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The Times' college football countdown: No. 8 Georgia

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Georgia Coach Mark Richt has won 10 or more games seven times in 11 seasons, but he's never been able to win it all. This year, the Bulldogs could finally conquer the SEC, and, the nation.

August 21, 2012|Chris Dufresne

Winning 10 or more games seven times in 11 years only gets lonely if you are a Southeastern Conference coach named Mark Richt.

Fans should actually be thrilled they don't have their old coach, Jim Donnan, charged last week in a Ponzi scheme that drew the type of SEC attention that can put you behind bars.

Georgia football investors, though, are always looking for better returns.

Richt got everyone excited by going 13-1 his second year, 2002, but has since only delivered durable goods.

Last year's 10-4 mark looks good except all the wins were bracketed inside defeat couplets. Two at the start, two at the end.

Richt survived the year as he dodged social network experts calling for his job after opening losses to Boise State and South Carolina. The Bulldogs then won 10 straight, claimed the SEC East, and had a lead on Louisiana State before collapsing to a 42-10 loss.

Georgia closed the year with an Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State, a rare SEC setback against the Big Ten.

Georgia enters 2012 as a top-10 team with a chance to win it all.

"Bottom line is, the last six years, whoever won the league got to play for it," Richt said recently. "If you win the SEC you have a pretty good chance."

The players figure they'll let their play do the talking.

"Last year we ignored the negativity and all the bad talk about Georgia," junior quarterback Aaron Murray said. "This year we're going to ignore all the positive stuff."

The positive stuff starts with Murray, a junior quarterback who has accounted for 65 touchdowns — 59 passing, six rushing — in his first two years.

If he's not the best SEC quarterback, who is?

The issues at Georgia have been patch-working together an offensive line that can keep Murray upright. The Bulldogs must replace three starters from last year's unit but have a top prospect in freshman John Theus.

Georgia also forges on without what would have been their top returning rusher, Isaiah Crowell, a sophomore who was kicked off the team in June after a weapons arrest.

Crowell rushed for 850 yards as a freshman. Richard Samuel and Ken Malcome combined for 124 carries last year and incoming freshman Todd Gurley has looked great in camp as he looks to absorb some of Crowell's 185 runs.

"These guys are pretty talented too," Richt said. "There are a lot of talented running backs. Just look across America."

Georgia's defense is as solid as Stone Mountain, with 10 players returning from a unit that finished No. 5 nationally. The star is linebacker Jarvis Jones, a transfer from USC who had 19.5 tackles for losses last year, including 13.5 sacks.

For a second straight year, Georgia catches a huge break on the SEC schedule with misses against three league teams ranked in the preseason top 10: Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.

The most interesting early test will be a second-week trip to Missouri to christen another team nicknamed "Tigers" into the SEC. The only previous meeting between the schools was a Georgia 14-0 win in the 1959 Orange Bowl.

The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State; 15. Wisconsin; 14. Nebraska; 13. Arkansas; 12. West Virginia; 11. Florida State; 10. South Carolina; 9. Ohio State; 8. Georgia.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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