Hairy Dawg, the Georgia Bulldogs mascot, reacts to the start of the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: Encore? No. 4 Georgia eager to erase the memory of last year’s CFP overtime loss

Key players are gone from the 2017 runners-up, but the Bulldogs are determined to get over the hump.

Posted July 25th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

No.16: Virginia Tech’s chances hinge on an up-and-down quarterback

No. 15: TCU has been the model of consistency, but there are 2018 concerns

No. 14: Love is all you need, at least if you’re talking about Stanford’s Bryce Love

No. 13: Notre Dame is on the brink of a real springboard season

No. 12: Michigan has said goodbye to John O’Korn, hello to Shea Patterson

No. 11: With just about everyone back, Michigan State looks for a 2017 encore

No. 10: Penn State bids goodbye to Saquon Barkley, but Trace McSorley’s still there

No. 9: Talented Auburn should be considered a CFP possibility coming out of the SEC

No. 9: Talented Auburn should be considered a CFP possibility coming out of the SEC

No. 8: Oklahoma has reloaded, eyeing a possible first-ever fourpeat in the Big 12

No. 7: Miami’s dreams of ACC titles and CFP berths have to go through Clemson again

No. 6: Wisconsin’s 10 returning offensive starters ready to state case for CFP

No. 5: Washington’s got two possible Heisman candidates and a top-10 defense

Today’s team: No. 4 Georgia

The Bulldogs’ best-case scenario: The defending SEC champs get over the Tua Tagovailoa hangover and remain a title contender after blowing a 13-point second-half lead in the national championship loss to Alabama.

Their worst-case scenario: The Bulldogs don’t figure out a way to get run production with the loss of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, putting too much pressure on sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm to carry the offensive load.

RELATED COVERAGE: Quarterback controversy? History is on Georgia’s side

RELATED COVERAGE: Alabama’s not ready to call Georgia a rival — yet

Inside the Bulldogs

Coach: Kirby Smart (third year, 21-7)

2017: 13-2, 7-1 in the SEC (lost to Alabama in the CFP championship game)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 4 defense

Goodbye: RB Sony Michel (1st, Patriots); RB Nick Chubb (2nd, Browns); LB Roquan Smith (1st, Bears); OT Isaiah Wynn (1st, Patriots); LB Lorenzo Carter (3rd, Giants); WR Javon Wims (7th, Bears)

Spring cleaning: James Coley, a former offensive coordinator at Miami who spent the last two years as the receivers coach, has been promoted to co-offensive coordinator. Cortez Hankton was hired from Vanderbilt to coach receivers. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will remain the playcaller. Tight ends coach Shane Beamer, who was also the special teams coordinator, left in January for an assistant coach’s job at Oklahoma.

Jake Fromm (11) of the Georgia Bulldogs signals to his team during the second quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Jake Fromm, 181-291-2,615, 24/7 (1st)

RUSHING: D’Andre Swift, 81-618-3 (3rd); Elijah Holyfield, 50-293-2 (4th)

RECEIVING: Terry Godwin, 38-639-6 (2nd); Mecole Hardman, 25-418-4 (3rd)

TACKLES: DB J.R. Reed, 79 (2nd)

SACKS: OLB D’Andre Walker, 5.5 (2nd)

INTERCEPTIONS: DB Deandre Baker, 3 (2nd); DB J.R. Reed, 2 (3rd)

Returning All-SEC players (1)

Offense: None

Defense: DB Deandre Baker (2nd team)

FYI

Next in line: Michel and Chubb got the most headlines but D’Andre Swift quietly averaged a team best 7.6 yards per carry. Swfit and Elijah Holyfield — the son of boxing legend Evander Holyfield — will have a chance to prove they are the real deal against some of the toughest run defenses in the country.

An increased workload: Fromm exceeded expectations as a freshman starter but with those experienced runners leaving, the playmaking responsibilities will increase. His 160.1 passing efficiency rating was the ninth best in the country and the second in the SEC behind Missouri’s Drew Lock. It will be interesting to see if he is better in the vertical game than he was a freshman.

A Roquan-less defense: Butkus Award winner Roquan Smith has left a huge void at linebacker. Also, the entire starting linebacking corps from the postseason left along with three members of the secondary. Smart is hoping that Tae Crowder, who made that big play on Oklahoma’s squib kick in the Rose Bowl, will step up on the inside. Redshirt junior safety J.R. Reed announced before the national championship game he would be back along with ball-hawking cornerback Deandre Baker. It may take some time for the unit to gel but the first half of the schedule is pretty friendly aside from the South Carolina game.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 20th (35.4 ppg) — right above No. 21 Wake Forest, right behind No. 19 North Texas

Points allowed: 6th (16.4 ppg) — right above No. 7 Penn State, right behind No. 5 Washington

Passing: 105th (176.9 ypg) — right above No. 106 Illinois, right behind No. 104 Ball State

Rushing: 9th (258.4 ypg) — right above No. 10 San Diego State, right behind No. 8 South Florida

Total offense: 32nd (435.3 ypg) — right above No. 33 Washington State, right behind No. 31 Appalachian State

Total defense: 6th (294.9 ypg) — right above No. 7 Michigan State, right behind No. 5 UTSA

Mecole Harman (4) of the Georgia Bulldogs celebrates an 80 yard touchdown reception during the third quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (2:30 p.m., ESPN)Austin Peay
Sept. 8 (2:30 p.m., CBS)at South Carolina*W, 24-10 in Athens
Sept. 15 (6:15 p.m., ESPN2)Middle Tennessee
Sept. 22at Missouri*W, 53-28 in Athens
Sept. 29Tennessee*W, 41-0 in Knoxville
Oct. 6Vanderbilt*W, 45-14 in Nashville
Oct. 13at LSU*
Oct. 27Florida*W, 42-7 in Gainesville
Nov. 3Duke*W, 31-6 in Durham
Nov. 10at Kentucky*W, 42-13 in Athens
Nov. 17Massachussetts
Nov. 24Georgia TechW, 38-7 in Atlanta
* SEC game

Note: Georgia went on to beat Auburn in the SEC championship game, 28-7

The key game: At South Carolina, Sept. 8. The second weekend of the season provides a stiff road test. If recent history means anything, the Dawgs should be confident despite the massive loss of talent. Kirby Smart is 2-0 against South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, his former teammate at Georgia.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
20138-5 (5-3)5th / —Gator, L
201410-3 (6-2)12th / 13thBelk, W
201510-3 (5-3)9th / —TaxSlayer, W
20168-5 (4-4)18th / —Liberty, W
201713-2 (7-1)15th / 2ndCFP title game, L
Total49-18 (27-13 SEC)4-2 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

4 schools:

SEC — No. 4 Georgia, No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU

Pac-12 — No. 5 Washington, No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

Big Ten — No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan

Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

3 schools:

ACC — No. 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

1 school:

Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 3 team

Want a hint?

This school’s head coach was drafted in the 13th round of the 1982 MLB draft as a shortstop, but instead played college football as a defensive back for the Cincinnati Bearcats.

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