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Georgia expects 'heated test' from Eagles

POSTED: September 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Rob Carr/The Associated Press

Georgia fan Mike Woods of Colbert, Ga., kisses Georgia player Jeff Owens after the Bulldogs defeated No. 5 Auburn 37-15 in a college football game in Auburn, Ala. No. 1 Georgia expects to be challenged by Georgia Southern in the two team's opener Saturday.

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ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Richt shouldn't have to bring up Appalachian State when warning his No. 1 team about the danger of opening against Georgia Southern on Saturday.

The Mountaineers, who compete with Georgia Southern in the Southern Conference, rocked college football by beating No. 5 Michigan in an opener last year.

Later that season, Georgia Southern won at Appalachian State.

"That gets my attention," Richt said.

And if that doesn't get the Bulldogs' attention, he can just remind them what happened four years ago.

Georgia was No. 3 in the preseason poll and coming off an 11-win season when it opened against in-state little brother Georgia Southern in what may have looked like an easy win.

The reality was different. Georgia won 48-28, but Richt had to rush his starters back in the game after Georgia Southern, which rushed for 294 yards, scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to trail by only 13 points.

Georgia returns quarterback Matthew Stafford, tailback Knowshon Moreno and nine defensive starters from the team that finished 11-2 by winning its last seven games last season, including four over ranked opponents.

Stafford wears No. 7, but he'll share the spotlight with another No. 7 in red. Georgia's new mascot, Uga VII, will be introduced before the game. Uga VI died this summer.

The expected real challenges to Georgia's top ranking are expected to come next month, when the Bulldogs play Arizona State and South Carolina in back-to-back road games, followed by home games against Alabama and Tennessee. More tests, including back-to-back games at LSU and against Florida in Jacksonville, come later.

But Georgia Southern?

There's something about high school teammates and rivals being brought back together that seem to blur the lines between Georgia, the BCS conference power, and Georgia Southern, the Championship Subdivision team.

"We have a high level of respect for Georgia Southern," Richt said. "Most of their kids are from in-state, just as ours are. We think it will be a pretty heated rivalry. A great majority of our Georgia guys have high school teammates on their team."

Georgia Southern ranks first in the Football Championship Subdivision with 38 playoff appearances and six national championships, but this is expected to be a rebuilding year for coach Chris Hatcher. The Eagles lost quarterback Jayson Foster, the Walter Payton Award winner, and will break in five new offensive linemen against Georgia.

Foster rushed for 1,844 yards to set an NCAA record for quarterbacks as Georgia Southern finished 7-4 in Hatcher's first season following a 3-8 record in 2006.

Hatcher said 17 of his 22 players on his two-deep depth chart on offense will be playing their first games for Georgia Southern.

"I don't know how they're going to react, if we were playing in front of 92,000 or in front of 4,000," Hatcher said. "I just don't know. I wish I did. I sure would sleep better at night."

Hatcher said he might have a pregame coin toss to pick a starting quarterback between Ohio State transfer Antonio Henton and Lee Chapple, a redshirt freshman. The center is Georgia Tech transfer Trey Dunmon.

Georgia also had to recast its offensive line after losing left tackle Trinton Sturdivant to a season-ending knee injury and guard Clint Boling to a one-game suspension imposed by Richt. Chris Davis, who moved from guard to center, is the only remaining starter back from last year's line.

Richt says the line is a "huge concern." One of the new starters is freshman right guard Cordy Glenn. The new left tackle is sophomore Kiante Tripp, a converted defensive lineman.

If the line can overcome the loss of Sturdivant, the offense should be strong. Moreno rushed for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, and Stafford enters his third year as a starter.

Richt says he's not worried about how his team has handled the attention that has accompanied the program's first preseason No. 1 ranking.

Richt said his players handled the attention "pretty well."

"Is it a good thing? It's good if we stay there, if we're there at the end," Richt said.

"I would have to think it's a motivating factor for our guys and an excitement factor for our guys to feel like people believe that about our program, but it's going to be up for judgment every week from this week forward.

"I guess it's been good while it lasted."



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