HOOVER, Ala. - Two months from now, the Georgia Bulldogs will have opened their football season with Clemson and South Carolina and will be awaiting a date with LSU.
Georgia's 13th year under coach Mark Richt may be the most demanding in terms of the front end. Clemson, South Carolina and LSU combined for 32 victories last season, giving the Bulldogs no opportunity to rehash what might have been in their thrilling Southeastern Conference championship game loss to Alabama last December.
"I've told our team that we're in a race," Richt said Thursday as the SEC media days drew to a close, "and that is to try to be at midseason form by game one."
Clemson will be Georgia's third challenging opening opponent in the last five years. The Bulldogs began their 2009 season with a two-touchdown loss at Oklahoma State, and they started out 2011 with a two-touchdown loss to Boise State in Atlanta.
The Bulldogs, who started last season with a rout of Buffalo, insist they would be ready for anybody come Labor Day weekend.
"If we were playing Idaho State or some made up school like Southeastern Canada, we would approach them the same way we would approach a University of Miami," senior defensive Garrison Smith said. "Any team can be beaten. Appalachian State beat Michigan a few years ago, so we're not going to take anything for granted no matter who we play."
Richt said this year's tougher opening stretch resulted in the Bulldogs having to accomplish more prior to spring ball. He added that more needs to get done in the weeks ahead before facing such a gauntlet.
The Bulldogs, who return 10 offensive starters but only four on defense, were picked by the media Thursday to make a third consecutive SEC title-game trip, receiving 149 first-place votes in the East to easily outdistance South Carolina (75) and Florida (19). In the vote for overall SEC champ, Georgia's 38 votes were well behind Alabama's 182.
"That's four months away," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "There is a long season ahead of us and a lot of tough games ahead of us. Everyone has a goal of making it to Atlanta, just like we do. We've just got to stay hungry and keep working hard."
Said Richt: "I knew it was going to be us, Florida or South Carolina. I think it's a tough call, this year in particular with those three teams, and then you never know what Tennessee will line up and do."
Sophomore tailback Todd Gurley and senior tight end Arthur Lynch were Georgia's lone All-SEC first-team selections, with Murray being tabbed third team behind Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron.
Thursday contained countless questions regarding last year's 32-28 loss to the Crimson Tide at the SEC title game. Richt said his program isn't into moral victories but "all men want to be respected," and that his team gained more respect that day.
Senior tight end Arthur Lynch believes Georgia's performance in the Georgia Dome led to a quieter offseason in terms of player incidents.
"I think how we ended that game against Alabama has us hungry to get back to that game and that specific moment," Lynch said. "Hopefully it will be different this time, and I think that has kind of motivated us in the offseason to do right, train the way we need to train, and behave the way we need to behave.
"Everybody in the country will have a few things not go the way they wanted it to, but overall we've done a good job of staying focused, and I think that will show on the field."
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