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Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt were having to answer questions this time last year about Murray's inability to win big games and Richt's job being in jeopardy. Photo by University of Georgia


Georgia's highest preseason football rankings in program history:


No. 1 // 2008 // 10-3 // (No. 13)

No. 3 // 2004 // 10-2 // (No. 7)

No. 6 // 2012 // ?? // ??

No. 6 // 1967 // 7-4 // (Unranked)

No. 7 // 1982 // 11-1 // (No. 4)

No. 8 // 1969 // 5-5-1 // (Unranked)

ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt is at the top of the Southeastern Conference "hot seat" chart.

Georgia did not get its money's worth in the hiring of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, and Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray may put up numbers, but he sure can't win big games.

Those were popular topics last August as the Bulldogs prepared for Richt's 11th season following a 6-7 debacle in 2010 that concluded with a 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. Last year's team rebounded by winning 10 games and the program's first SEC East title in six seasons, and the talk now is of a No. 6 ranking in the Associated Press and USA Today preseason polls and the accompanying optimism.

"We're not worrying about it, and we're not listening to it," Murray said. "Last year, we ignored all the negativity and the bad talk about Georgia. This year, we're ignoring all the positive stuff and just focusing on what we need to do, and that's to work hard and to show up to practice with the right attitude every day."

Georgia's preseason rank matches the third-highest in program history -- the Bulldogs never had such a lofty summer status with tailback Herschel Walker -- and reasons for the expected success are plentiful.

Murray is coming off a season in which he threw a program-record 35 touchdown passes, and he has four returning receivers who had 100-yard games a year ago. There is excitement in the freshman tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, each of whom averaged 12.4 yards a carry in last Wednesday's second scrimmage, but the biggest reason is a defense that finished fifth nationally and returns players at every position who have multiple starts.

There is also the league schedule, which for a second straight season does not contain Alabama, Arkansas or LSU, a West Division trio that combined for 36 wins a year ago.

"We know that people are expecting us to be way better," All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "We're just taking it all in stride. We're just going through these days and having fun doing it to try to get done everything we can before September 1st."

The Bulldogs will open in 13 days as overwhelming favorites against the Buffalo Bulls, but that was not the case last season when they faced Boise State in Atlanta. Georgia lost 35-21 to the Broncos, and when the Bulldogs fell 45-42 to South Carolina the following week in Athens, it left them with an 0-2 start and a 15-15 record over a 30-game stretch dating back to November 2008.

"We tried to ignore any kind of noise that was out there," Richt said. "Noise can be negative or it can be positive, but when you're talking about noise, you're just talking about all the things that people might be saying or writing about the program, and you have to ignore that. All that is wasted energy."

Georgia's most notable triumph in its ensuing 10-game streak was a 24-20 defeat of Florida in a game the Gators led 17-3 late in the first half. That and the staving off of Vanderbilt in Nashville were really the only close calls for the Bulldogs as they catapulted past South Carolina and into the league championship.

Once there, however, the Bulldogs lost 42-10 to LSU and followed that with a triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.

"We left some things on the table last year that we should have had," inside linebacker Christian Robinson said, "and we're going to work this season to get them."

Since last season, Richt has received a contract extension, and Grantham has received an extension and a raise. Murray joined David Greene and D.J. Shockley as the only quarterbacks to guide the Bulldogs to the SEC title game, and now he encounters questions and conversations of a much more upbeat nature.

Which may or may not be a good thing.

"You definitely prefer this, but it can actually be a little worse," Murray said. "It can be harmful when people start patting you on the back, because you can start to get a little lazy."

Odds and ends

The Bulldogs practiced for 90 minutes Saturday morning in full pads and were available Saturday afternoon for the annual "Fans Picture Day." ... Senior defensive end Cornelius Washington is still getting some reps at outside linebacker and could play at both spots during the first two games, when junior outside linebacker Chase Vasser will be suspended. ... Richt said backup tight end Jay Rome has not "practiced as hard as he needs to" this preseason. ... Receivers Tavarres King (lower leg) and Rantavious Wooten (hip) sat out the practice.