Dawgs out of AP for first time in ten years

ATHENS – Ray Gant doesn't think Georgia belongs to be tossed in with the dregs of college football's unranked.

Clearly, though, Gant doesn't get a vote because that's where the Bulldogs found themselves for the first time in five years on Sunday, one day after a 26-24 loss to Vanderbilt.

"I don't think we belong out of the 25, that's not this Georgia team," Gant said. "We've had a couple mishaps here and there, but this is a good team. This team is a great team."

Whether that last statement is confidence or delusion is immaterial. The facts are that Georgia has lost two straight games, has only a mathematical hope remaining of winning the Eastern Division and heads into Saturday's 1 p.m. game against Mississippi State needing to reinvent itself.

The MSU Bulldogs are 0-3 in the SEC and haven't beaten Georgia since 1974, but there are no more guarantees in Athens this year.

"They'll watch our tape and say, ‘We can beat these guys,'" Coach Mark Richt said Sunday. "They'll get excited."

Georgia (5-2, 2-2 SEC) will have right itself without tailback Thomas Brown. Richt confirmed Sunday that Brown tore his ACL on the opening kickoff return of the second half of the Vanderbilt game and will miss at least the remainder of this season.

Tight end Martrez Milner (toe), center Nick Jones (knee) and guard Chester Adams (ankle) also are doubtful for Saturday's game, which adds another degree of difficulty for a team with enough problems.

The Bulldogs probably will have a new starting quarterback behind their patchwork offensive line. True freshman Matthew Stafford replaced senior Joe Tereshinski against Vanderbilt and looked sharp.

Richt has made a decision about his starting quarterback but won't announce it until today, after he tells the players, he said.

"If they call me to play, I'm going to play," Stafford said, "and, if not, I'm going to help and encourage as much as possible."

Whoever is the quarterback will lead the first unranked Georgia team since the week of Sept. 30, 2001.

This is the first time the Bulldogs haven't been ranked this late in the season in a decade. The last October, November or December Top 25 Associated Press poll that didn't include Georgia was in 1996, Jim Donnan's first season. (The Bulldogs remain ranked in the coaches' poll, where they are No. 24.)

As troubling as the two consecutive losses are, the fact that one was to Vanderbilt is the most unnerving to the team's fans. Still, several players said after the game that hope remains for a turnaround.

"If we win out the rest of the year and we have two losses, what's it matter who they are to?" senior offensive tackle Daniel Inman said. "What we have to do is regroup as a team and look at our goals and see if everybody still wants to do that. If we do, then everybody needs to come together. I think this team can do it."

Georgia's problems, Inman said, are mostly mental.

"I think we can be as good as we want to be," he said. "Whenever we decide we want to go out there and have 500 yards of total offense is when we're going to do it. I think that's what this team needs to do is gain its confidence and know how good it can be. I've been on some good teams, and this team can be just as good as any of them."

Richt, too, believes this unit has much more to give.

"If I thought we were hitting on all cylinders, and we lost these two games and you think more's on the way, it'd be a lot more disappointing," he said. "I really believe we can get the thing going in the right direction again."

Still, there's no sense talking title even though the Bulldogs are only one game back in the loss column in the SEC East, Richt said.

"I think we need to concentrate on one thing and that's trying to win a football game," he said. "If we happen to do that, we can start dreaming again."

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