Georgia starts season No. 1
By Ralph D. Russo
NEW YORK ó By the time Georgia was done demolishing Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, it was apparent the Bulldogs were well on their way to being No. 1 ó to start the 2008 college football season.
Seeking its first national championship in 28 years, Georgia is on top of The Associated Press preseason Top 25 for the first time.
The Bulldogs received 22 first-place votes and 1,528 points from a panel of 65 media members in the poll released Saturday.
“To have people believing we have one of the best teams in the nation going into this thing, it’s exciting for us,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said in a telephone interview with the AP.
“I don’t think anything is guaranteed, but we certainly have put ourselves in position where at least the college football world thinks we’re pretty good.”
Ohio State, coming off a second consecutive loss in the national championship game but returning 20 starters, is No. 2. The Buckeyes received 21 first-place votes and 1,506 points.
No. 3 Southern California, which plays Ohio State in Los Angeles on Sept. 13, received 12 first-place votes. No. 4 Oklahoma had four first-place votes and No. 5 Florida received six first-place votes.
Georgia finished last season 11-2 and No. 2 in the country behind Southeastern Conference rival LSU. The Tigers won the national championship in the Superdome in New Orleans on Jan. 7 by beating the Buckeyes.
But a week earlier on that same field the Bulldogs ended their season with a seventh straight victory and sent a message about 2008: “Look out!”
Georgia toyed with high-scoring Hawaii and its Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Colt Brennan in a 41-10 rout, and one glance at the Bulldogs’ depth chart, with all those freshmen and sophomores playing major roles, revealed the Bulldogs would be a force this season. The questions started even as Georgia celebrated its big victory on the confetti-covered turf.
Richt’s job since then has been to keep his team from getting too wrapped up in the hype.
“I think it motivates the guys to prepare well, but the big thing is: If you think about a championship way back in January … that can wear you down,” Richt said. “It’s our responsibility as coaches to help these guys break it down to one day at a time, one workout at a times, one practice at a time. Just prepare to be in position for the challenge.
“If we don’t work, we’ll have no chance.”
No. 6 Missouri has its best preseason ranking. The Tigers ended last season No. 4, which was their best showing ever in the final poll.
LSU’s Tigers will begin defense of their national championship ranked seventh. West Virginia is eighth, Clemson is ninth and No. 10 Auburn gives the SEC four top-10 teams to start the season.
With Florida and LSU taking the last two national titles, the SEC could become the first to conference to have three different teams win consecutive national titles.
Georgia certainly has the ingredients on the field to make that happen.
“All we can do is focus on the smaller picture,” receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. “We can’t let ourselves get overwhelmed. It takes away from playing hard and playing smart.”
The Bulldogs return 16 starters, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, already being touted as a future first-round draft pick, and running back Knowshon Moreno, who became the first Georgia freshman to run for 1,000 yards since Herschel Walker did it while leading the Bulldogs to the national title in 1980.