A 9-3 record and a New Year’s Day bowl berth usually reflect a productive college football season.
Unless, of course, that team was the preseason No. 1.
Georgia finds itself in dubious territory when it comes to preseason No. 1 teams. The 16th-ranked Bulldogs are the first preseason No. 1 with three losses since Penn State in 1997, and a loss to No. 19 Michigan State in Thursday’s Capital One Bowl could leave them outside the top 20.
No preseason No. 1 team has finished outside the final Associated Press top 20 since the AP began releasing a poll after the bowls in 1968.
“We came into this season with a lot of expectations and a lot of hype,” senior receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said, “and somewhere along the line we fell short of a couple of things that we wanted to accomplish.”
Should the Bulldogs lose, they would have the worst record for a preseason No. 1 since the 1984 Auburn Tigers. Auburn went 9-4 that season, opening with losses to Miami and Texas and playing most of the year without star tailback Bo Jackson.
The worst AP preseason No. 1 teams ever were the 1950 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who went 4-4-1, and the 1964 Ole Miss Rebels, who went 5-5-1.
Recent preseason No. 1 teams almost always factored into the national championship hunt. Florida State (1999) and Southern Cal (2004) led wire-to-wire in winning national titles, while Miami (’02), Oklahoma (’03), Southern Cal (’05) and Ohio State (’06) played for the championship but lost.
“Obviously everybody had high expectations, but us coaches really don’t buy into that stuff,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “We’d rather have low expectations, because it’s a lot easier to motivate when things aren’t expected of you. They had to listen to it every day. They were on magazines, so you had all of that stuff, and people were telling them how great they were.
“It’s not that they didn’t want to work, but we had teams gunning for us, and if we didn’t play our best, we were going to get embarrassed, and that’s what happened against Alabama and Florida.”
Georgia players never openly complained of the expectations, which were the result of the Bulldogs finishing No. 2 last season in the AP poll and returning top talents Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. They remain quite impressive in the eyes of Michigan State players.
The Spartans, incidentally, helped Tennessee win the 1998 national title by handing preseason No. 1 Ohio State the only loss of its 11-1 season.
“This is more exciting than intimidating,” MSU tailback Javon Ringer said. “I can pretty much speak for the team when I say this is something we’re really looking forward to. We like to play the best competition possible, and playing Georgia — it’s hard to get better than that.”
Davis needs surgery
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said Sunday that redshirt sophomore right guard Chris Davis will have hip surgery Jan. 15. Recovery time can be six months, so the 6-foot-4, 292-pounder will miss spring practice.
Davis will make his 26th consecutive start Thursday, having started all 13 games last season at left guard and beginning this season at center before moving after three games.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...