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Kirby Smart and Georgia have a big week ahead of them.

Why Georgia football has to beat Alabama on the recruiting front this week

Connor Riley

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Two major recruiting Georgia-Alabama battles to watch

Georgia football is continuing its bowl prep for the Sugar Bowl against No. 15 Texas Longhorns this week. But the bowl games take a back seat for Georgia and most programs this week, and rightfully so. The early signing period begins on Wednesday and concludes on Friday. This is the first time that prospects can sign their letter of intent with a program, essentially locking in their commitment.

For those just now tuning into recruiting for the first time this week, welcome. Georgia once again has put together an elite group of prospects, as the Bulldogs have the No. 2 class in the 2019 recruiting cycle. Georgia already has four 5-star commitments, highlighted by the No. 1 player in the 247Sports Composite rankings in defensive end Nolan Smith. For 99 percent of the country, that would be an outstanding class. But for Georgia, it is not.

The Bulldogs are trailing Alabama for the No. 1 class, and Georgia needs to do some serious work to pass them. But Kirby Smart and his staff can really close the gap this week. The Bulldogs scored an early victory last week, as the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama, 5-star center Clay Webb, picked Georgia over Alabama. This week, two of Georgia’s top targets will be announcing their college plans on Wednesday. And both of these look to be Georgia-Alabama battles.

First up is 5-star running back Trey Sanders. The Florida native is the No. 1 running back in the country and the No. 5 player overall according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Sanders was a one-time Alabama commit, but the Bulldogs have come on late in his recruitment. Sanders visited Georgia in early December, and should he pick the Bulldogs, it would make back-to-back years where Georgia has landed the top running back in the country — as the Bulldogs landed Zamir White last season.

Sanders will announce his decision on Wednesday at approximately 1:20 p.m. on ESPNU. The 5-star running back is also considering Florida and Texas. Georgia does bring back D’Andre Swift, but it could see both Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien move on. And if White isn’t able to heal from his ACL injury, the Bulldogs could enter next season with only Swift, rising sophomore James Cook and 4-star running back Kenny McIntosh at the position.

The other big name to know for this week is 5-star linebacker Nakobe Dean. He is the No. 1 inside linebacker in the country and hails from Horn Lake, Mississippi. Alabama has become a linebacker factory, while it wasn’t exactly a position of strength this year for Georgia. With Natrez Patrick and Juwan Taylor both graduating, inside linebacker is a major need for Georgia. And there isn’t a better linebacker prospect in the country than Dean.

Related: 5-star Nakobe Dean breaks down Alabama and Georgia on the verge of his decision

The 5-star linebacker will announce his commitment shortly after 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Georgia does have commitments from 4-star linebackers Rian Davis and Trezmen Marshall, as the latter re-affirmed his status on Sunday.

By the time Georgia fans sit down for dinner on Wednesday, they could see UGA have signatures from six 5-star commitments. Or, should Dean and Sanders pick Alabama, it could see the Crimson Tide surpass Georgia in the 5-star count, as Alabama is also expected to land 5-star offensive tackle Evan Neal.

But Georgia can counter the addition of Neal with another high-ranking prospect of its own on Wednesday.  Tyrique Stevenson, the No. 4 cornerback in the country and No. 38 prospect overall, announced on Sunday night that he will now be picking between Georgia and Miami on Wednesday. He is still set to make his commitment public on Jan. 5.

Georgia still has other targets out there — 5-star wide receiver Jadon Haselwood will also announce on Jan. 5. But for this week, landing Sanders and Dean would be big wins for Georgia and its future against Alabama. The potential additions of the No. 1 running back and No. 1 linebacker should make Georgia fans feel a lot better heading into 2019.

Three Bulldogs land on ESPN Top 50 list

ESPN released its list of the top 50 players and three Bulldogs made the list. The highest among the three was cornerback Deandre Baker. The senior, who also won the Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back, was ranked as the No. 24 player overall. Though interestingly enough, two cornerbacks were both ranked ahead of Baker, as LSU defensive back Greedy Williams came in at No. 15 and Notre Dame’s Julian Love was ranked the No. 21 player.

The next Georgia player on the list was quarterback Jake Fromm, who was ranked the No. 35 player in the country. The sophomore was the eighth-highest ranked quarterback after throwing for 27 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions on the season. Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy Kyler Murray was the No. 1 overall player in ESPN’s rankings, with Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa coming in ranked No. 2.

Georgia running back D’Andre Swift rounded out the list as he was the No. 46 ranked player by ESPN. In his sophomore season, Swift ran for 1,037 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. He was also huge down the stretch for the Bulldogs, as he rushed for over 100 yards in four of their final five games including 186 yards in a win against Auburn.

Missing the list was offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. He was voted Second Team All-American after having a stellar season for Georgia. Only three offensive tackles made the top-50.

The only teams to have more players on the list than Georgia were Alabama (5), Clemson (5) and Notre Dame (4), all of which are playing in the College Football Playoff.

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