Around The SEC

Georgia prepares for early-season gauntlet

Georgia coach Mark Richt talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Georgia coach Mark Richt talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) AP

Thirteen SEC coaches came to the podium here this week with the upcoming football season looming. Mark Richt stepped up Thursday at SEC Media Days with it bearing down like a freight train.

The Bulldogs, who were selected Thursday by the media to win the SEC East, have the conference’s, and maybe the country’s, toughest first month of football. Georgia plays at Clemson on Aug. 31 and follows that immediately with a visit from South Carolina. After a break against North Texas on Sept. 21, the Bulldogs host LSU on Sept. 28.

“I told the team that we’re in a race and that’s to try to be in midseason form by Game 1,” said Richt, who is entering his 13th year as Georgia’s head coach. “That race started back in January. I think we are on track. We know it’s coming. We’ll be ready.”

“There is no easing into the season,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “It definitely has pushed us to work even harder in the weight room and conditioning and in the film room.”

The Bulldogs are completely focused on the Tigers, right now, Murray said, but he acknowledged that the Gamecocks’ visit will be special for him. The senior is 0-3 in the series.

“When the time comes for South Carolina, we will be ready to go and determined and excited,” Murray said.

Georgia finished 12-2 last year and won the SEC East despite a 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks.

“We were too stirred up for that game,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “I think we put too much into it. They were just more ready. They outplayed us. They were a better football team than us. There is not much more you can say except I am lucky I have another chance to play them. Hopefully, it’ll be a different outcome.”

The Bulldogs should be carried through the first month and most of the season by their offense, which lost only one starter (wide receiver Tavarres King). Murray, who threw for 3,893 yards last season and is expected to become the SEC’s all-time leading passer this season, will set the pace.

Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined to rush for 2,144 yards last year as freshmen. Both averaged more than 6 yards per carry, and Gurley scored 17 rushing touchdowns.

“Just the fact that we are talking about Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall coming back makes me feel good about our offense,” Richt said. “I think Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are poster boys for collegiate athletics. As far as their competition, I think both of them want to be considered the lead back but they came in knowing who they were and wanting to share the load.”

The defense is another matter. The Bulldogs lost eight defensive starters, including seven who were selected in April’s NFL Draft.

“I think our team is one that has a lot of questions, and because of the questions I think it has created a lot of excitement,” Richt said. “A lot of players are still fighting for a starting position. You could see it in our offseason conditioning, you could see it from spring ball. I know rolling into two-a-days there are a lot of questions that have to be answered, but I think we have the ingredients to answer those questions.”

Mark Richt - Georgia coach

Aaron Murray - Georgia QB