041721 Athens: Georgia quarterback JT Daniels has protection across the offensive line as he gets off a pass during the G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Georgia jumps Clemson in ESPN’s post-spring top-25 rankings

The performance of JT Daniels in Georgia’s 2021 spring game really seemed to get the attention of the college football world. The Georgia quarterback threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns while working without his full cache of receivers.

As the hype continues to build around Daniels and his potential, it seems to be trickling down to the Georgia team as well. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach released his updated “Way-Too-Early Top 25″ for the 2021 season on Tuesday and moved Georgia up to No. 3.

That puts the Bulldogs ahead of Clemson, who Schlabach moved down to No. 4 in the rankings. Those two teams open the 2021 season against each other.

“For the first time in a while, Georgia’s strength this coming season might be its offense,” Schlabach wrote. “Quarterback JT Daniels, a one-time transfer from USC, is poised to flourish in his second season in coordinator Todd Monken’s offense.”

It wasn’t all good for the Bulldogs this spring, as star wide receiver George Pickens did suffer an ACL injury that required surgery. It is not known what Pickens’ availability will be this season, though Kirby Smart is hopeful he will be able to return.

Related: ‘More probable than doubtful’ George Pickens returns for Georgia

Oklahoma came in at No. 1 in Schlabach’s rankings, with Alabama at No. 2. The Ohio State Buckeyes come in at the No. 5 spot.

Georgia will also see No. 17 Florida on its 2021 schedule, as the two teams will meet in Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 30.

Daniels threw for 10 touchdowns in four starts for Georgia last year, all wins. The most impressive of those came against what was a previously unbeaten Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl.

Now with a full offseason, Daniels and Monken will play key roles in the Georgia offense taking another step forward.

“There’s been a lot of improvement to me overall personally and also with a lot of guys stepping up in the receiver room,” Daniels said of his spring performance. “There’s a lot better chemistry that you notice from the spring game compared to the 180, when I was first starting to rep with the 1s.

The Bulldogs — even without Pickens — should still have plenty of skill talent, as running backs Zamir White, James Cook and Kendall Milton all return. Pass catchers Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson and Darnell Washington are expected to take a step forward this year as well.

Defensively, Georgia does have some concerns in the secondary. The Bulldogs had four defensive backs drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft. Georgia also saw defensive back Major Burns enter the transfer portal on Monday.

Related: Georgia defensive back Major Burns enters transfer portal

Georgia should have a dominant front seven, with Jordan Davis, Adam Anderson and Nakobe Dean leading the way. Smart also dipped into the transfer portal to add West Virginia All-American Tykee Smith to help in the secondary.

Schlabach wasn’t the only one to move up Georgia in the post-spring rankings, as The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel bumped up Georgia to the No. 2 spot.

The Bulldogs won’t have to wait too long to see if they are one of the best teams in the country, as Georgia and Clemson open the season on Sept. 4. The game will be played in Charlotte in what figures to be one of the most anticipated games of the 2021 season.

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