The Times’ annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 10.
You could have won money in 2002 betting a Georgia fan his school would, one day, be looking up at Missouri in the Southeastern Conference standings.
Georgia went 13-1 that year in the SEC, while Missouri finished 5-7 in the Big 12.
The world has changed a lot since then . . . for Missouri. The Tigers joined the SEC in 2012 and, acting like it was no big deal, won the SEC East in 2013 and 2014.
Georgia, um, also resides in that division.
Nothing much has changed in Athens. The Bulldogs are coached by the same man, Mark Richt, entering his 15th season.
Georgia continues to average 10 wins a season while falling short of the annual, ballyhooed expectations. The Bulldogs haven’t claimed the SEC since 2005 and remain the best team in college football, maybe outside of Oregon, not to win a national title in the BCS era.
So here we go again: Georgia is loaded, bow to stern, and appears poised to make a run at the four-team playoff.
Don’t we say that every year?
The Bulldogs return everyone on offense except at the critical positions, quarterback and center.
The fight for quarterback has been a three-man merry-go-round in training camp involving Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert.
Richt recently said the battle “could go all the way to the first game,” the Sept. 5 opener at home against Louisiana Monroe.
There will be no bake-off at running back, where Nick Chubb returns as a Heisman Trophy candidate after a remarkable freshman season.
Chubb, forced into full-time action after star Todd Gurley was injured, was a human cannonball in rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns.
With a backfield decimated by injuries, Chubb had to carry most of the load last year. And while Gurley has moved on, Chubb should get support this year from Keith Marshall and Sony Michel.
Richt doesn’t want Chubb to have to do it all. He and Brian Schottenheimer, the new offensive coordinator, will be looking for a more balanced attack.
“I don’t want a guy to carry 35 times a game his whole career and all season long,” Richt said. “We want to share the load.”
Nothing much has changed with Richt, who has gone 136-48 at Georgia while sidestepping the usual grumbling that trails SEC coaches who fail to win naitonal titles.
“People have said some good things over the years, too,” Richt pointed out this summer.
This could be the year Georgia pushes past Missouri to win the SEC East. The Bulldogs clobbered the Tigers, 34-0, in Columbia last season, but still lost the division.
Georgia’s season could be subtitled “Four Games in October.” The Bulldogs open the month at home against Alabama, play at Tennessee the next week, then return home for Missouri before the annual “cocktail party” game against Florida on Halloween.
Georgia closes the regular season trying to avenge last year’s bitter overtime loss to state rival Georgia Tech.
Richt said he doesn’t have time to reflect on all the outside noise that rattles the walls.
“You just go,” he said. “You just work. You just prepare.”
Top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee. 19. Boise State; 18. Oklahoma; 17. Notre Dame; 16. Wisconsin; 15. Georgia Tech; 14. UCLA; 13. Arizona; 12. Florida State; 11. Arizona State.