ATHENS — Georgia redshirt junior offensive lineman Ben Cleveland will not play in the Sugar Bowl on account of being academically ineligible, according to a 247Sports report.
UGA coach Kirby Smart would not confirm that any players are ineligible, saying that information is still being gathered.
“Can I confirm that? No,” Smart said. “Because there’s still things out there. Nothing’s final yet.”
Cleveland’s father verified the news in the 247Sports report. Cleveland is expected to return for his senior season of eligibility.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) play No. 7 Baylor (11-2) at 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 1 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (TV: ESPN).
Georgia will be without offensive tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, both of whom have announced they are declaring themselves eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Cleveland’s absence takes three starters out of the lineup, in addition to sixth man Justin Shaffer who was ruled out for the season with a neck injury in October. The 6-foot-6, 335-pound Cleveland started seven games this season and played in all 13.
A foot injury limited Cleveland at times this season, but he was a powerful force on an offensive line that created enough space for D’Andre Swift to rush for more than 1,200 yards this season.
Cleveland suffered a fractured fibula his redshirt sophomore season (2018) in the fourth game at Missouri, but he returned six games later against Auburn.
The Bulldogs’ fan-favorite played in all 15 games of Georgia’s 2017 season, starting the final five games for the SEC champions at right guard.
Smart indicated sophomore James Cook would be disciplined internally when asked if Cook, D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien would be playing in the bowl game.
Smart has closed practices and declined to make players available until the team’s arrival in New Orleans on Dec. 27.