The college football season is upon us and so is our annual Top 25. This year Yahoo Sports revealed the teams from No. 11 to 25 at once before we publish each of our top 10 in separate posts in the days leading up to Week 1. That continues with No. 3 Georgia.
No. 3 Georgia
2021 record: 14-1
SEC odds: +150
National title odds: +350
Over/under: 11 wins
Georgia’s decision to hire Kirby Smart was seen as a bit of a risk. After all, Mark Richt’s teams had won 145 games in his 15 seasons and had won 10 or more games in three of his last five seasons at the school. Richt was the school’s most successful coach since Vince Dooley left after the 1988 season.
But that risk Georgia took after the 2015 season has more than paid off, both for Georgia and Smart. The Bulldogs have won over 80% of their games in Smart’s tenure; no other UGA coach has a winning percentage better than .741. And as Georgia enters the 2022 season as the defending national champions for the first time since 1981, Smart has a $100 million contract as his reward.
The Bulldogs have a lot of starters from that national title team to replace. But having a program that reloads through stellar recruiting classes year after year is exactly what Smart was brought in to do. Very few defenses would be able to restock after five players were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Yet Georgia enters this season set to have one of the best defenses in the country once again.
Who will step up for the Bulldogs in 2022?
It’s hard to overstate just how dominant Georgia’s defense was in 2021. The Bulldogs gave up just 10 points per game as eight opponents were either shut out or held to single digits. Only Alabama scored more than 20 points against Georgia and the Bulldogs responded by beating the Crimson Tide by 15 points in the national title game.
While the top five tacklers from last year’s team are part of those eight starters gone to the NFL, the great news for Georgia is that a ton of players saw playing time in 2021. DL Jalen Carter looks poised to be the next dominant Georgia defensive lineman after recording 37 tackles and three sacks. Robert Beal led the team with 6.5 sacks despite recording just 23 tackles. And linebacker Nolan Smith was a force as well. He could easily emerge as the team’s leading tackler in 2022 after getting 56 stops last season.
Kelee Ringo and Christopher Smith are back in the secondary after combining for five interceptions. You likely remember Ringo’s game-sealing pick-six against the Tide in January. Five-star 2022 signees Julian Humphrey and Jaheim Singletary could also see early playing time while Georgia also signed three other five-star recruits along the defensive line in this year’s class. Casual fans may see a lot of players they don’t immediately recognize in Georgia’s Week 1 game against Oregon. But they aren’t going to notice much of a talent drop-off.
Stetson Bennett returns
Bennett is back for another season as Georgia’s starting quarterback after a very efficient 2021. Bennett threw for nearly 2,900 yards after taking over the starting QB job from JT Daniels. He never gave Daniels a chance to get the job back by throwing 29 TDs to just seven interceptions.
Yeah, Bennett may have some limitations but he’s shown he’s the perfect fit for what Georgia wants to do on offense. And it doesn’t hurt that the Bulldogs will have three fantastic tight ends for him to throw to this season.
Brock Bowers established himself as a do-it-all weapon and led the Bulldogs with 882 yards and 13 TDs. Darnell Washington was a significant threat when healthy and LSU transfer Arik Gilbert should be available as a hybrid tight end/receiver after he showed flashes of dominance as a true freshman with the Tigers in 2020.
Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell are also back at receiver after they averaged over 14 yards a catch. If the Bulldogs can find a deep threat to replace Jermaine Burton, there’s no reason to think the passing game won’t improve in 2022.
Impact player: RBs Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton
McIntosh and Milton look to be in line to take over the primary rushing role that NFL draft picks James Cook and Zamir White had in 2021. White and Cook combined to rush for nearly 1,600 yards and 18 TDs as part of a rushing attack that averaged over five yards a carry as a team.
McIntosh seems well-suited to take over the dual-threat role that Cook had while Milton could serve more like White’s replacement. Cook had 27 catches a season ago while McIntosh had 22 and even threw for a TD in the Orange Bowl blowout over Michigan. Also keep an eye out for freshman Branson Robinson to get some playing time early. The Mississippi native was the top recruit in the state and the No. 1 running back in the class of 2022.
Biggest game: Sept. 3 vs. Oregon
The Bulldogs open the season against a top-15 opponent coached by a former assistant in his first game as a college head coach. Oh, and the game is in Atlanta.
All the ingredients are there for a big win for the Bulldogs over Dan Lanning’s Ducks in front of a raucous home crowd. But we have this game as the biggest of the season for Georgia for a couple reasons. First, it’s a big chance for latest defensive talent to show how dominant they are. And secondly, Georgia’s schedule really isn’t all that tough.
Thanks to playing in the SEC East and having games against Auburn and Mississippi State this season, Georgia avoids both Alabama and Texas A&M. While games at the Bulldogs and Kentucky in back-to-back weeks in November after a visit from Tennessee form the toughest stretch on Georgia’s schedule, this is an extremely manageable slate.
Over 11 wins (-120)
It’s extremely hard to call for an undefeated season for any team in college football. A push seems like the most likely outcome here with Georgia winning the East and going 11-1. But when faced with taking a 12-0 campaign or a 10-2 season or worse, we’re going with the over simply because of that schedule. Could Georgia lose two or three games this year? Sure. We just wouldn’t bet on it. We wouldn’t bet on this prop at all.