Dawgs understand they are underdogs

UGA VI

ATHENS – College football fans, even many of those wearing red and black, have been whispering it all week, but the betting lines coming out of Las Vegas are screaming it:

Georgia doesn't have a prayer against Florida on Saturday.

The Bulldogs (6-2, 3-2 SEC) are 14-point underdogs heading into Jacksonville, Fla., to play the No. 9 Gators (6-1, 4-1). Only once has a Mark Richt Georgia team been a bigger underdog, and that was in 2001 against the Gators.

That Bulldog team, though, was working under a first-year coach and coming off an 8-4 season. This team is coming off its second SEC Championship in the last four years and was supposed to have established itself as the new measuring stick in the Eastern Division.

Instead, according to the overwhelming public opinion, it's only days away from its first three-loss conference season since 2001. The Bulldogs' reaction to this new reality ranges from anger to understanding.

"Aggravated, that would be a good word," cornerback Paul Oliver said. "Everything has been so up and down this year so people have got grounds to say something like that, but at the same time, we are the defending SEC champs, we have a lot of good players here, and, believe it or not, we are still playing hard."

Safety Kelin Johnson is a step beyond aggravated.

"I don't care about point spreads or anything like that," he said. "You can't really go into the game worrying about what everybody else says. We're going to play for ourselves, and we're going to keep playing hard."

Other players grudgingly accept the role to which they've been relegated.

"I don't think it's insulting because we know we haven't gone out there and played like we have to," fullback Brannan Southerland said. "We know it's our fault that we've lost two games. The way it's gone, it's understandable that people are still questioning us."

Quarterback Matthew Stafford signed in February with a team that had finished in the nation's top 10 four consecutive seasons. Saturday, he'll be the first Bulldog quarterback since Mike Bobo in 1996 to lead an unranked Georgia team into Jacksonville.

"It's kind of obvious that we haven't played up to what we can with the amount of talent we have on this team," Stafford said. "I think there are ups and downs for every program every year."

Richt doesn't want his players to worry about what outsiders are saying.

"I don't know how much our guys pay attention to what's happening around them," he said. "I know there are things going on out there, but I'm not sitting there harping on them. The best chance for us having success is for (the players) to focus on their job, not what's going on around them."

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