Kentucky has all but secured bowl eligibility — with a home date against winless Austin Peay still on the schedule — and will have at least a .500 record in the Southeastern Conference for only the second time in the past 17 seasons.
A victory over Georgia on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium would clinch the Cats’ first winning record in league play since 1977, but the Bulldogs will be coming to town with a ton of talent.
Georgia has had a top-12 national recruiting class in each of the past five seasons, including two top-10 classes in the past three years. The Bulldogs’ roster features 44 players who were ranked as four- or five-star recruits by Rivals.com — UK has 15 such players — and many of those highly touted Georgia recruits are now playing key roles for new head coach Kirby Smart.
UK already has four SEC victories this season, and the Bulldogs have been struggling (4-4, 2-4 SEC), but the talent on Smart’s roster is much better — from a star-ranking standpoint — than any of the teams the Cats have defeated so far this fall.
Here’s a breakdown of where Georgia’s players were ranked as recruits, with some comparisons to how they stack up — recruiting-wise — to UK’s roster (all rankings from Rivals.com):
Georgia has six five-star players, 38 four-star players, 32 three-star players and four two-star players on its roster.
By comparison: UK has one five-star recruit (true freshman offensive lineman Landon Young), 14 four-star recruits, 49 three-star recruits and 10 two-star recruits on its roster this season.
Georgia’s projected starting lineup — based on this week’s depth chart and the past few games — includes two five-star recruits, 11 four-star recruits, seven three-star recruits and two players who did not have star rankings coming out of high school.
By comparison: Among UK’s expected starters (going by last week’s lineup and this week’s outlook), the Cats have four four-star starters (TE C.J. Conrad, RB Boom Williams, WR Dorian Baker and safety Mike Edwards), 12 three-star starters, five two-star starters (including QB Stephen Johnson) and one starter who was not ranked in high school (LT Cole Mosier).
True freshman Jacob Eason took over the starting quarterback job after Week 1 and has stayed in that role over the past seven games. The 6-foot-5 newcomer from Lake Stevens, Wash., has completed 128 of 241 passes for 1,509 yards and 10 touchdowns, with five interceptions, so far this season. He has also led the Bulldogs to road victories over Missouri and South Carolina.
Rivals.com ranked Eason as a five-star recruit and the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2016. He amassed scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame and several other major programs before picking the Bulldogs.
Eason is one of five pro-style quarterbacks currently in college who earned five-star rankings from Rivals.com. The others are UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Southern Cal’s Max Browne, Houston’s Kyle Allen and Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel. (Allen and Kiel both transferred from their original schools).
Georgia’s offensive line has struggled this season, but the Bulldogs’ backfield packs a powerful punch when there’s some help up front.
Junior running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb were the No. 3 and 6 recruits nationally at that position, respectively, in the class of 2014. True freshman Elijah Holyfield — son of former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield — was the No. 2 running back in the class of 2016. And Brian Herrien — another true freshman — was a three-star recruit in the 2016 class and is actually the Bulldogs’ No. 3 rusher so far this season (54 carries for 345 yards and three touchdowns).
Despite all that talent, Georgia ranks just eighth in the SEC in team rushing yards (1,390) and tied for last in rushing TDs (11) this fall. UK is fourth in yards (1,756) and fifth in touchdowns (15).
Tyler Catalina has started all eight games at left tackle for the Bulldogs this season. Aaron Davis has started six games at cornerback. Neither had a star ranking coming out of high school.
Catalina — a senior from Worcester, Mass. — was a three-year starter at Rhode Island before coming to Georgia as a graduate transfer following the 2015 season. He chose the Bulldogs over offers from Auburn and Florida.
Davis — a junior from Locust Grove, Ga. — did not have any notable scholarship offers and redshirted for the Bulldogs as a walk-on in 2013. He has since made 25 career starts for Georgia and is the team’s fourth leading tackler so far this season.
The first year of the Kirby Smart Era isn’t going the way Georgia fans had hoped, but the former Alabama assistant coach has plenty of talent lined up for the near future. The Bulldogs’ recruiting class of 2017 is currently ranked No. 5 nationally and already includes commitments from 12 four-star players, including No. 3 pro-style quarterback Jake Fromm and No. 3 running back D’Andre Swift.
Only Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Louisiana State are ranked ahead of Georgia’s class for next year.