Bulldogs open preseason camp with high expectation

Georgia opened its preseason football camp Thursday under a bright sun and the heat of high expectations.

The Bulldogs found out shortly before they jogged onto Woodruff Practice Fields they had been voted No. 5 in the USA Today/Coaches’ preseason Top 25 poll. But any notion that that was an overly optimistic prediction was erased by coach Mark Richt’s admission that he ranked Georgia fifth in his own preseason poll.

“I think that’s where we are on mine,” Richt said during UGA’s preseason news conference Thursday. “We’re five or six on mine because that’s what everybody else was saying.”

In formulating his own poll, Richt said he consults with Claude Felton, UGA’s senior associate athletic director for sports communications, and checks for a consensus among the many summer preseason rankings on the Internet. “I’ll start with that, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

The No. 5 ranking in the coaches’ poll is the highest for Georgia in the preseason since it was picked No. 1 in both the coaches and Associated Press polls in 2008. The Bulldogs were picked sixth in both polls before last season, then finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the the AP and coaches’ final rankings.

The high ranking highlights the general belief that Georgia will be pretty good this season. The Bulldogs, who are coming off a 12-2 season, played in the past two SEC Championship games and were predicted at SEC Media Days last month to play in the next one.

Meanwhile, there also are great expectations for many of Georgia’s opponents. Clemson, the season-opening opponent, was picked No. 8. South Carolina, the Bulldogs’ Week 2 opponent, was picked seventh. Two other teams on Georgia’s schedule, No. 10 Florida and No. 13 LSU, were included in the poll.

Georgia will face three of those four in the first four games of the season.

“Any year everything is on the line in the first month,” Richt said. “They are all really, really big.”

Knowing that doesn’t hurt when it comes to preparation. Many Georgia players said this was the best-conditioned, best-prepared team they’ve been a part of heading into camp. Thursday’s practice was the first of 29 in the preseason.

“The past two summers have been the best summers I’ve been here, and I’ve been here five,” senior tight end Arthur Lynch said. “I think that has to do with the accountability this program puts on individual leaders. … We’re physically ready to go. We’re young in some areas, but it’s nothing we can’t make up for with practice and hard work.”

Reaction to the preseason ranking varied among players. Some embraced it; others chose to ignore it.

“I don’t care,” junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “I wouldn’t care if we weren’t ranked. If you win out, you have to go to the national championship. People will just put a bull’s eye on your back. They want to beat you and take your spot. That’s all that ranking does.”

Said senior defensive end Garrison Smith: “I feel good about it. I’m thankful that coaches think highly of us like that. But at the same time, rankings don’t really mean anything until you actually go out and play. That’s when I’ll be happy, when the season goes on, and we actually earn our ranking. That’s when it’s going to matter.”