young WR unit. The Warhawks were a 4-8 team last year and are predicted to finish 6th in the Sun Belt this year. They return 8 on defense and have been one of the peskier throw away games in recent years. They beat Wake and nearly knocked off Texas A&M last year, but held serve with big losses to LSU and Kentucky. Hopefully the Dawgs can establish a new offensive rhythm against them.
While the Jaguars did reach the SWAC Championship game last year, this is an FBS team that is 0-8 all time versus current FBS teams. They are a 9-4 team, but don't be fooled they lost to some mediocre teams by a good margin. #halftimeshow