No. 3 Georgia begins title defense against No. 11 Oregon

FILE - Georgia tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against...
FILE - Georgia tight end Brock Bowers (19) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against Alabama defensive back Jordan Battle (9) during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. Bowers was named to The Associated Press preseason All-America team, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)(John Bazemore | AP)
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 5:35 PM EDT
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(AP) - Georgia is looking to get started on another national championship season against No. 11 Oregon and former defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. The Bulldogs had one of the great units in college football a year ago, with a staggering five players going on to be first-round NFL draft picks, including top overall pick Travon Walker. Three other defensive standouts were selected in the later rounds.

In all, Georgia had 15 players taken in the draft — a record since the NFL went to a seven-round format.

The reigning national champions still have plenty of talent on the defensive line, led by massive lineman Jalen Carter, linebacker Nolan Smith, and defensive backs Kelee Ringo and Christopher Smith.

“I’ve been a Georgia fan all my life,” Nolan Smith said. “That’s one thing that’s always been great around here, the Georgia defense. So I’m 100% not worrying about a drop-off. It’s a standard. Just because we had a lot of guys leave last year, it’s a standard of Georgia defense that we play at a high level.”

Dan Lanning served the last three years as Smart’s co-defensive coordinator. Now, he’s making his head coaching debut against a team he knows so well, having succeeded Mario Cristobal.

“There’s definitely some feelings of excitement for me to go play a team that I care about and was a big part of for a long time,” Lanning conceded.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart downplayed the significance of facing a former member of his staff. “Neither Dan nor I will be worried about each other during the game,” Smart said. “It’s not about that.”

Smart is 2-0 all-time against former assistants.

Lanning declined to name a starting quarterback, but the Bulldogs have a pretty good idea who they’ll be facing. Bo Nix transferred to Oregon after starting the past three seasons at Auburn, one of Georgia’s biggest Southeastern Conference rivals. Nix is 0-3 against the Bulldogs.

There are no such uncertainties about Georgia’s QB.

Coming off a storybook season in which he was picked as offensive MVP in both playoff victories, former walk-on Stetson Bennett is back for his sixth college season.

“It’s very obvious that he doesn’t give up,” former Dawgs linebacker Travon Walker said. “He outworked other quarterbacks who was supposed to be starting over him before the season started. He’s one of those ones that deserves it.”

It’s quite a change to be the unquestioned starter after battling for playing time every other year.

“I’m probably a little bit more excited than I was this time last year,” Bennett said.

Georgia’s offense has a chance to create all sorts of matchup problems with an elite trio of tight ends.

Brock Bowers is coming off a dynamic freshman season, Darnell Washington is quite a handful at 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds, and Arik Gilbert had a stellar year at LSU before transferring to Georgia.

“It’s hard to find a team that has as much talent in their tight end room,” Lanning said. “You can call them tight ends, but the reality is they’re a matchup issue as wideouts as much as they are at tight end.”

Oregon is the lone currently ranked team among Georgia’s first 10 opponents. If the Bulldogs get by this one, the only other stiff test on their regular-season schedule would appear to be at No. 20 Kentucky in mid-November.