|Tavarres King says the Bulldogs won't be happy just getting back to the SEC title game. (US Presswire)|
HOOVER, Ala. -- At last year's Southeastern Conference media days, Georgia coach Mark Richt and the Bulldogs talked about wanting to get off to a quick start and erase the memories of 2010's 6-7 season.
They also spoke about the importance of beating a team from the Mountain West Conference -- yes a non-AQ league -- to restore the Bulldogs' reputation and return them to national relevance.
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This year, the Bulldogs came to SEC media days with a much different outlook and loftier goals. Instead of having to worry about saving Richt's job -- they did, with Richt earning an extension in June through 2016 -- the Bulldogs have a much different outlook entering this season than a year ago.
"We played in the SEC championship game last year," Georgia wide receiver Tavarres King said. "We still don't know what it's like to win it, but that's why everyone came back -- to win a national championship."
Georgia openly discussing a national championship? What is this, the 1980's?
While LSU and Alabama, the SEC's West dynamic duo, are the prohibitive favorites to bring the SEC a seventh consecutive BCS national title, the Bulldogs were picked by the league's media to win the SEC East.
"I hope the media is right this time," Richt said.
Even one media member was brave/dumb enough to rank the Bulldogs No. 3 in the nation in his way-too-early preseason Top 25 rankings back in January.
Yes, I really think the Bulldogs can be that good.
The schedule is manageable: Georgia avoids Alabama and LSU although the Bulldogs do have tricky road games at Missouri and South Carolina.
The Bulldogs return a ton from last year's 10-4 team, including quarterback Aaron Murray and linebacker Jarvis Jones. They had 10 players consider leaving early for the NFL Draft, and nine of 10 returned to Athens (tight end Orson Charles was the lone defector, and was drafted in the fourth round by the Cincinnati Bengals).
"That bodes well for the leadership of this team," Richt said. "I think it was good for those guys to go through the process of thinking, 'Should I stay? Should I go?' They got a chance to talk to family members, pastors, friends, got to really decide. 'Do I really want to be here or not? If I do want to be here, what are my goals?'
"I think it was very, very exciting for Georgia the day all those guys decided to stay. They've been working their tails off. I think that's another reason I'm optimistic for this year."
While the majority of NFL-caliber players decided to return, Richt has had some turnover on the roster. Georgia has lost nine players since last year to transfers and dismissals.
They've lost at least five starters, including the dismissal of heralded freshman running back Isaiah Crowell after his arrest on felony gun charges.
Also four defensive starters are suspended: cornerback Sanders Commings (two games after arrest for domestic violence) and safety Baccari Rambo, cornerback Branden Smith and linebacker Alexander Ogletree all reportedly failed drug tests.
"People are human, people make mistakes," Richt said. "When they do, you discipline it. Some people have policies that bring certain things to light and some people don't.
"So the bottom line is, you know, I love every guy on our team. Part of love is to be able to help teach them right from wrong. When they make mistakes, you need to discipline them in such a way that hopefully they'll become better men down the road.
"That's what we do at Georgia. To say that issues aren't happening around the country isn't really realistic."
The Bulldogs say last year's strong finish -- reeling off 10 consecutive wins after starting 0-2 -- gave the Bulldogs a different and more confident attitude this summer, Georgia defensive end Abry Jones said.
"We were more determined," Abry Jones said.
Now the Bulldogs no longer are worrying about competing against a non-AQ school, but have their sights set on something much bigger: an SEC title. And Jones prefers it that way.
"My preference is to have the higher expectations," Jones said. "I know we've put the work in."