The manner in which Georgia has gotten off to a 5-0 start, with a suffocating defense like the old days under Vince Dooley, raises a legitimate question on whether the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs of second-year coach Kirby Smart are ascending into an SEC contender.

 

Signs continue to emerge that Georgia is gaining separation between itself and other rivals aiming to be the second-best SEC program behind Alabama. The biggest is that the Bulldogs’ defense of coordinator Mel Tucker, the former Jaguars’ DC and interim head coach (2011), is second in the nation in points allowed (9.2 ppg), third in total defense (244.0 yards) and has allowed just four touchdowns and three field goals in 10 red-zone penetrations.

The momentum continued Friday when 5-star quarterback Justin Fields, considered the top recruit in America, committed to Georgia despite the program already having a pair of 5-star QBs in Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. Since Fields is more of a dual threat and will enroll in January, his presence could well diversify Georgia’s offense in 2018 and beyond, making Smart’s team a bigger threat in the SEC East than it is already.

Barring an upset by Vanderbilt or Missouri in the next seven days, Georgia will be undefeated heading into its showdown with Florida. Just remember, the last two times the ‘Dogs won an SEC title (2005, 2002), Florida handed them their first loss.

But looking at the big picture, Georgia is emerging as an SEC force. …

In Blake Bortles’ 49 career starts with the Jaguars, he has seven games with a 100-plus quarterback rating and a 4-3 record. In their first 49 Jaguars’ starts, Mark Brunell and David Garrard each had 18 games of a 100-plus rating and marks of 13-5 and 14-4, respectively. …

Memo to Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton: Not only was it not “funny” the way you belittled female reporter Jourdan Rodrigue’s question about the way one of your receivers runs his “routes,” but you made things worse by waiting over 24 hours to make an credible apology, which only happened due to harsh pushback from sponsors and the media. This should be a reminder to you and all athletes that contrition for outrageously poor judgment is a dish better served before the fallout arrives. …

Despite Wolfson High product Mike Clevinger being the Cleveland Indians’ third-best starter the past six weeks, it appears manager Terry Francona favors him in middle relief/long relief role in the ALDS against the New York Yankees. …

Pigskin forecast: Pittsburgh Steelers over Jaguars by 3 (Gatorade buckets); Tennessee Titans over Miami Dolphins by 1 (worse QB dilemma); Kansas City Chiefs over Houston Texans by 1 (underrated defense); Miami over Florida State by 1 (less Dalvin Cook); Florida over LSU by 7 (Troy hangovers). Last week: 4 right, 1 Butch Jones game plan.

gene.frenette@jacksonville.com (904) 359-4540