Georgia is an overwhelming favorite to dethrone Missouri and claim the SEC East division crown based on SEC Media Days polling, but the Bulldogs have been here before.
Coach Mark Richt’s squad was a heavy favorite in 2013 as well before the Tigers’ breakthrough between the hedges on Gary Pinkel and company’s first march to Atlanta.
Georgia played second fiddle to Missouri again last season despite a 34-0 romp at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s always hard when we’re not there,” senior wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “Our goal every season is to make sure that we’re there (in the SEC title game). Not to reach that goal is heartbreaking.”
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The Bulldogs believe 2015 is the year they avoid any nagging hiccups — like last season’s shocking loss to Florida — and return to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2012.
“We’ve changed the overall attitudes of the program this past offseason,” senior linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “It’s just not in us to let that happen. We respect every team. Some of the things coach Richt instills in us, it’s coming into fruition. It’s different. We have a different mindset and we’re more mature mentally.”
Speaking on Thursday at SEC Media Days, Richt said he has seen it, too.
“I’m very excited about this team, this program,” said Richt, who is entering his 15th season and is tied with Pinkel as the longest-tenured coach in the SEC. “Our guys have been working extremely hard. The rules have changed a little bit where you can make some things mandatory throughout the summer. There’s certain things that we can do now and view now that we weren’t able to do in the past. I know that these guys have been paying the price for the ability to compete in the best league in America.”
Georgia remains unsettled at quarterback.
Sophomore Brice Ramsey is expected to win the job, but he’s being pushed by junior Faton Bauta.
Former Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert also plans to transfer to Georgia and, as a graduate student, should join the competitive mix in time for fall camp.
Whoever ultimately wins the job inherits the weight of an expected return to the Georgia Dome on the first Saturday in December.
The first step, though, is taking down surprising SEC East bully Missouri, which has eyes for a three-peat.
“Obviously, you’ve got to win the East,” Richt said. “That’s all there is to it. We’re going to play eight games in league play, and most of them within the Eastern Division. Those head-to-head matchups are crucially important.”
Missouri at Georgia on Oct. 17 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., will be a critical game in regards to how the division title sifts out.
“It’s become a huge game in our league,” Georgia senior offensive tackle John Theus said.
And there’s no chance the Bulldogs take the Tigers lightly this time around.
“Two years ago, I don’t think anybody thought that we were going to lose to (Missouri),” Jenkins said. “A lot of the guys were remembering the 2012 game against them and thinking it was the same team from that season. They’re the little brothers of the SEC. We’re going to come in, dominate, clock in, clock out and leave. As that game went on, we quickly realized that was a mistake we shouldn’t have made.”