Georgia defensive tackle Alex Essex pumps up the crowd during the TaxSlayer Bowl game against Penn State. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25: No. 16 Georgia

Posted July 15th, 2016

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Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.

Today’s team: No. 16 Georgia (Related coverage: Family tradition? Not for Georgia’s Sanders, who’s making his own way)

The Bulldogs will contend if … Kirby Smart can succeed where Mark Richt came up short and lead them over the hump in the SEC. Richt did a fine job in 15 seasons, but lost too many close games and often under-performed relative to expectations. However, Smart is not an obvious upgrade as it’s not yet clear how Nick Saban’s long-time defensive coordinator at Alabama will handle coaching an entire program and not just one side of the ball.

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INSIDE THE BULLDOGS

Coach: Kirby Smart (first year)

2015: 10-3, 5-3 in the SEC; beat Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl, 24-17

Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense

The key game: Oct. 29, Florida (Jacksonville)

Hello: QB Jacob Eason, TE Isaac Nauta

Goodbye: LB Leonard Floyd (Chicago Bears), WR Malcolm Mitchell (New England Patriots)

Spring cleaning: Unable to cash in and win big with rosters loaded with talent, Richt was dismissed, ending a successful 15-year run that produced 11 seasons of nine or more wins. School officials quickly zeroed in on one of their own — Smart, a former Bulldogs defensive back who gets a shot to be a head coach for the first time after polishing his résumé with four national titles as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. To oversee his offense, Smart, 40, brought on long-time assistant Jim Chaney, who made it through the spring without naming a starting quarterback.

Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert, shown diving for yardage against Auburn last year, returns to the Bulldogs this season. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert, shown diving for yardage against Auburn last year, returns to the Bulldogs this season, but will have to hold off five-star freshman Jacob Eason. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Greyson Lambert, 162-256-1,959 yards, 12/2 (1st)

Rushing: Sony Michel, 219-1,161-8 (1st)

Receiving: WR Terry Godwin, 35-379-2 (2nd); RB Sony Michel, 26-270-3 (3rd)

Tackles: ILB Tim Kimbrough, 67 (3rd); S Quincy Mauger, 68 (5th)

Sacks: OLB Davin Bellamy, 3 (3rd)

RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (1)

Offense: None

Defense: SS Dominick Sanders (2nd)

FYI …

  • The nation’s top running back tandem might belong to Georgia, which will roll out 1,100-yard rusher Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who is even better than Michel. Chubb, the SEC freshman of the year in 2014, was in the midst of a mammoth sophomore campaign before he sustained a season-ending knee injury on the opening play of Georgia’s sixth game. Still, Chubb totaled 747 yards and seven touchdowns with an insane 8.1 yards per carry. Most backs have trouble moving the ball against Alabama, but not Chubb, who gashed the Crimson Tide for 146 yards on 20 touches for his 13th consecutive 100-yard game. Yet there’s a chance neither Chubb or Michel will be ready to go for the Sept. 3 opener against North Carolina. Chubb is working his way back to form, and Michel underwent surgery on July 4 after breaking his left forearm in an ATV accident earlier in the day.
  • Speaking of running backs, Georgia landed a commitment this week from Houston Langham Creek’s Toneil Carter, who can be the first Texan to sign with the Bulldogs since Highland Park’s Matthew Stafford in 2006. Stafford, of course, went on to become the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. Georgia’s drought in the Lone Star State nearly ended last year before Temple wide receiver Davion Curtis de-committed from Georgia and signed with Texas.
  • If fans get their wish, Smart will sit incumbent QB Greyson Lambert in favor of five-star freshman Jacob Eason. Eason, an early-enrollee from Washington, performed well in spring practices, but Smart may have qualms throwing a rookie into the fire for the opener against North Carolina, which is ranked No. 20 in our preseason poll. Still, it seems like only a matter of time before the rookie head coach aligns himself with his rookie quarterback.

Georgia's 2016 schedule

DateOpponentLast yr's result (if played)
Sept. 3North Carolina
Sept. 10Nicholls
Sept. 17at Missouri*W, 9-6
Sept. 24at Ole Miss*
Oct. 1Tennessee*L, 38-31
Oct. 8at South Carolina*W, 52-20
Oct. 15Vanderbilt*W, 31-14
Oct. 29at Florida*L, 27-3
Nov. 5at Kentucky*W, 27-3
Nov. 12Auburn*W, 20-13
Nov. 19Louisiana-Lafayette
Nov. 26Georgia TechW, 13-7
* SEC game

Georgia: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201510-3 / 5-39th / —TaxSlayer Bowl, W
201410-3 / 6-212th / 13thBelk Bowl, W
20138-5 / 5-35th / —Gator Bowl, L
201212-2 / 7-16th / 5thCapital One Bowl, W
201110-4 / 7-119th / 19thOutback Bowl, L
Total50-17, 30-105 bowl games (3-2)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

 

2015 NATIONAL RANKS

Scoring: 85th (26.3 ppg)

Scoring defense: 8th (16.9 ppg)

Passing yards: 104th (185.1 ypg)

Rushing yards: 38th (192.1 ypg)

TOP 25 SO FAR …

No. 25: Washington State

No. 24: Boise State

No. 23: Louisville

No. 22: Oklahoma State

No. 21: Oregon

No. 20: North Carolina

No. 19: Baylor

No. 18: Iowa

No. 17: Georgia

No. 16: Coming Saturday. Want a hint? This school has the second most wins among Big Ten schools over the last five years.

BY CONFERENCE

3 schools: Pac-12 (17-Washington, 21-Oregon, 25-Washington State)

2 schools: ACC (20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville); Big 12 (19-Baylor, 22-Oklahoma State)

1 school: Big Ten (18-Iowa); SEC (16-Georgia); Mountain West (24-Boise State)

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