Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11) yells from the line during an NCAA college football game against Alabama for the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Atlanta. (AJ Reynolds/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Football

Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 3 Georgia still has an Alabama, SEC problem to solve

Eager to put the bowl loss to Texas behind them, the Bulldogs still must also solve the problem of getting past Alabama in the SEC.

Posted July 25th, 2019

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We’re 35 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We continue with our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked first, second, eighth and 13th in our 2018 poll.

Our No. 3 team: Georgia

The Bulldogs’ best-case scenario:  The Bulldogs continue their recent run of success and finally figure out the Alabama puzzle in the SEC title game. Georgia is picked to win the SEC East — the Dawgs received 221 votes, miles ahead of Florida’s 21 — and meet Alabama again for the conference title. Head coach Kirby Smart said at SEC media days that the 24-5 record over two seasons is unacceptable in Athens. That’s gospel from a coach hungry to break into the Nick Saban/Dabo Swinney group of great coaches.

And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? Georgia takes a step back after that 28-21 loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Several players insisted they wanted to show the College Football Playoff selection committee that it made a mistake by not including Georgia in the semifinals last season only to get pushed around in the Sugar Bowl.

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Last year, Georgia was No. 4 on our preseason poll.

Inside the Bulldogs

Coach: Kirby Smart (4th year, 32-10)

2018:  11-3, 7-1 in the SEC (lost to Texas in the Sugar Bowl). Georgia has produced 13 draft picks over the last two years, including four first-rounders.

Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense

Shoes to fill: RB Elijah Holyfield (1,042 yards, 7 TDs); WR Riley Ridley (9 TDs, led team in receiving); WR Mecole Hardman (7 receiving TDs); C Lamont Gaillard (1st-team all-conference); OLB D’Andre Walker (7.5 sacks); CB Deandre Baker (Thorpe Award winner)

Spring cleaning: Quarterback Justin Fields transferred to Ohio State. … Dan Lanning, who was coaching the outside linebackers, takes over at defensive coordinator for Mel Tucker, who took the head coaching job at Colorado in December. James Coley takes over at offensive coordinator for Jim Chaney, who took a job at Tennessee.

Returning leaders

PASSING: Jake Fromm (led team), 206-306-2,749 yards, 30 TDs, 6 INTs

RUSHING: D’Andre Swift (1st), 163-1,068-10

RECEIVING: RB D’Andre Swift (6th), 32-297-3

TACKLES: DB Richard LeCounte (1st), 74; DB J.R. Reed (2nd), 66; ILB Monty Rice (3rd), 59

SACKS: ILB Channing Tindall (2nd), 2.0

INTERCEPTIONS: ILB Tae Crowder (T-1st), 2; DB J.R. Reed (T-1st), 2

Returning All-SEC (3)

Offense: OL Andrew Thomas (1st team), RB D’Andre Swift (2nd)

Defense: None

Special teams: K Rodrigo Blankenship (2nd)

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart runs a drill as defensive back Tyrique McGhee (26) lines up at the Superdome in New Orleans on Dec. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

FYI

Fromm Georgia with love: Fromm is one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the country, but will have to raise his game to another level if Georgia is take that next step to a national title. He will be arguably the most tested quarterback at a title contender because of the talent that left this roster. Fromm will be counted upon to be an even bigger presence in the film room all the while knowing NFL scouts will be charting his every throw.

Catch this: The receiving corps took a hit when Ridley and Hardman left early for the NFL, then things got worse with the dismissal of junior Jeremiah Holloman, who caught 24 passes for 418 yards last season. Watch out for George Pickens, a 6-3, 190-pound freshman who flipped to Georgia from Auburn on national signing day. Fromm has said Pickens could be the next A.J. Green. That’s some comparison.

Size matters: The Bulldogs may have the biggest offensive line in the game. They return five players up front who started last season, including a pair of monsters on the left side — 6-5, 320-pound junior tackle Andrew Thomas, who is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and 6-4, 335-pound junior guard Solomon Kindley. Fromm should feel well protected behind a group of projected starters with an average size of 6-5, 330 pounds.

