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JT Daniels will be a big part of Georgia's 2021 offense.

Three takeaways from ESPN’s latest preseason projections for Georgia football

ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his updated S&P+ rankings for the 2021 season on Tuesday. The rankings, which factor in returning production, recruiting rankings and recent success, have Georgia pegged as one of the top teams in the country to start the season.

But it’s not as high as some might think, with the Bulldogs coming in at No. 6. That’s behind teams like Oregon and Ohio State and lower than where Georgia appeared in most “Way-Too-Early” Top-25 polls. 

Georgia football comes in at No. 6 in SP+

The Bulldogs sit just outside the top-5, behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Oregon.

The margin between Georgia (24.1) and Oregon (24.2) is razor-thin. When you factor in that Oregon ranks ninth in returning production, compared to Georgia’s 92nd ranking, that makes up for the difference. The Ducks have recruited well under Mario Cristobal, signing the No. 6 class in the 2021 cycle, and Oregon has won back-to-back PAC-12 titles.

Georgia ended the 2020 season ranked fifth in Connelly’s rankings while the Ducks placed 18th. The 2020 season wasn’t a stellar one for the Bulldogs, losing their two biggest games by double digits.

Related: Georgia football winners and losers following National Signing Day

The main selling point for the Bulldogs going forward is the potential of the team to improve with JT Daniels under center. Given that Connelly’s rankings skew more towards proven production, it’s understandable why Georgia might be lower than the current perception.

Deeper looks on offense and defense

In Connelly’s rankings for 2021, Georgia ranks 15th on offense and fifth on defense.

This ranking runs contrary to how many fans feel about the team heading into the 2021 season. The Bulldogs should get a full season from Daniels and Georgia has a host of talented skill players returning as well. Connelly also pointed out that Georgia’s numbers factor in the games in which Bennett and Mathis were at quarterback.

Defensively, Georgia must replace a significant part of its secondary, as Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell, DJ Daniel, Mark Webb and Richard LeCounte are off to the NFL and Tyrique Stevenson is headed to Miami. Those departures in the defensive backfield are why Georgia ranks next-to-last in returning defensive production, as Connelly does put more weight on experience in the secondary.

Related: Closer look: How Georgia DB coach Jahmile Addae checks all the boxes

Georgia’s defensive front should be stout once again, led by Jordan Davis. The Bulldogs had the No. 1 rush defense in the country in 2020 and Davis is a huge reason why. The Bulldogs must replace their top pass rusher in Azeez Ojulari, though Adam Anderson and Nolan Smith seem primed for bigger roles.

The Bulldogs also bring back kicker Jack Podlesny and punter Jake Camarda, giving Georgia a definite edge on special teams.

A look at Georgia football 2021 opponents

By far, Georgia’s toughest opponent will be Clemson based on Connelly’s rankings. The Tigers come in at No. 2, buoyed by the No. 3 defense. The Tigers must replace quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, though Clemson has made the College Football Playoff in each of the last six seasons.

The top SEC foe on Georgia’s 2021 schedule is the Florida Gators, coming in at No. 12. Like Clemson, Florida must replace its starting quarterback in Kyle Trask.

Related: Georgia football 2021 schedule, dates and games announced

After Florida, though there is a precipitous drop, as the next highest-ranked team on Georgia’s schedule is the No. 28 Auburn Tigers. Auburn will have a first-year head coach in Bryan Harsin.

Should Georgia though get through Clemson, Florida and the rest of its 2021 slate, the Bulldogs will likely face a tough task in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide are the No. 1 ranked team, while the SEC West also has No. 13 Texas A&M, No. 24 Ole Miss and No. 26 LSU.

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