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.
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.
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)
Special teams: K Rodrigo Blankenship (2nd)
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
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Aug. 31||at Vanderbilt*||W, 41-13|
|Sept. 7||Murray State|
|Sept. 14||Arkansas State|
|Sept. 21||Notre Dame|
|Oct. 5||at Tennessee*||W, 38-12|
|Oct. 12||South Carolina*||W, 41-17|
|Oct. 19||Kentucky*||W, 34-17|
|Nov. 2||Florida*||W, 36-17|
|Nov. 9||Missouri*||W, 43-29|
|Nov. 16||at Auburn*||W, 27-10|
|Nov. 23||Texas A&M*|
|Nov. 30||at Georgia Tech||W, 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
|2014||10-3 / 6-2||12th / 13th||Belk Bowl, W|
|2015||10-3 / 5-3||9th / —||TaxSlayer Bowl, W|
|2016||8-5 / 4-4||18th / —||Liberty Bowl, W|
|2017||13-2 / 7-1||15th / 2nd||CFP title game, L|
|2018||11-3 / 7-1||3rd / T-7th||Sugar Bowl, L|
|Total||52-16 / 29-11||6 bowl games (4-2)|
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 3: Georgia
Our Top 25, by conferences
Big Ten — No. 5 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska
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
Big 12 — No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Iowa State
Independents — No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 18 Army
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.