Mark Richt and Aaron Murray aren’t gluttons for punishment.
(AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto)
Aaron Murray on the field during the first day of the University of Georgia football practice in Athens, Ga., August 1, 2013.
The final seconds of the Southeastern Conference championship game may live in infamy in Georgia football lore, but the entire 60 minutes is something that even filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese would find gripping.
So days before Georgia began practicing for its 2013 season, both Murray and Richt looked back to 2012 and tuned in to a rebroadcast of the game voted the best in college football last season.
The Bulldogs now want to rewrite the ending.
The 32-28 loss to Alabama remains in the back of the minds of these Bulldogs who remember how close they got to the program’s first BCS title game and a shot at Georgia’s first national title since 1980.
“We’ve got a burning feeling,” tailback Keith Marshall said.
“When you get close to something, it certainly makes guys feel like, ‘Wow. Why not? Why not Georgia?’” said Richt, entering his 13th season.
The Bulldogs, coming off a 12-2 performance, aren’t hiding their big goal.
“We want to be in the national championship game,” tight end Arthur Lynch said.
“There’s only so much you can say, and most people don’t like talking about it because we like to show. But it’s going to be a great ride,” cornerback Sheldon Dawson said. “We’re trying to get to Pasadena. That’s what our mind is focused on. We don’t want to limit ourselves and just stop at the SEC championship. The ultimate goal is to win it all.”
In a glitzy YouTube video put out by Georgia, junior receiver Chris Conley put it this way: “We can’t do anything about last year. We can only live in the now and that makes us focus on our one goal and that’s Pasadena. … We have one dream and that’s making it to the national championship in Pasadena.”
The SEC has won seven consecutive BCS national titles, starting in the 2006 season.
Georgia hasn’t joined the party, even though the Bulldogs have the most SEC title game appearances of an East team — five since 2002. Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina have combined for six.
The Bulldogs last won the SEC title eight years ago.
“It would mean the world,” Lynch said. “We haven’t won it since 2005.”
Georgia won it in 2002 and 2005. The program trended downward after a Sugar Bowl win in the 2007 season, but the Bulldogs have now won 10 and 12 games the past two seasons.
“Coach Richt is going to always win 10 or 11 games,” said Fred Gibson, a wide receiver on that 2002 team. “That’s just Georgia. It’s consistent. We’ve just got to turn it around and win that big game.”
Even in the Alabama loss, which ended with the clock running out after quarterback Murray’s pass was deflected and caught at the 5-yard line by Conley, the Bulldogs were viewed as having gone toe-to-toe with a team that won its third national championship in four years.
“All men want to be respected,” Richt said. “I think our players earned more respect on that day. People are still talking about that game. Everywhere I go, not just in the South. So I’m proud of their effort.”
For the record, Murray admits he may have been embellishing just a bit when he’s said in July that he thinks about the SEC title game loss every night.
“Most nights,” he says, coming clean. “About four nights out of the week.”
Murray said he watched the game six times, including the rebroadcast that aired in July.
Richt said he watched the game film after the Alabama game and has seen the TV broadcast twice.
“Somewhere along the way you’ve got to let go of it. You’ve got to move on,” Richt told Bulldogs fans in Duluth in July. “My mom watched it last night and she called me. She’s still crying and everything.”
Later, Richt said his mother does get emotional about “the Dogs.”
Asked if he cried about it, Richt said: “Nah, nah.”
Georgia would love nothing better than to have tears of joy after this season.
Georgia players aren’t the only ones who see the Bulldogs as legit BCS title contenders.
Georgia was the third most popular response to the question of “Who will win the BCS title this year?” in an ESPN magazine survey of 92 college football players. Of course, Alabama got a whopping 57 percent and Ohio State 17 with Georgia at 10.
Georgia lost seven players off its defense that were taken in the NFL draft but returns nearly its entire offensive lineup, led by Murray.
“I think we’ve got enough of a talent base to get it done,” Richt said. “We’ve just got to get everybody going in the right direction and playing hard and hopefully staying healthy.”
Said offensive guard Chris Burnette: “The past two years I feel like we’ve tried to get it back on track to where we’ve shown the country that we are a team that is going to be in the championship mix.”
It begins Saturday at Clemson in a much-anticipated top-10 matchup.
“We’ve hit reset,” Murray said. “We’ve tried not to talk about last season at all. It’s over with. We’re just excited about this year and this team. We’ve worked out tails off and we’re ready to go.”
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