AP Names Dawgs #1, too

ATHENS – It's unanimous. The Georgia Bulldogs were named the preseason No. 1 by the Associated Press on Saturday, making them the consensus top team in the country in the two most notable polls.

Georgia was ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll earlier this month and has also received top billing from numerous national publications including Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and ESPN.

"To me, I can't think of another word than exciting," head coach Mark Richt said. "It's exciting and fires me up that people think that about our program. The football world thinks we've got a shot and holds us in high esteem."

Richt learned of the honor midway through Saturday morning's practice. He informed his players and said the excitement spread quickly.

Still, Richt said, while the preseason ranking is an honor, it's Georgia's place at the end of the year he's more concerned with.

"Our goal is always set to win the Eastern Division," Richt said. "Our goal is always set to try to win the Southeastern Conference."

Georgia is followed in the rankings by Ohio State, Southern California, Oklahoma and SEC East-rival Florida.

The Bulldogs received just 22 more points in the balloting than Ohio State and hold an even smaller margin over USC in the Coaches' poll.

One of the biggest worries for Georgia is its difficult regular-season schedule, which includes dates with six teams also ranked in the AP top 25. South Carolina, which hosts Georgia on Sept. 13, fell just one point shy of breaking the top 25 as well.

"We look at our schedule and say it's going to be a battle royal," Richt said.

History won't exactly favor Georgia either.

Only 10 teams have started the season as the AP's preseason No. 1 and gone on to finish the year with a national title – the last coming in 2004 when USC accomplished the feat. It has been 30 years since an SEC team both began and finished the season atop the AP poll.

The No. 1 ranking is the highest preseason ranking in Georgia's history. The Bulldogs had started the season in the No. 2 spot twice before, in 2004 and 1942, one of two years in which they previously won a national championship.

"I think we're smart enough to realize that we play in the SEC, and it's not going to be just given to you," quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

With 16 starters returning from a team that won its final seven games last season, including a Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii, and finished second in the final AP poll, tight end Tripp Chandler said it's easy to understand why Georgia is a preseason favorite this year. What happened last season is a distant memory, however, as far as Chandler is concerned.

"I think (the ranking) is based a lot on what we did last season," Chandler said. "But now we've got to go out and prove we can do it again."

Georgia kicks off its season Aug. 30 against Georgia Southern and begins its SEC slate with the South Carolina game two weeks later.

While Stafford and company bask in the national spotlight, however, the hype that comes with being No. 1 will be out the window as soon as the Bulldogs step between the hedges, he said.

"It means nothing until you get out there on the field and prove it," Stafford said. "So we got to go out there and play football the way we know how, and we'll see what happens."


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