ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs are not making history this football season by opening with Clemson and South Carolina.
Georgia did the same thing in 2002, when the Bulldogs won their first Southeastern Conference championship in 20 years. What is different is that the Palmetto State pair combined for 22 wins last season and that South Carolina has opened at No. 7 and Clemson at No. 8 in the USA Today preseason poll.
In 2002, the Gamecocks and Tigers combined to go 12-13.
"These are the games we came to Georgia to play," Bulldogs senior guard Chris Burnette said. "When you play in the SEC, you always look forward to playing against top-level competition, and when we can go outside the conference to play a big game to start the season off, it's always exciting."
The Bulldogs had difficult opening duos in 2005 and 2011, when they faced Boise State and South Carolina, and their '09 schedule contained an inaugural six-pack of Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona State, LSU and Tennessee. Georgia got a 3-3 split out of that.
This season is the first time Georgia has started with consecutive top-10 teams.
"I think it's great, because the guys we have are all passionate," junior nose tackle Mike Thornton said. "Everybody wants to make plays, and that's the good thing about the defense we have. A lot of guys are not set in their ways. They just want to go out there and work hard and make plays."
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he and his staff develop a game plan for the first two opponents each year before they take their summer vacations. South Carolina has been among those first two teams in 11 of Richt's 13 seasons, with last year being a rare exception when the Bulldogs opened with Buffalo and Missouri.
"It's very typical for us to have the first two game-planned and ready to go, and they are based on last year," Richt said. "By the time game three rolls around, you are going to have enough new information. You might plan all summer for games three and four, but by the time you get there that information might not be worth a darn."
The Bulldogs finished the camp portion of their preseason workouts last week and scrimmaged for the second time Wednesday night. Next Wednesday night, the first- and second-teamers will face the scout team, which has a primary purpose of mimicking quarterback Tajh Boyd, receiver Sammy Watkins and the rest of the Tigers.
Meaning their challenging start is getting quite close.
"I'm not concerned or fretting that we don't have an answer at any position across the board," Richt said. "I'm more curious to see how quickly the entire defense can jell and watch them perform. I have a pretty good taste of [tailbacks] Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall before we play a game. I'm going to get a pretty good taste of what our defense looks like before we play a game, but until you get in a game you really aren't sure how everybody is going to react under that type of game pressure.
"That's going to be the big thing: How are we going to react when things get heated up and things don't go our way? That's going to be a big question."
Odds and ends
Richt announced after Thursday's practice that fifth-year senior gaurd Austin Long, who never started but played in 13 games last season, is no longer on the team because of an academic issue. ... The Bulldogs practiced for two hours, and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo called it a "wasted day" after Wednesday's productive scrimmage. ... Freshman safety Tray Matthews returned to practice, but junior safety Corey Moore remained out.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...