Georgia football carries star-studded, maxed-out roster into season

Georgia wide receiver Demetris Robertson (16), catching in practice this week, is one of at least 20 players on the Bulldogs' who had at least one 5-star recruiting ranking coming out of high school (Tony Walsh/UGA)

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia wide receiver Demetris Robertson (16), catching in practice this week, is one of at least 20 players on the Bulldogs' who had at least one 5-star recruiting ranking coming out of high school (Tony Walsh/UGA)

ATHENS – Georgia enters the 2020 season Saturday with a No. 4 national ranking. That happens to be where the Bulldogs were ranked when last season ended. That is fairly remarkable, considering all the roster ingress and egress Georgia encountered in the eight months since the Sugar Bowl win over Baylor.

This week, we took a close look at Georgia’s roster to see what kind of observations could be drawn about it in advance of Saturday’s opener at Arkansas (4 p.m., SEC Network). Following are 10 fast facts about the latest team that coach Kirby Smart has assembled:

1. Maxed out

NCAA rules dictate that FBS schools can have no more than 85 players on scholarship by the time fall semester commences. On the surface, it looks like the Bulldogs are actually over that number at 87.

But Georgia coach Kirby Smart is a master at roster management, and there are several ways that roster numbers can be mitigated. One is through something known as “blue-shirting,” which is when a player is asked to enroll initially as a walk-on with the promise of being placed on scholarship at later date. A newly adopted NCAA rule allows scholarship promotion within one year of enrollment as a walk-on as opposed to the previous two-year requirement.

Whatever the case, Smart won’t discuss it. Scholarship distinctions are not disclosed publicly and any documents produced to that end are protected by federal privacy laws, according to UGA.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart talks about season opening opponent Arkansas and facing former assistant Sam Pittman, now Razorbacks head coach.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

2. Comings and goings

Attrition figured into Smart’s roster-management challenges. Always a part of the college game, Georgia has experienced more than its share of defections and transfers in recent years.

In January, the Bulldogs had five underclassmen enter the NFL draft and two others transfer to other SEC schools in offensive lineman Cade Mays (Tennessee) and defensive back Otis Reese (Ole Miss). Since then, graduate transfer quarterback Jamie Newman opted out of the 2020 season three weeks before it was to begin and defensive back Divaad Wilson entered the transfer portal. Also, outside linebacker Robert Beal entered the transfer portal but ultimately decided to remain at UGA.

Georgia added two other players via transfer. Tight end Tre' McKitty came from Florida State as a graduate transfer and was slated to start the opener before a minor knee injury in the Bulldogs' last scrimmage sidelined him for at least the first game. Sophomore quarterback JT Daniels transferred to UGA from USC over the summer.

3. New faces

There have been comings and goings on the coaching staff as well.

Offensive line coach Matt Luke is not completely new because he succeeded Sam Pittman in early December and coached his group in the Sugar Bowl. Pittman left Georgia to accept the head coaching position at Arkansas. Luke was dismissed as the Ole Miss coach at the end of last season.

The Bulldogs added Todd Monken as offensive coordinator in January while they actually still had one in James Coley. Coley later left to become tight ends coach at Texas A&M.

The changeover continued in February. Shortly after special-teams coordinator Scott Fountain left to join Pittman’s staff at Arkansas, Smart hired his close friend Scott Cochran from Alabama to replace Fountain. It will be the first on-field, college-coaching job for Cochran, who was the Crimson Tide’s strength coach for the past 12 years.

4. Defensive dominance

On paper, the Bulldogs have the exact number of offensive and defensive players on scholarship at 42 apiece (there are two specialists). But there is a drastic difference when it comes to playing experience.

Georgia has eight of 11 starters back on defense, as opposed to three on offense. And it’s not just about starters on defense. Of the defensive players back, 36 of them played 100 or more snaps last season.

Conversely, Georgia has only 14 players on offense with enough participation last season to have counted against their eligibility. Center Trey Hill is the only offensive player with a double-digit starting streak (18), and only 14 offensive players overall have started a game for the Bulldogs. Only Hill, guard Ben Cleveland (16) and receiver Kearis Jackson (11) have logged double-digit starts in their careers. The Georgia defense has nine such players.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart discusses the state of the defense, entering the 2020 season, and the lack of SEC accolades.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

5. Positionally speaking

Georgia has more offensive linemen on scholarship than any other position, 16 in all. That includes eight tackles, four guards and four centers. However, the Bulldogs cross-train many of its linemen for multiple positions.

There are 14 defensive backs on scholarship. That includes six cornerbacks, five safeties and five “stars,” or nickel backs.

The next most is wide receivers and defensive line at 13 each. Five of those players were signed in the last recruiting cycle in Jermaine Burton, Ladd McConkey, Justin Robinson, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Arian Smith. That’s tied with five O-linemen for most in the 2020 class.

6. Geographically diverse

There are 129 players on Georgia’s official roster on its website. Of those, 51 players list Georgia cities as their hometowns, by far the most of any other state. The next most is 10 players from Florida.

The roster includes five players each from Texas and Louisiana and four each from California and Florida. In all, Georgia has players from 19 different states, including Washington, Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.

7. Must be at least 53

By NCAA rule, the Bulldogs can practice with no more than 125 at any time and they can dress no more than 105 for any games for non-conference games. UGA is, of course, playing only SEC games this season.

The SEC limits the visiting team to 70 players dressed for a conference contest and the home team to 80.

Additionally, with COVID-19 concerns this season, the SEC has established roster minimum requirements for league games. A team can cancel or postpone a game without forfeiture if it has fewer than 53 players on the roster or it has fewer than seven offensive linemen (including a center), four defensive linemen and one quarterback.

8. The ‘Big 0’

The NCAA adopted legislation this year that allows zero to be assigned as a jersey number for the first time. That number was claimed by Georgia freshman tight end Darnell Washington.

Washington was considered the No. 1 tight end prospect in the nation when he signed with the Bulldogs out of Las Vegas, Nev. He’s also an exceptionally large man at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. So, naturally, his nickname on the team is now “Big O.”

9. New digits

There are a lot of new numbers to learn between freshmen and transfers. In addition to Washington’s 0 they are: 5 Kelee Ringo, 6 Jalen Kimber, 7 Jermaine Burton, 8 M.J. Sherman, 11 Arian Smith, 15 Carson Beck, 17 Justin Robinson, 18 JT Daniels, 22 Kendall Milton, 26 Daran Branch, 33 Daijun Edwards, 51 Tate Ratledge, 52 Cameron Kinnie, 58 Austin Blaske, 59 Broderick Jones, 63 Sedrick Van Pran, 77 Devin Willock, 78 Chad Lindberg, 78 Nazir Stackhouse, 81 Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, 84 Ladd McConkey, 87 Tre' McKitty, 88 Jalen Carter, 97 Warren Brinson and 99 Jared Zirkel.

10. Talented young pups

Overall, Georgia remains a very young, very talented team. There are only three fifth-year seniors on the roster and two who were recruited to UGA in Smart’s first recruiting class (OL Ben Cleveland and DL Julian Rochester). In all there are 14 seniors, compared with 36 freshmen (including redshirts). There are 19 juniors and 18 sophomores.

Based on their recruiting profiles, Georgia is one of the country’s most talent-rich teams. There are at least 20 players who carried a 5-star recruiting ranking when they signed with the Bulldogs. That includes seven in 2020 class, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation.

In fact, the four recruiting classes that make up the majority of this team were ranked 3, 1, 2 and 1, respectively. For comparison sake, Arkansas' past four were 27, 45, 23 and 30.