ATHENS — Georgia football has the nation’s top scoring defense returning, signed the No. 1 class in the nation and added a projected first-round NFL quarterback via the grad transfer route.
But the Bulldogs, three-time defending SEC East Division champions, are picked to finish behind Florida in the SEC East Division by Athlon Sports.
The Nashville-based publication has Georgia No. 7 in its preseason Top 25, a spot behind a Gators team that has questions on the offensive line and at the skill positions.
Former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell made the same SEC East prediction last week.
Kanell is all about Florida coach Dan Mullen and Kyle Trask, and openly questions UGA transfer quarterback Jamie Newman.
Even Pro Football Focus cast some doubt on Georgia, via its computer simulations:
After 10,000 simulations of the college football season, the teams most likely to win the National Championship:
🏈 Ohio State
🏈 Florida pic.twitter.com/p2mz97ceEm
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 20, 2020
Athlon Sports does, however, like the Georgia defense.
“The Bulldogs are one of the most intriguing teams to watch this season,” Athlon penned, acknowledging Kirby Smart might have the best defense in the nation next season.
It’s not a far-fetched notion. UGA led the nation in scoring defense and rushing defense last season, while ranking No. 3 in total defense and No. 8 in pass efficiency defense. Nine of 11 starters off the Sugar Bowl defense return.
The offense is where Athlon points to uncertainty after three offensive linemen were drafted and two-time 1,000-yard rusher D’Andre Swift and three-year starting QB Jake Fromm moved on.
Florida gets the nod over Georgia, Athlon says, because the Gators play an easier crossover games from the west with LSU and Ole Miss while the Bulldogs play Alabama and Auburn.
It would seem a Georgia head-to-head win over Florida — what would be the Bulldogs’ fourth straight in the rivalry series — would cancel that out.
Athlon states “Dan Mullen’s team has more continuity in staff and scheme,” pointing out that quarterback Kyle Trask returns to lead an offense that averaged 31.1 points in league play.
That offense, however, was held out of the end zone for three quarters against Georgia in Jacksonville last season and had negative yards rushing and just 175 total yards entering the fourth quarter.
Clemson is Athlon’s preseason pick at No. 1, returning standout quarterback Trevor Lawrence and a host of skill positions standouts.
Alabama is the No. 2 pick on the strength of its offense and optimism surrounding a defense that collapsed in a 48-45 loss to Auburn last season.
Georgia, of course, shutout that same Auburn team for three quarters in Jordan-Hare Stadium two weeks earlier en route to a 21-14 win.
Ohio State, led by former UGA quarterback Justin Fields, is ranked No. 3, follow by Oklahoma and Penn State.
There are three other teams ranked in the Athlon Top 25, authored by Steven Lassan.