When Georgia football beat Notre Dame 20-19 in the second week of the 2017 season, it was an early sign the Bulldogs were going to have a special year. Georgia, and Notre Dame, will be presented with the same opportunity when the Fighting Irish visit Athens early in the 2019 campaign.
The two programs figure to be ranked in the top-10 when they meet on Sept. 21. They each have interesting week 1 tests, as Georgia plays at Vanderbilt and Notre Dame visits Louisville. But barring any stunning upsets, both should enter the week 4 game unbeaten.
This game also should have a plenty of bad blood with it, given what happened during Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff loss. While the Fighting Irish were losing to the eventual champion Clemson Tigers, a number of Georgia football players took to Twitter and questioned whether the Fighting Irish should have been in the playoff at all.
Of course, the Georgia players followed up the tweets by losing to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. It was a tough look for the Bulldogs, and it’s something the Notre Dame players won’t forget.
It’s also worth remembering that Georgia fans quite literally took over Notre Dame’s Stadium when they played back in 2017, leading to a public backlash against Notre Dame fans for selling their tickets to so many Georgia supporters.
When these two teams met in 2017, it was a tightly contested game. It wasn’t decided until outside linebacker Davin Bellamy strip-sacked Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush with less 90 seconds in the game. Lorenzo Carter recovered the fumble to lock up the Georgia win.
That Notre Dame game was the first career start for Jake Fromm, who filled in for an injured Jacob Eason. It was far from Fromm’s best game, as he completed 16 of 29 passes for 141 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. But Fromm has improved greatly since then, as he threw for 30 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions as a sophomore.
Georgia will also bring back running back D’Andre Swift, who had 2 carries for 42 yards in the 2017 contest. Swift rushed for 1,049 yards last year. Georgia brings back all but one starter on the offensive line, but it must replace four of its top five pass catchers from 2018.
Georgia also replaced both of its coordinators this offseason, as James Coley took over as the offensive coordinator after Jim Chaney left for the same job at Tennessee. Georgia’s defensive coordinator is now Dan Lanning, as he replaces Mel Tucker, who is now the head coach at Colorado.
Notre Dame did complete an unbeaten regular season in 2018, led largely by a stout defense. But most of the top players from the 2018 unit are gone, as defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, linebacker Drue Tranquill and cornerback Julian Love all graduated.
The Fighting Irish bring back quarterback Ian Book, who threw for 19 touchdowns to 7 interceptions last season. But Notre Dame must replace their leading rusher and pass catcher, as Dexter Williams and Miles Boykin both moved on to the NFL.
Notre Dame signed three players from the state of Georgia in their 2019 recruiting class. Its highest rated signee is 4-star safety Kyle Hamilton, who played at The Marist School in Atlanta. He was rated as the nation’s No. 60 player and someone Georgia badly wanted in its own class.
The Fighting Irish also scooped up one-time Georgia commit JD Bertrand. The 4-star linebacker de-committed from Georgia and eventually landed with the Irish. Notre Dame also signed 4-star cornerback KJ Wallace. Notre Dame’s signing class finished ranked No. 15 in the country.
Georgia signed the nation’s No. 2 signing class for the 2019 cycle. The Bulldogs do have to replace some key contributors on defense, as cornerback Deandre Baker and outside linebacker D’Andre Walker both graduated. Baker was the nation’s top defensive back as he won the Jim Thorpe Award, while Walker was the Georgia’s best pass rusher.
Both teams will never publicly admit to looking ahead to this game, but it will function as a potential spring broad to another College Football Playoff run. Georgia and Notre Dame have other big games on their 2019 schedules — Georgia plays Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn while Notre Dame has games against Michigan and Stanford— but there’s an easy case to make that this is the biggest game for both sides.
There’s also fairly realistic chance College GameDay is in Athens for this game, given the marquee matchup and the fact that this is by far the biggest non-conference game of the week. College GameDay has not been to Athens since the 2013 season, when Georgia hosted LSU. GameDay did visit Jacksonville for the Georgia-Florida game last season.
Given the potential for bad blood, the hype for the game from a national perspective and the fact that these two teams once again figure to be College Football Playoff contenders, this game will easily be one of the most important contests of the 2019 college football season.
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