2018 national stat rankings

Scoring: 14th (37.9 ppg)

Total offense: 18th (464.9 ypg)

Passing: 72nd (226.1 ypg)

Rushing: 16th (238.8 ypg)

Red zone offense: 12th

Time of possession: 35th (31:29)

Scoring defense: 15th (19.2 ppg)

Total defense: 13th (314.3 ypg)

Pass defense: 12th (180.3 ypg)

Rush defense: 31st (134.0 ypg)

Red zone defense: 106th

Turnover margin: 50th

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 31at Vanderbilt*W, 41-13
Sept. 7Murray State
Sept. 14Arkansas State
Sept. 21Notre Dame
Oct. 5at Tennessee*W, 38-12
Oct. 12South Carolina*W, 41-17
Oct. 19Kentucky*W, 34-17
Nov. 2Florida*W, 36-17
Nov. 9Missouri*W, 43-29
Nov. 16at Auburn*W, 27-10
Nov. 23Texas A&M*
Nov. 30at Georgia TechW, 45-21
* SEC game

The key game? Aug. 31, at Vanderbilt. The Dawgs begin the season with a conference game on the road against Vanderbilt. Derrick Mason will have the Commodores thinking upset after last season’s 28-point loss in Athens. It’s Georgia’s first SEC road game to open a season since 1995. Vandy toppled the Dawgs 17-16 in 2016, Smart’s first season at the helm.

The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201410-3 / 6-212th / 13thBelk Bowl, W
201510-3 / 5-39th / —TaxSlayer Bowl, W
20168-5 / 4-418th / —Liberty Bowl, W
201713-2 / 7-115th / 2ndCFP title game, L
201811-3 / 7-13rd / T-7thSugar Bowl, L
Total52-16 / 29-116 bowl games (4-2)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford will need its experienced defense to lead the way early

No. 24: Can Nebraska carry its end-of-2018 momentum into 2019?

No. 23: Was 2018 a one-time thing, or is Syracuse back as a program?

No. 22: A run to last year’s Big Ten title game has Northwestern wanting more

No. 21: Mike Leach hopes Clemson’s quarterback loss is Washington State’s gain

No. 20: With no proven quarterback, Wisconsin will ride the legs of Jonathan Taylor

No. 19: With Jarret Stidham in the NFL, Auburn must choose a freshman quarterback

No. 18: Army might end up throwing a real wrench into the CFP’s plans this year

No. 17: Iowa State hopes to keep its recent rise moving full steam ahead

No. 16: Central Florida is trying to overcome a pair of serious quarterback injuries

No. 15: Utah casts its eyes on winning the Pac-12 title this year

No. 14: Penn State’s baromoter? Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State (again)

No. 13: Defense may determine Washington’s chances at another Pac-12 title

No. 12: Texas A&M must navigate a scheduled peppered with heavyweights

No. 11: Is Jim Harbaugh’s coaching seat at Michigan getting hotter?

No. 10: If Feleipe Franks continues his rise, Florida can make some noise in the SEC

No. 9: Texas is counting on Ehlinger — Sugar Bowl MVP, coverboy, potential Heisman candidate

No. 8: Oregon’s Justin Herbert may end up as the Ducks’ career passing leader

No. 7: With its schedule, Notre Dame has the chance to impress the CFP selection folks

No. 6: As usual, LSU’s chances go hand in hand with nagivating that SEC slate

No. 5: Is Ryan Day ready to step into Urban Meyer’s shoes at Ohio State?

No. 4: Another year, another Heisman quarterback candidate for Oklahoma

No. 3: Georgia

Our Top 25, by conferences

6 schools:

Big Ten — No. 5 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska

5 schools:

SEC — No. 3 Georgia, No. 6 LSU, No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 19 Auburn

Pac-12 — No. 8 Oregon, No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Utah, No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford

3 schools:

Big 12 — No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Iowa State

2 schools:

Independents — No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 18 Army

1 school:

AAC — No. 16 Central Florida

ACC — No. 23 Syracuse

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 2 team

Want a hint?

This school has won two of the last four national championships.

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