Josh Kendall

Georgia at top of underachievers

Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt talks to reporters during SEC media days at the Wynfrey Hotel.
Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt talks to reporters during SEC media days at the Wynfrey Hotel. USA TODAY Sports

Georgia was picked to win the SEC East here Thursday. No one is surprised. No one is particularly worried, either.

The Bulldogs have a fearsome roster on paper. In the flesh-and-blood world, they have the aroma of underachievement.

“I definitely think this is the year it needs to get done,” Georgia senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I know in past seasons everybody has always said, ‘This is the year.’ Well, this is the year it has to be done.”

Everybody in Athens knows the talk that surrounds their team, even though head coach Mark Richt acted like he didn’t.

“I didn’t know I got criticism,” he said with a grin.

He then relayed a message he got when he first joined Bobby Bowden’s staff at Florida State more than 30 years ago.

“He said, ‘It's just the nature of the beast in the profession. If you can't take criticism, then you shouldn't coach,’” Richt said. “I think anybody who's in a leadership role is going to get critiqued. People are going to have opinions. I don't worry about anything, whether it's good or bad.”

The players are less able to tune it out.

“We are tired of it,” Jenkins said. “I know fans are tired of us making it all the way to right before that ceiling and then falling back down. That’s something as a team that we have thought about, and we have taken it upon ourselves that we have to keep working and keep grinding.”

Richt’s overall success in Athens has been remarkable. He’s won 136 games and will enter the SEC’s top 10 all-time in conference wins with one more. His 68 percent winning rate in conference games is the 12th-best in history. The Bulldogs have finished in the top three of the SEC East each of the past 10 years. They’ve won the division four times in that span. He has won two overall conference titles, one in 2002 and one in 2005.

His devil has been in the details. An inexplicable loss to Florida a year ago, dropping four of the last five to South Carolina, never quite seeming to be able to get over the hump in the last decade.

Georgia has been picked to win the SEC once in the last 20 years of predictions at this event. That was in 2004. Tennessee won the league that year. This year, the Bulldogs are expected to finish ahead of Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, in that order, in the division.

The Bulldogs look well-prepared to fulfill the faith people have in them this year. Sophomore running back Nick Chubb is the best player in the conference and maybe the best in the country. Athlon Sports believes the Bulldogs have the best group of running backs, offensive linemen and linebackers in the country. Those are pretty good building blocks.

“I’m very excited about this team, this program,” Richt said.

The Bulldogs need to finish the drill this year to make get Richt’s constituents equally excited.

“The goal it to get back to Atlanta. The goal is to get there and win it when you get there,” Richt said. “Our focus is on the process again. Our focus isn't on getting there as much as what do we have to do on a daily basis to earn the right for victory? That's what the guys have been doing throughout the off-season, the spring and the summer workouts.”

But what about the fall? That’s been the problem in Athens.