The expectations around the University of Georgia football team are growing faster than the hedges that surround the field at Sanford Stadium.
Some preseason publications already anointing Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs as No. 1. When the first polls come out next month, they are expected to be a top-3 team — thanks in no small part to a seven-game winning streak, topped by a 41-10 whipping of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.
But before the Bulldogs, 11-2 in the 2007 campaign, get into a schedule that includes four straight Southeastern Conference road games and a trip to Arizona State, they will open the season at home against in-state foe Georgia Southern University.
It will be the fourth time the Eagles and Bulldogs have met. Georgia has won each of the first three with varying degrees of ease. Yet Richt, 2-0 against GSU, and the Bulldogs won’t look past the Football Championship Subdivision Eagles, especially given their own pedigree.
“We’re excited to play Georgia Southern,” Richt said. “Coach (Chris) Hatcher is a heckuva coach. The program has won six national championships. It doesn’t take long to get back into that winning mode when you have that leadership.”
Hatcher, ironically, led GSU to a 7-4 mark in 2007 a year after the program posted a 3-8 mark in 2006 in its only season under Richt’s former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
But Richt and the Bulldogs are aware of the target they carry, and not just on Aug. 30. They also host Central Michigan, two-time MAC champions, go on the road to South Carolina and Arizona State, return to Athens to play Alabama, Tennessee and Vanderbilt before their ominous four-game road swing. In successive weeks, the Bulldogs will go to LSU, the defending national champs, archrival Florida (in Jacksonville, Fla.), Kentucky and Auburn.
Richt doesn’t want to draw parallels between his 2008 opener and the first game of the 2007 season for Michigan, when the then-No. 5 ranked Wolverines lost at home to FCS champ Appalachian State.
But there are similarities between the Bulldogs’ first two opponents and Appalachian, he acknowledged.
“Teams that are used to winning are difficult to beat,” he said. “App showed that. Central Michigan is used to winning. Georgia Southern is used to winning.”