Dawgs take burden of being #1

ATHENS – If preseason expectations are a concern for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, his fellow coaches aren't doing him any favors.

Richt's Bulldogs will begin the 2008 season as the No. 1 team in the nation, according to the USA Today Coaches' Poll, released Friday. Georgia received 22 of a possible 61 first-place votes and finished with 1,438 total points, just eight ahead of No. 2-ranked Southern California. It is the first time the Bulldogs have topped the preseason poll.

"I know the ranking is exciting for Georgia football and hopefully we can do our part to stay in the race," Richt said.

Several national media outlets, including The Sporting News, have already ranked Georgia No. 1 in the country to start the year, and Richt has continuously addressed the lofty expectations since finishing last year with a Sugar Bowl victory and a No. 2 ranking.

"Our goal was to try to focus on the moment, not on way down the road," Richt said at the annual SEC Media Days last week in Hoover, Ala. "I mean, people started talking national championship after the Sugar Bowl last year. That's too long to be chewing on that bone."

While Richt has downplayed the preseason predictions, he said Friday that the honor was important because the Coaches' Poll is included in the end-of-season BCS rankings, which determine which teams will play for the national title.

Despite being one of the nation's hottest teams and holding the same record as eventual national champion LSU at the end of the regular season, Georgia was left out of last year's title game in part due to a lower ranking in the polls.

"Being No. 1 in the coaches' preseason poll does have significance since it's one-third of the formula to decide who plays in the national championship game," Richt said. "But the post-season poll is the one that is the most important."

Georgia returns 16 players from last year's team, which finished 11-2 and won its final seven games. But while the roster is full of experienced players, the Bulldogs' schedule is one of the nation's toughest.

Five of Georgia's opponents this season also begin the year in the Coaches' top 25, including No. 5-ranked Florida, sixth-ranked LSU and 11th-ranked Auburn. The Bulldogs will also travel cross-country Sept. 20 to play No. 16 Arizona State in a non-conference game.

In addition to Georgia and USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida and LSU all received first place votes in the poll. Missouri, West Virginia, Clemson and Texas round out the top 10.

The SEC landed five teams in the top 25, tied with the Big 12 for the most among any conference.

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