When some were jumping ship following an 0-2 start this season, Georgia coach Mark Richt wasn’t giving up on his team or its chances of playing meaningful Southeastern Conference games in November.
“I think the Eastern Division is going to be decided way down the road, and I think we’re going to be right in the middle of it,” Richt said in the wake of a 45-42 loss to South Carolina on Sept. 10. “I think everybody needs to wait and see what happens because I think we’re going to become an outstanding football team before it’s over.”
Lo and behold, Georgia can become SEC East champion by beating 29 1/2-point underdog Kentucky on Saturday in Sanford Stadium after the Bulldogs thumped Auburn 45-7.
Going from 0-2 to the SEC championship game would be unprecedented.
None of the 38 other teams that have played in the game since its inception in 1992 have started in such a hole. Only five had even started their seasons 1-1.
Georgia stormed back despite negativity swirling around after losses to ranked opponents Boise State and the Gamecocks.
“After starting 0-2, if we listened to all that stuff we would have gone in the tank, we would have fizzled out,” tight end Aron White said. “That’s not something that we do. That’s not the type of team that we have. We built a lot of respect for ourselves, a lot of pride in our program this past offseason. Even though we started 0-2, we never stopped believing. Right now we can get to a point where we can demand respect.”
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity was traveling to Florida on Monday to speak to the Jacksonville Quarterback Club with question’s about Richt’s job security having quieted as the Bulldogs have built their eight-game winning streak.
“When you’re winning it obviously calms the waters,” McGarity said. “Everybody loves to win.”
McGarity said he and Georgia president Michael Adams are in agreement that the focus now should be on Kentucky, not on Richt’s future.
“We’re on the same page there,” McGarity said. “There’s an appropriate time to talk about that and right now is not appropriate. All focus, like it has been the past 10 weeks, is on the next opponent. We’re not doing anything to stray from that focus.”
Asked if Georgia has begun talk on a contract extension with Richt, McGarity said: “You do that at the end of the year.” Richt is under contract through the end of the 2013 season.
A win over Kentucky would give the program its longest winning streak since 1982.
“I think everyone’s been extremely impressed with the way the team and the coaches have responded to win eight straight games,” McGarity said. “Of course the biggest game of the season is Saturday. I think everybody understands that we haven’t won anything yet. If we get ahead of ourselves, that’s when programs get in trouble, but I’m confident that Mark has dealt with that and that will not be an issue internally this weekend.”
Georgia routed Auburn to hold off South Carolina in the East race after the Gamecocks turned back Florida.
“You just feel good as a coach when you execute like that and your team enjoys a game like that and they start thinking that everything we put them through since January might have been worth it,” Richt said. “We worked their tails off.”
All that hard work in the offseason came after Georgia finished 6-7 in 2010, the Bulldogs
first losing season since 1996.
Georgia would become the first SEC East team ever to get to the league championship game the year after a losing season.
Three SEC West teams have done it: Arkansas in 1995 and 2006 and Auburn in 2000.
“We got Kentucky (this) week, we’re going to handle business,” safety Bacarri Rambo said, “go handle Georgia Tech and then we’re back in Atlanta where we want to be.”