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Many expect Georgia to compete for the national championship in 2019.

The one position group that will determine Georgia’s championship ceiling

Connor Riley

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ESPN thinks highly of the Georgia defense, but still says there’s one area where the Bulldogs are still lacking

The 2019 Georgia defense will most likely be the most complete of the Kirby Smart era. There might not be a Roquan Smith or even Deandre Baker level talent on the team but from the defensive line to the secondary, there is an excellent mixture of talent and depth.

People who follow Georgia closely aren’t the only ones to notice this. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg released his future defensive power rankings. The ESPN writer slotted the Georgia Bulldogs in at No. 2, ahead of teams like Ohio State, Clemson and LSU.

The back seven looks very strong as veteran safeties J.R. Reed and Richard LeCounte headline a secondary that includes promising younger players like sophomore cornerback Tyson Campbell,” Rittenberg wrote.  “Linebacker continues to generate the most excitement, though, as Georgia is absolutely loaded through the next few seasons with Monty Rice, Tae Crowder, emerging freshman Azeez Ojulari, and standout recruits like Nakobe Dean , Nolan Smith and Mekhail Sherman.”

Related: ESPN writer says Georgia offense has brighter future than Alabama

We’ve already written at length this offseason about how Smart feels about some of the position groups. He seems to very much like what Georgia has in its secondary, while he’s suggested tapping the brakes on some of the excitement surrounding the outside linebacker group.

But there is a big reason why the Bulldogs are a clear No. 2 behind Alabama when it comes to defensive power rankings: the defensive line.

Georgia has only signed one 5-star defensive lineman under Smart, and that came in the 2019 class in Travon Walker. While a number of players have flashed in the past, Georgia has yet to produce a true star defensive lineman.

“The big unknown is whether Georgia can develop elite linemen, who haven’t emerged in coach Kirby Smart’s tenure,” Rittenberg wrote. “Sophomore nose tackle Jordan Davis looks the part after a good freshman season, but the group must step up beginning this fall.”

The Georgia defense was noticeably better when Davis was in the game last year, specifically against the run. When he missed the Texas game due to a back injury, the Georgia defense struggled to get off the field.

Walker arriving at Georgia should help change some of that narrative. Georgia also signed two 4-star defensive linemen in Bill Norton and Zion Logue in the 2019 cycle. Tymon Mitchell — a 3-star prospect who has a mold similar to Davis — will also help the future of the position.

But defensive line isn’t exactly a position where you can come in and play right away. Alabama star Quinnen Williams — taken with the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft — redshirted his first season in Tuscaloosa.

As far as the future of the defensive line, Georgia did miss out on 5-star defensive tackle prospect Bryan Bresee. The now Clemson commit rates as the No. 2 overall player in the 2020 recruiting class. But the Bulldogs have secured a commitment from Jalen Carter, who is rated as the No. 68 overall prospect in the 2020 class.

In terms of defensive line recruiting, Walker is the only defensive line prospect rated higher than Carter that Georgia has signed. And the Bulldogs also sit in very good position with 5-star defensive end Jordan Burch.

Georgia’s defense is absolutely loaded at every position but defensive line. It shouldn’t be a surprise if come December people are crowning this defense as the best of the Smart era. But if Georgia is going to win a national championship, it is going to need to have defensive linemen like Clemson and Alabama did in 2018 and beyond.

Could Notre Dame be a night game?

When it comes to Georgia’s 2019 schedule, the biggest question regarding a specific game pertains to Notre Dame. Will it be a night game?

The atmosphere promises to be electric regardless of the game time, but playing Notre Dame under the Sanford Stadium — and cell phone — lights would be a really special environment.

And we did get a more clear picture on that possibility on Wednesday. CBS announced its broadcast windows for the 2019 season. The Georgia-Florida game will once again be played at 3:30 p.m. ET.

But perhaps the most interesting development was that Sept. 21 would be the date of the 3:30 p.m./8 p.m. doubleheader for CBS this year. In previous years, that schedule setup has usually been reserved for the Alabama-LSU game. This season will be the first since 2010 that Alabama and LSU do not play at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Georgia plays Notre Dame on Sept. 21. Florida also plays Tennessee on that same date. While CBS has yet to officially announce anything, it would make a lot of sense to schedule the Florida-Tennessee game for 3:30 p.m., and then have Georgia-Notre Dame kickoff at 8 p.m. ET.

As far as an official announcement though, Georgia fans might have to wait until September. Other than the first three games of the season, and other select matchups, most television game times are announced 12 days prior to the game. That would mean a possible game-time announcement could come on Sept. 9.

When Georgia and Notre Dame met in 2017, the Bulldogs came away with a 20-19 victory that helped propel Georgia to the College Football Playoff.

Related: A way too early preview of Georgia’s game against Notre Dame

Despite not playing in 2018 the Georgia and Notre Dame did manage to stir up some controversy. While Notre Dame was getting pummeled by Clemson in the College Football Playoff, several Georgia players tweeted that they belonged in the playoff as opposed to Notre Dame. Georgia then followed that up by losing 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl to Texas.

The game will certainly have a ton of attention in the college football world. ESPN has named the game as college football’s top non-conference game for the 2019 season. Both teams figure to rank in the top-10 when they meet, and potentially in the top-5.

Both squads return their starting quarterbacks from last season, as Jake Fromm will lead the Bulldogs, while Ian Book guides Notre Dame. The 2017 contest against Notre Dame was Fromm’s first career start, as he was filling in for Jacob Eason. Fromm completed 16 of his 29 pass attempts for 141 yards.

Georgia football opens its 2019 season on Aug. 31, when the Bulldogs visit Vanderbilt.

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