Preseason Top 25: Retooled No. 5 Georgia enters 2020 with one eye on College Football Playoff


Georgia has been on the brink of greatness under coach Kirby Smart for the last couple of years, but it has been unable to break through the glass ceiling and win its first national title since 1980.  That could change this season if the stars align and the Bulldogs are able to fill several roster holes leftover from graduation and early entries to the NFL Draft.

Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman should take over at quarterback after Jake Fromm jumped to the NFL early, and Smart has multiple running back options on the roster to replace the production of D’Andre Swift. The one thing we do know about Georgia is that its defense is going to be outstanding. The core of a group that gave up just two rushing touchdowns — both to quarterbacks — returns and will likely keep the Bulldogs in every game.

What’s in store for Georgia in 2020? Let’s break down the No. 5 team in the preseason CBS Sports 130.

2019 rewind

Final ranking: No. 4 | Achievements: SEC East champions, W 26-14 vs. Baylor in Sugar Bowl

Georgia played in a de facto College Football Playoff play-in game — also known as the SEC Championship Game — for the third straight season, but it couldn’t get the job done against LSU one year after losing a heartbreaker to Alabama. The offense struggled to be reliably productive last season due to an inconsistent passing game, but a stellar defense picked up the slack and gave the Dawgs a chance to make the CFP for the second time in three seasons.

Key departures

  • QB Jake Fromm: His three seasons in Athens will go down as a massive success. He threw for 8,326 yards, 78 touchdowns and 18 interceptions during his time with the Dawgs.
  • RB D’Andre Swift: He topped the 1,000 yard mark for the second straight season with 1,218 yards and seven touchdowns.
  • First-round offensive linemen: The Bulldogs lost Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, both early picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. They also saw Solomon Kindley go in the fourth round.
  • DB J.R. Reed: The longtime starter was the rock of the secondary. He wasn’t drafted … which still boggles the mind.
  • PK Rodrigo Blankenship: “Hot Rod” had 440 points and made 80 field goals during his four seasons. Kickers are people, too, and Blankenship was one of the program’s most valuable players during his career.

Who’s back?

  • WR George Pickens: The sophomore led the Bulldogs with 727 yards and eight touchdowns as a true freshman. Six of his touchdowns came in the final six games of the season.
  • LB Monty Rice: Georgia’s leading tackler last season (89 tackles) returned to the Dawgs instead of jumping to the NFL. He’ll be the unquestioned leader of the defense.
  • DB Richard LeCounte: The rising senior finished last season with 61 tackles, four interceptions and one fumble recovery. He could have jumped to the NFL but chose to come back and lead Georgia’s secondary.
  • RB Zamir White: Swift’s departure means that White will likely be the No. 1 running back. He rushed for 408 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.

Fresh faces

  • QB Jamie Newman: The former Wake Forest star compiled 2,868 yards passing and 574 yards rushing while scoring 32 touchdowns (26 rushing, six passing) last season for the Demon Deacons.
  • Offensive coordinator Todd Monken: The former Southern Miss coach comes to Athens after spending the last four seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. He should bring a more wide open, spread attack to a unit that needs a boost.
  • Special teams coordinator Scott Cochran: The former Alabama strength and conditioning coach and cult hero will move into a full-time coaching role after being a permanent fixture on Nick Saban’s staff.

Critical games

Sept. 19 — at Alabama: The rematch of the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship and the 2018 SEC Championship Game will set the tone for the SEC and national college football landscapes.

Oct. 10 — vs. Auburn: The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has moved up the schedule and will be a massive midseason matchup between two rivals.

Oct. 31 — vs. Florida (Jacksonville): The two rivals will square off in one of the must-see events in the sport. The SEC East could be on the line as the Bulldogs and Gators tee it up. Florida sits one spot back of Georgia at No. 5 in our preseason rankings.

2020 outlook

It’s College Football Playoff or bust for the Dawgs this season. The defense should be one of the best in the country, and it will allow Newman the opportunity to finish off his college career with a bang. Can he do it? If he does, it will mean that the new-look offensive line comes together, the running backs pick up the slack and multiple wide receivers step up.

The three-time defending SEC East champion will have to deal with a Florida team that has a veteran quarterback in Kyle Trask, and a cross-division game vs. Alabama is some seriously bad luck in a semi-rebuilding year. Gut feeling: The Florida game will serve as the SEC East title game with the winner going to Atlanta during the first week of December with a College Football Playoff berth on the line.





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