The top 5 offensive linemen Georgia will face this season

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Improvements to Sanford Stadium represent just the tip of the iceberg of what UGA needs to do stay up with the Jones in the SEC. DAVID BARNES / AJC

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today, we look at a potential turning point in the Class of 2018, Kirby Smart’s ranking among college football’s 130 coaches and the best offensive linemen Georgia will come up against in 2017.

Notre Dame OL duo will be a tough task for Georgia

Next up in our position-by-position breakdown of the best players Georgia will face this season are the offensive linemen. I opted to include all O-linemen in this group instead of breaking it down into centers, guards and tackles. But since there are so many linemen to choose from, I’ve included a couple of honorable mentions at the end.

5. Martinas Rankin, T, Mississippi State — A JUCO transfer, it took Rankin a little bit to get settled in Starkville. He redshirted in 2015 and only played 10 games last season, faring much better in the second half of the season than he did in the first. He’s strong in run and pass blocking, making him the perfect man to watch dual-threat Nick Fitzgerald’s blind side. If he keeps improving like he’s done so far in his MSU career, he’ll go in the first round of the NFL draft next spring.

4. Braden Smith, G/T, Auburn — Smith has become a bit of an institution on Auburn’s line, making 27 consecutive starts dating back to the tail end of his freshman season. Although he played guard the last two years, he’s expected to man the Tigers’ RT spot this season, although it’s still possible he moves back to RG depending on the progression of other players. Either way, expect Auburn to gain some yardage when it runs to the right.

3. Martez Ivey, G/T, Florida — Ivey was the No. 1 offensive lineman in the country coming out of high school in the Class of 2015. Many expected him to be a player for the Gators from the jump at left guard. But he struggled as a freshman before coming on strong as sophomore. Now, he’s moved one spot over to left tackle. He believes it’s his natural position, which could mean we finally see him live up to his full potential.

2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame — Nelson was one of the best guards in America as a junior and he’ll be one of the best players at any position as a senior. Sports Illustrated recently named him the 27th-best player in all of college football. He could have made the jump to the NFL as junior, maybe even landing in the first round. Barring anything unforeseen, he’ll be the first guard taken off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he’ll help anchor the Irish line between now and then.

1. Mike McGlinchey, T, Notre Dame — McGlinchey is the anchor of the Notre Dame line and the captain of the team. Like Nelson, he also could’ve jumped to the NFL last season, and he would’ve almost certainly been a first-round pick. He played on the right side as a sophomore and only moved to left tackle last season. But he shows the potential to be a franchise player for some NFL team on the left side of the line. With Nelson and McGlinchey holding it down in the trenches for the Irish, Josh Adams should have tons of room to run and Brandon Wimbush should have plenty of time to pass when the Dawgs come to South Bend in Week 2.

Honorable mentions: Jawaan Taylor, Florida; Tyler Howell, Missouri; Austin Golson, Auburn.

UGA’s best individual opponents: QB | RB | WR | TE

Stuck in the middle

A few days ago, Athlon Sports ranked all 130 head coaches in college football, and Georgia head man Kirby Smart found himself smack dab in the middle. Smart was ranked as the 65th-best coach in the country. That makes him the 12th-best coach in the SEC, in front of only Ed Orgeron (81) and Barry Odom (105).

After coaching in the shadow of Nick Saban at Alabama for nine seasons, Smart landed the opportunity to coach at his alma mater after Georgia parted ways with Mark Richt. Smart is regarded for his work on defense, but his ability to land elite recruiting classes (No. 3 nationally in 2017) will help the Bulldogs quickly replenish the roster. After one season, plenty of questions remain about Smart and whether or not he can elevate Georgia in the national conversation. However, the work on the recruiting trail, along with the returning talent this season, should provide better insight into this tenure in 2017.

Quick turnaround for UGA recruiting?

Five-star RB Zamir White’s commitment to the Bulldogs was a big moment for Georgia’s recruiting efforts with the Class of 2018. Based on the returns before White’s pledge, Smart’s second full recruiting cycle was shaping up to be much weaker than his first. (Given, it’s still waaaay early in the process for the Class of 2018.) But with the wind at their back, the Bulldogs could be in line for some other big-name players to come to Georgia.

One player who is now favored to come to Georgia, according to some recruiting experts, is 5-star corner Tyreke Johnson. The DB from Jacksonville, Fla., was once heavily favored to go to Florida State or Florida, but the Dawgs have made inroads, it seems. According to 247Sports’s Crystal Ball feature, which accumulates predictions from the network’s recruiting reporters, 47 percent of those who have weighed in now believe Johnson will sign with Georgia. In the last week, five reporters have signaled they believe he’ll be a Bulldog.

Wieners on ice!

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