ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s offense was having its way with the defense eight periods into the opening football practice on a humid Thursday afternoon, but left tackle Kenarious Gates was not celebrating.
After a second successful drive operating a no-huddle attack during 11-on-11 drills, Georgia’s offense raced back to the sideline. Which is where Gates lost what he had consumed for lunch.
“Hey, Gates!” Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo shouted as he raced over to the doubled-over 6-foot-5, 327-pounder. “I said period seven, and you went to period eight! Congrats! You won!”
Bobo already had berated players for bending over during the third of 20 scheduled periods, essentially announcing to all within earshot that this indeed is a new season.
The Bulldogs are moving on from a productive year that yielded 12 victories and the program’s closest run to a national championship in three decades. The near miss against Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game has been popular offseason motivation for the Bulldogs, but coaches provided the reminder Thursday that everything starts at square one.
“I think everyone realizes that we have to put the work in now,” junior receiver Chris Conley said during a media session before practice. “There has been a culture change, and I think it speaks to the kind of players who are at Georgia now. Each year it’s getting better, and each year people are putting more of their heart into it.
“We will never forget last season, but you have to keep your eyes forward on where you’re going.”
Georgia’s defense lost 11 players who started at least five games a year ago, but coaches throughout the country are hardly showing sympathy.
The Bulldogs were No. 5 in the USA Today coaches poll that was released Thursday afternoon, trailing Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford. Georgia finished No. 4 last season in the USA Today poll and returns 10 of 11 offensive starters.
“A lot of it speaks to the talent base that we have,” right guard Kenarious Gates said. “Georgia is a good program every year, but I feel like the past two years we’ve been able to get it back on track. We’ve shown the country that we are a team that is going to be in the championship mix regardless of the other things that are going on around the country.
“We don’t pay too much attention to what ranking we are, but it’s always good to see that teams and coaches around the country understand that we’re a competitor.”
Georgia has been a top-10 preseason team five times now under Richt in the USA Today poll, including a No. 1 ranking in 2008.
Alabama’s No. 1 preseason ranking was its second in four years, with the Crimson Tide receiving 58 of the 62 first-place votes in this year’s version. The Tide own the longest active streak of appearances in the USA Today poll with 81, including the last 33 as a top-five member.
The Associated Press poll will be released Aug. 17.
There were six SEC teams in the USA Today top 13, with Texas A&M No. 6, South Carolina No. 7, Florida No. 10 and LSU No. 13. Clemson was No. 8, giving Georgia two opening games against top-eight foes when the Bulldogs travel to Clemson on Aug. 31 and come home the next week to host South Carolina.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said he would have been “terrified” earlier in his career to face a starting stretch that also includes LSU on Sept. 28, but tailback Todd Gurley likes the setup.
“You get it out of the way, and you don’t have to wait for it,” Gurley said. “Also, everybody will be healthy for it at the beginning of the season. I definitely want to start off where we ended last year, and hopefully we won’t have any struggles with the first couple of games and we can pick it up from the beginning against Clemson and come out scoring 30 or 40 points.”
If Thursday was any indication, Georgia’s coaches certainly seem ready to help.
<em>Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.</em>