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SEC Power Rankings: Georgia is the new Georgia, not the new -- or old -- Alabama

ATHENS — Georgia is the new Georgia, not the new or old Alabama.

Or did you miss last season?

It was Georgia, not Alabama, that carried the No. 1 ranking nine weeks last year and put together a legendary defense that allowed just 6.9 points per game in the regular season.

If anything, last year’s UGA team was the OLD Alabama, winning with defense and field position football.

RELATED: Comparing 2022 Georgia to 2021 UGA, what Shane Beamer and the numbers say

But this is the new Georgia -- a program that lost 15 players to the NFL draft, and another 13 to the transfer portal, including four former starters.

It cheapens what Coach Kirby Smart and his staff are accomplishing by likening this program to any other, because replacing that many key players and having this immediate level of success is unprecedented.

To think, the Bulldogs would have been more dominant in 2021 had they kept their starting quarterback and best receivers healthy and not had to dismiss their sacks leader.

Indeed, 2021 Georgia was good enough to miss what would have been the nation’s top returning passing combination and one of the most elite linebackers in the nation and not miss a beat.

RELATED: Arik Gilbert update for Kent State week, from Kirby Smart

Smart built championship depth through recruiting, player development and an elite coaching staff that could adjust midseason, on the fly.

But that was then, and this is now, and the 2022 version of Bulldogs’ football is impressive in its own right with offensive coordinator Todd Monken designing an offense around Stetson Bennett.

It’s not the wide-open explosive offense we’ve seen at Alabama of late — there’s only been one pass play longer than 40 yards through three games and no runs longer than 20 yards.

But it’s very efficient, moving the ball with consistency and still with no turnovers through three games.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett has shown vast improvement with his mechanics, enabling him to make intermediate throws that were missing last season, as well as better decision-making.

RELATED: All aboard the Stetson Bennett bandwagon, Tim Tebow jumps on

It’s not a matter of Bennett’s 2021 critics “finally coming around,” so much as how Bennett’s game has elevated and Monken has had an entire offseason to build a scheme that showcases his talents.

“Last year it was always, can they win despite Stetson Bennett?” Former Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “(It was) let’s put everything on everybody else and not let him make mistakes.”

The Georgia defense, meanwhile, has been air-tight, allowing just one touchdown through three games — at that, a score that came with less than a minute left against third-team players.

Would you believe two true freshmen have been coached up so well that they have adequately replaced two first-round picks at defensive end (Travon Walker-Mykel Williams) and safety (Lewis Cine-Malaki Starks)?

The scary thing is, Georgia football can get even better as the season progresses, and the Bulldogs have the sort of schedule conducive to the program doing just that.

Here’s a look at this week’s SEC Power Rankings:

1. Georgia

For all the talk about the offense (17th in scoring), the defense leads the nation (3.33 ppg allowed) through 3 games.

2. Alabama

Tide perimeter threats are shaky, Bryce Young 29th nationally and fifth in SEC in passing efficiency.

3. Tennessee

Former coach Jeremy Pruitt said before the season the Vols (52 ppg) were the only team East of Mississippi River that could score with Georgia and Alabama.

4. Kentucky

The Top 10 Wildcats will get a boost when the SEC’s top returning rusher from last season, Chris Rodriguez, returns from suspension for Oct. 1 game at Ole Miss.

5. Arkansas

Whoo-ee Soo-ee! Missouri State, coached by former Hogs coach Bobby Petrino, had a 17-0 lead and 27-17 lead in the fourth quarter.

6. Ole Miss

Take note: Lane Kiffin teams run the ball well, currently tops in the SEC and fifth in the nation with 271.7 yards per game.

7. LSU

Score one for Brian Kelly, who in three games has shown signs of knowing how to turn around a program by knocking off a strong Mississippi State team.

8. Mississippi State

Mike Leach is an offensive guru, but the Maroon Bulldogs have to learn to win games like the one they play Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.

9. Texas AM

Jimbo Fisher got the “must-win” over Miami that he had to have, maintaining program buy-in, but a neutral site game with powerful Arkansas looms.

10. Florida

The Gators scored a great escape from South Florida, but there’s no time to celebrate with Tennessee up next. Anthony Richardson will need to run and throw effectively to upset the Vols.

11. South Carolina

The Gamecocks have lost to two Top 10 teams this season and are working with five defensive starters injured. Spencer Rattler brings upside, but not enough to overcome brutal early season schedule.

12. Auburn

How much worse can things get for Bryan Harsin after a 41-12 home loss to Penn State? Cover your eyes, we’re about to find out over the next month.

13. Vanderbilt

Would you believe Vandy freshman QB AJ Swann leads the SEC in passing efficiency? (188.63).

14. Missouri

This might be the worst Missouri team in a long time, and that says plenty.

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