- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- Only twice in Mark Richt’s previous 11 seasons at Georgia have his Bulldogs carried a higher preseason ranking into the season than this year’s club, which came in at No. 6 in the Associated Press preseason poll that was released Saturday.
Keep in mind, Richt has won two SEC championships and four SEC East titles in his UGA tenure, so he has done his share of winning as a Bulldog. And only the preseason No. 1 team in 2008 and the 2004 club that started at No. 3 carried higher preseason expectations than this team that opens the season Sept. 1 against Buffalo.
And Richt realizes such a status could be beneficial if the Bulldogs keep themselves in the BCS conversation throughout the season.
“We have had good teams and we want to be well thought of,” Richt said. “Have we earned it this year? No, but I guess from everybody’s evaluation of who’s returning and that type of thing, they feel like we’ve got a chance.
“And the reality of college football is that there’s a vote. There’s a vote at the end that decides who goes where. So it is important. If it was a 16-team playoff, the rankings wouldn’t probably mean nearly as much as they do today.”
The ranking represents a major turnaround from where Georgia typically found itself in the AP poll for much of the last three seasons. The Bulldogs were ranked in each of the final eight weeks of the poll in 2011, but prior to that run to their first division title since 2005, they were ranked only four weeks out of the 29 polls released between Oct. 4, 2009 and Oct. 15, 2011.
Defensive lineman John Jenkins credited senior leaders on last year’s team for helping the team overcome an 0-2 start to win 10 games in a row and claim the SEC East crown -- a run that also helped produce the preseason ranking the Bulldogs will carry into this season.
“Leaders like Brandon Boykin, Bruce Figgins, all those guys, they were able to show us the way and we kind of changed the season around last year and the perspective of Georgia football and what people think about us,” Jenkins said.
“Now this year, everybody’s saying, ‘Oh, Georgia this and Georgia that,’ it’s a blessing to be in that situation. Sixth in the nation, that’s a blessing, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time, that’s what people rate you. I feel like we’re No. 1.”
With nine starters back from an often-dominant defense and quarterback Aaron Murray still around to lead the offense, the Bulldogs have made no secret that the No. 1 spot is their ultimate goal. Will Smith’s song “Miami” -- the host city for this season’s BCS championship game -- blared over the loudspeakers before the Bulldogs played their first preseason scrimmage.
So while they recognize that No. 6 is a good starting point, the Bulldogs hope to perform well enough to finish in an even better position.
“That’s a great honor that people are looking at us as a team to be rated that high,” defensive lineman Garrison Smith said. “We’re thankful for that, but we’ve got to live up to it.”