Posted: Thursday, July 19th 2012 at 11:33am
Opinion: Georgia's season could swing on first trip to Columbia
By Morgan Lee Editor
Mark Richt will take his turn at the podium today for the annual preseason football feast that is SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
As he does so it seems that excitement is already building for the Bulldogs’ SEC opener -- a game in which they welcome newcomers Missouri into the conference by traveling to take on the Tigers on Sept. 8 in Columbia.
Judging by the statements of Missouri players and coach Gary Pinkel during their appearance earlier in the week the anticipation is already building around the Tigers’ program for their first shot at an SEC foe.
“People act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams,” said Pinkel, whose program will transition from the Big 12. “We've played in a pretty big league.”
Yet as much as the Tigers want to make a statement about their ability to play in a conference that has produced the last six national title winners it appears as though the showdown could provide just as big a platform for the visitors.
At least it should.
If the Bulldogs are to truly show that they have regained a foothold in the race for conference relevancy -- let alone supremacy -- they absolutely must win this game.
Lose in Columbia and all the momentum of last year’s 10-game win streak that swept Georgia back into the SEC title game will vanish -- to be replaced by the unpleasant memories of recent early-season setbacks that have doomed the Bulldogs to mediocrity, including last year’s season-opening loss to Boise State in the Georgia Dome, 2010’s 17-6 defeat at South Carolina and 2009’s 24-10 loss at Oklahoma State.
In fact Georgia has not opened a campaign with two straight wins -- which a victory over Missouri would almost assuredly provide considering the season-opener comes at home to Buffalo -- since 2008 when the preseason No. 1-ranked Bulldogs began 4-0 only to be battered at home by Alabama. It was a defeat that did plenty of damage to the Bulldogs’ image both nationally and regionally.
In fact it seems as though Georgia is still trying to exorcise the demons of that night in Sanford Stadium as they bid to return to the SEC elite -- a position the Bulldogs occupied for most of Richt’s first seven years in Athens but have not truly reached since the close of the fall of 2007 when Georgia finished ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Last year’s campaign certainly restored a sense that things are back on the right track in the Bulldog nation, but there was and is plenty of talk amongst the media, opposing fans, some Georgia fans and even one opposing coach that much of that hay was made against a “soft” schedule (South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier was still obsessing over what he feels is unfair scheduling earlier this week).
The Bulldogs should have the talent to deny the Tigers in their conference opener, but it is by no means a sure thing.
Should Georgia hold on for the win, however, things will begin to look very rosy indeed for those in Red and Black, who will begin to set their sites on another trip to Columbia -- this one in South Carolina on Oct. 6. There will be other key games between, yet a win at Missouri could provide a springboard for a team that features plenty of talent and experience on defense and quarterback (the offensive line could be the key question).
Win both trips to Columbia and that “elite” word may not be confined to recent memories.
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