Handling the hype

If the Georgia Bulldogs are to win big this fall they'd better depend on their eyes, not their ears.

Ever since their 41-10 Sugar Bowl blowout of an outmanned Hawaii team last January, the Dawgs have been touted as favorites to win the 2008 national title. Listening to this type of hype could be dangerous because Georgia's road to the BCS Championship Game is filled with land mines. That's why Mark Richt's troops need to keep their eyes on what may be the toughest schedule in college football.

In addition to SEC East rivals Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt – all five have beaten UGA in the past 24 months – the Bulldogs must face the top three teams from the Western Division. That would be Auburn, Alabama and defending national champ LSU.

"We know everybody on our schedule can beat us," Richt said at the recent SEC Media Days. "I mean, we know everybody in our division can and HAS beaten us. We know when we play Alabama, Auburn, LSU in the West, that's rough."

Georgia also must play at Arizona State and face heated in-state rival Georgia Tech, which tends to play its best against the Bulldogs.

"We know they're all going to be tough," Richt said. "Our state of mind going into every game is that it's going to be a 60-minute war."

Actually, Richt plans for every game as if it will be a 65-minute war. He doesn't expect to beat any opponent in regulation play.

"I'm thinking of what plays we're going to call in an overtime period before the game even starts," he said. "That's kind of how I go into every game. When we win games I feel relief. I don't get puffed up about it. I know every victory's a tough one."

Knowing this is one thing; conveying it to his players is another matter. Richt's focus will be wasted if even a few of his players allow themselves to get cocky and/or complacent.

"I told the players that this preseason hype could be a blessing or a curse," he recalled. "It's a curse if you think it gives you a sense of entitlement to where you think you don't have to prepare. It could be a blessing if you look at it as one of the greatest opportunities of your life and you put the work in to even be in position to have a chance.

"The latter, I think, is what we took on as a team. As I watch 'em, I don't see any complacency. I see guys working extremely hard and getting excited about it."

Richt has won 72 of 91 games and three SEC titles in his first seven years at Georgia. A national title would complete his resume', but he has more immediate goals in mind.

"Our goal is always set to win the Eastern Division," he said. "Our goal is always set to try to win the Southeastern Conference. From that point, you don't know if you'll get in the National Championship game or not, quite frankly. It's hard to set a goal that you can't control."

That's a logical approach, given that Auburn went 13-0 and won the SEC title in 2004 but did not even get to play in the BCS Championship Game. Richt hasn't forgotten.

"Auburn goes undefeated in this league and finds themselves watching the National Championship game," he recalled. "So we try to set goals that we can control: We talk about winning Game 1. We talk about trying to win the East. We talk about, if we get in that championship game, to win it."

Clearly, the only game on Richt's mind at this point is the Aug. 30 opener against Georgia Southern. Many Bulldog fans, however, already are buzzing about the BCS Championship Game.

"We know that in order to even get close to that point, you've got to put the work in on a daily basis," Richt said. "Our goal is to try to focus on the moment, not on way down the road. I mean, people started talking National Championship after the Sugar Bowl last year.

"That's too long to be chewing on that bone."

Even for a bunch of feisty Bulldogs.


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