HOOVER, Ala. — As Georgia coach Mark Richt stood at the podium to address the media contingent at SEC media days Thursday morning, on the large projection screen to his left was a long list of his accomplishments.
Richt is about to enter his 10th season as the Bulldogs' coach with a 90-27 overall record, two SEC championships and two SEC coach of the year honors.
Yet by most accounts, Richt is on the hot seat.
Hard to understand? Not really, Richt said.
"I understand the business," Richt said. "I understand how things go. So I don't worry about it. My goal is to focus on the important things and the things I can control. That's what I focus on. Then the things I can't control I just trust the Lord with that. That's kind of how I've been operating since 1986."
Richt and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier each enter the 2010 season with programs at the crossroads.
It has been five years since Georgia won an SEC championship, and the Bulldogs are 2-8 vs. Florida this decade. With a new quarterback in former Plant High standout Aaron Murray, most national preseason magazines have Georgia finishing second or third in the SEC East. Spurrier, 65, is entering his sixth season with the Gamecocks having compiled a 35-28 record. But the Gamecocks never have won more than seven games under Spurrier, and he admits it's time for the program to become more competitive in the SEC. He believes that time is now.
"We have belief and hope that our best days are ahead of us," he said. "I wanted to mention that because we do believe we're heading in the right direction, and hopefully real soon we can get over those seven wins and get up in there and be more competitive."
South Carolina returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense, including Jefferson High grad Stephen Garcia who was 239-of-432 for 2,862 yards and 17 touchdowns.
South Carolina's schedule is ranked No. 4 in the nation, but Gamecocks players said that's no excuse for underachieving.
"To be honest, we want to win them all," senior defensive lineman Cliff Matthews said. "Before, around here it was let's win a couple of games, win a bowl game. That's out of the equation now. We want to win big. We have everything we need. Everything is there for us to do it. We're tired of being average."
Georgia's biggest question mark will be on defense where the Bulldogs have a new coordinator, Todd Grantham, and no real certainty as to how its defense is going to jell.
But Richt said that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"There's an energy that we have this offseason that we probably haven't had in a while, quite frankly," he said. "Some of it has to do with some of the changes we made. I know defensively there are a lot of our young men wondering how it's going to go. We have coaches and fans wondering how it's going to go. That's an exciting thing for us, too. I think it's a good thing. It's provided a lot of energy and excitement."
The low outside expectations might actually work in their favor, Georgia players said. But with 10 returning starters on offense, they expect to catch many by surprise.
"I'm going to tell you, we're hungry," receiver A.J. Green said. "A lot of people are counting us out. I believe it's good for us with a young quarterback just to fly under the radar, really don't put him in a lot of pressure that he has to do too much. I believe that we're going to open a lot of eyes coming into September, going towards the end of the season. This team is really going to be special."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3389.