ATHENS, Ga. - It's not a pleasant topic for Georgia football coach Mark Richt to address, but it's not an unexpected one, either.
After last season's 6-7 finish and last Saturday night's 35-21 opening loss to Boise State, Richt was asked Tuesday if this week's matchup against South Carolina was pivotal for him. Richt responded by saying "I view this as a very important game," but the questioning wasn't over.
Moments later, he was asked if Saturday was a must-win game.
"Didn't I just say it's a really important game?" Richt shot back.
"But do you think it's a must-win?" the reporter continued.
"I think it's a really important game," Richt said. "Do you want to ask me again? Because you can, and I'll give you the same answer. OK?"
The "hot seat" talk that accompanied Richt throughout the offseason was heightened in the Georgia Dome, when the Broncos spotted the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead before erupting for four consecutive touchdowns. Georgia committed three penalties on its opening possession, putting a quick dent into nine months of optimism, and most Bulldogs fans started heading for the exits with just under 12 minutes remaining.
Upsetting South Carolina this week would mean more than defeating Boise State since it's a Southeastern Conference contest, but a loss would leave Richt with his first 0-2 start as well as a 15-15 record in his last 30 games.
Richt's future hinging on this week's game has been debated on national radio and television shows, and the players are not oblivious to it.
"We're not trying to worry about that," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "We just know it's a big game for ourselves as far as getting back rolling in the right direction and getting a big win under our belts against a great opponent. It's a huge game."
Said tight end Orson Charles: "There is a lot of talk about Coach Richt is on the hot seat, and I really hate hearing that. We've just got to go out there and compete."
South Carolina finished ahead of Georgia in the SEC East standings last season for the first time under coach Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks are seeking their third win over the Bulldogs in five years, which would be a first in a series Georgia has dominated by a 46-15-2 margin.
And there's this telling fact: Saturday will mark the first Georgia-South Carolina game in which the Bulldogs are not ranked and the Gamecocks are.
"Historically we've been the big brother," Bulldogs backup tight end Aron White said, "but the tables are kind of turned this year."
For Richt and his Bulldogs, very important indeed.
"I know the media likes to write about a coach on the hot seat, but I assure you he is trying to figure out how to beat us," Spurrier said. "We'll try to figure out the best way to beat them. It should be a good game."