Christmas has come and gone, but the year’s greatest gift has yet to be delivered. The College Football Playoff is set to kick off this weekend in Atlanta and Glendale, with Georgia essentially hosting Ohio State in Mercedes Benz Stadium. At the same time, Michigan and TCU travel out west to play in State Farm Stadium. In ESPN’s rankings (subscription required) of the most important players in the CFP, seven Georgia Bulldogs and Buckeyes cracked the top 25, along with six Wolverines and five Horned Frogs.
2. Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
Carter, who missed time with knee/ankle injuries this year, has been unstoppable since returning to the lineup against Florida at the end of October. And while he has just three sacks on the season, Carter’s impact as a penetrator and as someone multiple offensive linemen must account for will dictate the Buckeyes’ offensive game plan. For Ohio State to pull off an upset win, Carter must be neutralized.
Georgia fans are undoubtedly hoping Carter will be the most impactful player in these playoffs. If that’s the case, they have to feel pretty good about their chances of repeating. Carter has the talent to take over games in a flash; he’s a consensus top draft prospect, and there’s no ceiling on the kind of impact he can have against the Buckeyes and potentially the Wolverines or Horned Frogs.
4. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
That brings us to the player tasked with shutting down Harrison. Ringo is a massive cornerback at 6-foot-2. He also has legitimate 4.3-second 40-yard dash speed, which helped him to two interceptions and nine pass breakups this season. He’s one of only a few cornerbacks in the nation with the physical traits to match up step-for-step with Harrison. Ringo’s impact in this game can’t be understated. If he’s able to limit Harrison in man coverage, the Georgia safeties will be free to roam. That’s paramount to a Georgia victory.
Despite Ohio State being down one of the best playmakers in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the Buckeyes still boast an impressive receiving core led by Marvin Harrison, who is already more special of a pass catcher than JSN. Ringo’s task to help contain Ohio State’s passing attack won’t be easy.
7. Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
The model of the new-age tight end, Bowers is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and he moves like a running back in the open field. He has been Georgia’s most vital offensive asset this season, compiling nine total touchdowns and over 800 yards from scrimmage in a scheme that spreads the ball around plenty. Bowers will be the focal point for the Ohio State defense from the first snap.
It’s pretty simple: the Georgia Bulldogs win when Brock Bowers has a big game. Bowers has the athletic ability to outrun most defensive backs with the versatility to create mismatches all over the field. The All-American tight end will surely be a focal point for the Buckeyes’ defense, and it’ll be up to Todd Monken to scheme Bowers open.
10. Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia
Bennett might not be a premier draft prospect at quarterback, but he gets the job done at a high level and wins games. In the past two seasons, Georgia has lost one game with Bennett starting while adding a national title to his résumé. He’s back for more as a better all-around passer coming off a four-touchdown, 274-yard game against LSU. His 86.3 Total QBR is sixth in the nation, and his 68.1% completion percentage is 15th.
Stetson Bennett has an argument for being Georgia’s most important player, but I understand why he’s lower down the list. UGA’s offense isn’t dependent on Bennett’s ability to sling the rock; it’s predicated on running the ball and building play action concepts off of that. Georgia could easily beat Ohio State without much from Bennett, but he’ll have to do a little more against a stouter Michigan defense if they meet in the championship.
13. Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Jones stepped in as a redshirt sophomore asked to man the left side in the Georgia offense and immediately had success. The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder didn’t allow a sack in 2022 while also being one of the best run blockers in the nation.
18. Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
At any other school, Washington is a starter. But at Georgia, he’s TE2 behind Bowers. The 6-foot-7, 270-pounder is a difficult matchup for defenders. As Ohio State focuses on Bowers and the run game, Washington’s size and speed in space are certain to factor into this game. And while Washington had just two touchdowns in 2022, every defensive coordinator knows he’s a threat. He averaged 16 yards per catch, and 22 of his 26 catches were first downs or scores.
25. Ladd McConkey, WR, Georgia
When Georgia throws the ball, it’s usually to a tight end — but sophomore wide receiver McConkey has become a downfield asset. With 51 catches and five touchdowns, McConkey is the team’s most productive receiver. Matched up against an Ohio State secondary that struggled against Michigan’s passing game, McConkey could be a difference-maker in this one.
McConkey could be a sneaky important player for the Georgia Bulldogs. There will come a time when they need a big play and he’s one of Stetson Bennett’s favorite targets. Darnell Washington’s impact goes further than just catching the ball; Georgia’s running game is so dominant in part to Washington’s run blocking.
Photographer: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire
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