In the era of the College Football Playoff, one loss won’t ruin your season.
But go on a bad run and you’re done.
With that in mind, we’re examining the most challenging stretches of games for all 14 teams in the SEC.
Next up in our series: the Georgia Bulldogs.
Toughest stretch: Sept. 30-Oct. 28
Georgia is one late, fourth-down touchdown catch by Isaiah McKenzie (against Missouri) away from going 0-4 last season against the teams it will face in this four-game stretch. Of course, the Bulldogs also came close to going 3-1 against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mizzou and Florida.
The only game that was out of reach was a 24-10 loss to Florida where Georgia mustered all of 164 yards of total offense. But had the Bulldogs not surrendered an unbelievable Hail Mary touchdown on the final play against Tennessee, and had their offense not faltered late in a 17-16 loss against Vanderbilt, the narrative from Kirby Smart’s debut season as Georgia’s head coach would be slightly more positive. As it stands, it was a disappointing first season for Smart marred by losses in three of the four biggest games on the schedule: Georgia Tech, Florida, Auburn and Tennessee.
Two of those rivalry games are represented in this challenging midseason stretch of 2017, a string of games where Georgia will play away from Athens three times in four games.
A two-week run of games in Tennessee begins on Sept. 30 in Knoxville, in a UGA-UT series where the outcomes have been decided by eight points or less in six straight meetings. Last year’s 34-31 loss to the Vols, where the teams traded touchdowns in the final 10 seconds of regulation, was only the most recent meeting that left fans on both sides searching for their blood pressure medication.
Georgia returns to the Volunteer State the following Saturday, visiting Vanderbilt on Oct. 7. Should be a good time to regroup after that Tennessee game, right? It might seem that way, but Vandy has a well-deserved reputation among Georgia fans for making the Bulldogs sweat. The Commodores have beaten Georgia just three times since 2006, but UGA-Vandy is a one-score game almost every other year, and the Commodores pulled off a 17-16 upset last year in Athens.
The Bulldogs return home Oct. 14 to face Missouri, one of the only SEC teams that did not reach a bowl last year. However, the Tigers won two of their last three games in 2016 over bowl teams (Vandy and Arkansas) and almost certainly would have beaten Georgia early in the season if not for a couple of backbreaking late turnovers in a 28-27 defeat.
And then we reach the grand finale. Those games are just the run-up to the most important game on Georgia’s schedule -- yes, bigger than even the Sept. 9 visit to Notre Dame.
Bulldogs seasons are always measured by results against the biggest rivals. Perhaps losses to in-state rival Georgia Tech are the most bitter, but they don’t matter like losses to SEC East rival Florida. The Bulldogs have suffered three straight humiliating defeats against Florida, a streak that Smart must end sooner rather than later if he wants to enjoy any sort of job security in Athens. Last season’s pitiful performance on offense certainly didn’t help his cause.
Because of the series history and the division implications in play, the Oct. 28 meeting with the Gators in Jacksonville will be the biggest measuring stick yet of Smart’s progress as head coach -- and it will conclude a challenging stretch where the Bulldogs will barely spend any time playing on their home field.