Georgia is dispensing with the catchy slogans this time around.
during football practice at the University of Georgia on Friday, August 1, 2014, in Athens, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto)
That means there’s no “Focused on the Final Four,” or “Playing for the Playoff.”
When the Bulldogs’ seniors got together this offseason, they decided to ditch branding the 2014 season with a mantra heading into the era of the four-team College Football Playoff.
“We talked as seniors that we didn’t want one,” said center David Andrews, entering his third year as a starter. “All of that stuff doesn’t matter. Just go out and win and take care of your business.”
Their “One Dream,” last season fell far short of a BCS national title game trip.
A boatload of injuries contributed to the Bulldogs going 8-5 and ending the season on a soggy field in Jacksonville losing to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Georgia won a bunch of games under coach Mark Richt during the BCS era but never quite reached the biggest game.
The Bulldogs finished third in the BCS standings in 2002 and fifth in 2007.
How would a selection committee have viewed the Bulldogs in 2012 when Georgia fell five yards short of beating eventual national champion Alabama in the SEC championship game?
Georgia certainly would have seemed to have been in final four consideration at least a couple of times if a playoff had been place.
“We’ve been that close, we’ve just got to get over that hump,” senior receiver Michael Bennett said.
“Yeah, we might have got in it a couple of times through the years, maybe two or three years,” Richt said. “I don’t know. I just think it doubles the chance of getting in, right? A higher percentage chance of getting in the big game.”
Georgia will shoot to get to Atlanta for the SEC title game, but the ultimate destinations are the Jan. 1 semifinal games at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., with the winners moving on to championship game Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
“I guess it’s just like the NCAA tournament for basketball, just get in the dance,” Bennett said. “That’s only the top four teams. You’ve got to be really good to get in the top four teams. Really, every game still counts.”
Winning the Southeastern Conference title should all but assure being in the playoff four.
“I think you can probably not even make it to the SEC game and be in the top four as well,” Richt said. “The ultimate goal is to win the national championship. Absolutely, every year that’s our goal, that’s what we want to accomplish. It has been a while. When we first won (the SEC) in 2002 it was 20 years since Georgia had won it. We won one three years later and we’ve been back to it two or three times after that. We’ve been in the game enough time to win it in the last few years but were not able to get it done. We want to get it done for sure.”
Richt is 126-45 entering his 14th season, a winning percentage that ranks fourth among active coaches behind Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Nick Saban for those who have coached at least 100 games
Yet he coaches in a conference that won seven straight BCS national titles before last season.
When he made an appearance on Atlanta radio station 92.9 The Game at SEC Media Days, Richt was asked when Georgia would get to the level of playing for the national title under him.
“Well, how about this year?” Richt responded. “OK. There you go. Sounds like a good plan.”
Weeks later, a caller identified as “David from Athens” on Paul Finebaum’s show on the new SEC Network told the host that it was national title or bust in his mind, and that “if we can’t do it this year, Mark Richt needs to be fired.”
Finebaum, who has been tough on Richt in the past, quickly put the brakes on that, saying “he’s one of the best coaches in the league.”
The caller told Finebaum that anybody can come in and win 10 games at Georgia.
Richt has done it eight times. Before he arrived, it was done just twice between 1984 and 2000 (with one less regular season game).
That didn’t happen last year when the Bulldogs were hit hard by injuries to top skill-position players on offense.
Tailback Todd Gurley sensed the season was coming apart at Tennessee on Oct. 5 even though the Bulldogs escaped with an overtime win.
Gurley (ankle) and Malcolm Mitchell (knee) were already sidelined at that point, and tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley were lost with season-ending knee injuries and Bennett would miss the next two games with a knee injury.
“It was like `Aw, man. It’s going to be a long year,” Gurley said. “It impacted us a lot but we don’t make any excuses for nothing. This year hopefully we stay healthy and are able to show the world what we can do.”
These Bulldogs may be starting ranked 12th in the AP and coaches’ polls, but they think they have the stuff to be there at the end.
“Oh, yeah,” Bennett said. “What do you think? I think we do. I think we’ve got it.”
“This team has all the pieces,” senior receiver Chris Conley said. “You can see it out at practice, you can see that talent. You can see the coaching. Now it’s up to us to put those two things together and play a great season.”
Said outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins: “We all have the same mindset. We all want to make it to championship, make it to the first playoff in (major college football) history. We all have the mindset to get it to the next level.”