Richt Likes What He Sees

ATHENS - A day to reflect did nothing to dampen Mark Richt's enthusiasm for what his team accomplished.

Georgia finished its 2003 season on the first day of 2004 by beating No. 12 Purdue 34-27 in an overtime thriller Thursday afternoon in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. It was the Bulldogs' sixth win in the last seven bowls, and, more importantly, its 11th win of the season.

"I'm just thrilled about what happened," Mark Richt said Friday. "It was a great year. We're disappointed we didn't win the SEC, but considering everything we went through, it went pretty well."

Despite losing seven starters to the NFL Draft and another four to season-ending injuries, Georgia recorded just its sixth season ever with more than 10 wins. It also won its second straight SEC East

Championship, and two of its three losses came against LSU, which will play for the national title on Sunday.

The No. 11 Bulldogs are expected to jump into the Top 10 when the final Associated Press poll is released next week. If they do, it will be the first time since 1983 they have finished back-to-back seasons in the Top 10.

"If we do, two years in a row is outstanding," Richt said. "We just play in such a tough league that even if you feel like you're loaded, it's tough to come through in the top 10."

Thursday's victory, in which Georgia blew a 24-0 lead but won on a 1-yard run by freshman Kregg Lumpkin, is expected to help the Bulldogs heading into next season, when they could be ranked in the nation's top five.

"We've got a chance to be better," Richt acknowledged.

There are a number of personnel issues Richt will have to deal with in the coming weeks, mainly the decisions of defensive end David Pollack and safety Sean Jones. Pollack and Jones are considering leaving early to enter the NFL Draft, and Richt has told him he would like an answer by Jan. 9.

"I think there's a good chance they stick around," he said. "I don't think they've counted us out anyway."

There are also health concerns. Both of the team's starting guards - Bartley Miller and Josh Brock - missed significant time due to chronic shoulder injuries. Miller doesn't believe his will need surgery, but Brock's could after he aggravated it in the first quarter of the Capital One Bowl.

"It seems to be a chronic problem for him," Richt said. "Sometimes it just needs rest and an offseason."

Only four of the Bulldogs who started against Purdue were seniors so there won't be too many holes to fill. However, one of the losses will be place-kicker Billy Bennett, who will leave the school as the NCAA's all-time leader in field goals (87).

"I hope we don't miss him a lot because it means we didn't find a good replacement, but right now I'm thinking that might be the No. 1 concern," Richt said.

Freshman Andy Bailey, who redshirted this season, didn't perform consistently enough in practice this year to mark himself as the heir apparent, and Richt said punter Gordon Ely-Kelso and several walk-ons will compete with Bailey for the job.

"It's wide open as you could get," he said.

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