A Very Far Away Opener

ATHENS – The last time Georgia started the season so far from home, Mark Richt was still two years away from being born.

The last time Georgia opened against an opponent ranked in the top 10, Larry Munson was in just his second year calling games for the Bulldogs.

The last time Georgia played in Stillwater, Okla., Charlie Trippi was beginning his first season in the NFL.

The challenge awaiting the Bulldogs when they visit No. 9 Oklahoma State on Saturday is a rare one to say the least, and it's had the attention of Georgia's players for months.

"All offseason we've had something to look forward to in that Oklahoma State is going to present a huge challenge for us," fullback Shaun Chapas said. "We've been excited, looking forward to the opportunity to play such a big game in their new stadium against a great team, and it's going to be a big stage for us to open with."

While a visit to Stillwater isn't a normal starting point for Georgia's quest for an SEC title, it was all part of athletics director Damon Evans' plan to build a challenging schedule with national prominence for Georgia. This year's task, however, is a bit more grueling than most.

After opening against the Cowboys, Georgia will host Pac-10 foe Arizona State just three weeks later. Add those games to the annual showdown with in-state rival Georgia Tech and the Bulldogs' eight SEC games and the challenge awaiting this year's team is daunting – the first time since the advent of the 12-games schedule that an SEC team has played 11 teams from BCS conferences in the regular season.

Despite the arduous season ahead, the Bulldogs aren't complaining.

"I don't think they overdid it at all," defensive end Demarcus Dobbs said. "One of my motto is you have to beat the best to be the best. I'm glad we have this schedule. It's going to push us every week to strive to be better. Every week is a bigger challenge, and if we play to the best of our ability I think we'll have a good outcome."

The challenge starts in Stillwater, and Oklahoma State might present one of the toughest tests of the season for Georgia.

The Cowboys feature stars at quarterback, wide receiver and tailback and is among the most dangerous offenses in the country. Rather than be intimidated, however, Georgia's defense is looking at it as an opportunity.

"I think it will be good playing a great team and just showing everybody what Georgia's capable of doing," safety Reshad Jones said. "We didn't finish the way we wanted to finish last year, but playing Oklahoma State, a top-10 team on national TV, we'll show the nation what we're capable of doing."

Of course, there's a danger is taking on such a dangerous opponent so early in the season, too.

It has been 13 years since Georgia opened the year with a loss, but the Bulldogs won't be the favorite to win Saturday.

Quarterback Joe Cox said his team isn't thinking much about a potential 0-1 start to the year, but he admits the possibility has crossed his mind. Again, however, that's simply a challenge his team will have to overcome.

"Every game this year on our schedule, we're capable of losing, and if it happens, you've got to be able to bounce back," Cox said. "Something's going to happen this year – it might not be a loss, but we're going to be in a situation that's adverse, and we have to find a way to respond. I feel real confident in our team and how we can handle ourselves if adversity hits, and I think we have enough leaders to keep everybody on the same page."

A season ago, Georgia opened against Georgia Southern, an FCS opponent. During the offseason, voluntary workouts lacked the proper intensity and numerous players found themselves in off-field trouble.

It's impossible to blame that on the opening foe, but cornerback Brandon Boykin said there's no doubt that the challenge awaiting Georgia in its first game this season has been the perfect offseason motivation.

"I'm glad we don't have that warm-up game," Boykin said. "We're coming out with a top team in the nation, and this is going to make us, this is going to prove to everyone how good we can be. So everybody's excited, and we know what we've got to do."

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