2nd Straight Sugar Bowl is a possibility

Mark Richt

ATHENS - Georgia coach Mark Richt was only slightly surprised Sunday when the first two questions of his weekly news conference centered around the Bulldogs' lofty new ranking rather than this week's matchup with Vanderbilt.

"So that's what everybody's talking about, huh?" Mark Richt said.

What else? Thanks to Saturday's 41-14 whipping of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., the Bulldogs moved to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25. Georgia is the highest ranked one-loss team in the country and back on the fringe of the national championship picture.

"I'm sure where we're ranked will get (the players) excited about the possibilities down the road," Richt acknowledged. "We're excited about where we are right now, but the thing that is the most important to us is winning the (SEC) East. That's the only thing we can really control."

Georgia (5-1, 3-1 SEC) now has a one-game lead over Tennessee and Florida in the Eastern Division. The Volunteers fell to No. 21 after the loss. The Bulldogs could lose one more league game, provided its not to the Gators, and still be guaranteed the division title. If they don't lose any more games, they could find themselves playing in the Sugar Bowl for the second year in a row. This year, the Sugar Bowl will determine the BCS national champion.

Two of the teams ranked ahead of Georgia -- No. 2 Miami and No. 3 Virginia Tech -- play in Blacksburg, Va., on Nov. 1 so one of them presumably would fall behind a Georgia team that won the remainder of its games. After that, the Bulldogs would need some help to break into the BCS top two. The first BCS rankings will be released on Oct. 20.

All that is too much for Richt and Georgia to think about, though, Richt said. His toughest job the next two weeks will be keeping his team focused on 1-6 Vanderbilt and UAB. The Bulldogs play the Commodores at 2 p.m. Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.

"I've seen too many bad things happen when you look too far down the road," Richt said. "I think earlier in the year we looked too far down the road and talked about our long-term goals rather than our short-term goals."

Richt was perfectly willing to talk about the win over the Volunteers, which he said stood alongside last year's SEC title game and Georgia Tech game as the best the Bulldogs have played in his two-plus years of coaching. It was the second-most points Georgia had ever scored against the Volunteers.

"This Tennessee game was a turning point for our season," he said. "One of the Tennessee players said it was do-or-die, and it just about was. It just means a lot because we are finding a way to win the big games and we're gaining confidence in or ability to win any game we play."

Keeping the Bulldogs motivated and focused on each game should be easy now that there's so much riding on each game, Richt said.

"This kind of game gets guys excited," he said. "It would have been a lot tougher to get them motivated if we had lost this game. It's very difficult to motivate once your primary goals are gone. Right now the goals we've set for ourselves are still very much alive."

"Now the excitement ought to be at all-time high for this season."

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