HOOVER, Ala. — Joe Cox wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived at the Wynfrey Hotel for the SEC Media Days on Thursday, but there was one question he figured he would hear early and often.
“I figured a lot of questions would just be about how we’re going to come back this year after losing so many guys, about everybody’s expectations,” Cox said. “Our expectations haven’t changed. We know a lot of people are probably overlooking us, and that’s probably the best thing for us. It’s made us have a good offseason.”
Georgia’s expectations may not have changed, but the perception of the program by the great majority of the media members in attendance Thursday had.
A year ago, Mark Richt and his Bulldogs contingent arrived in Hoover with high hopes, fresh off an 11-win season and with star quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno the backbone of what figured to be an offensive juggernaut.
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This year, Moreno and Stafford are gone — both were selected in the first round of the NFL draft — and so are the hefty expectations that Georgia failed to realize last season. The way Richt sees it, that’s a good thing.
“Everybody expected us to win them all because we had two guys that everybody considered stars, and then maybe subconsciously our guys thought, ‘We can count on these guys,’” Richt said. “Now that they’re gone, I think our team understands the only chance they have is to play together, work together, earn it as a team. They’ve done a great job of buying into that.”
Richt spent a good portion of his time in Hoover hyping his new starting quarterback, but he couldn’t avoid a question about the three players behind Cox on the depth chart.
Freshmen Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray both arrived in Athens in January and managed to impress coaches with their quick adjustments to the college game. While nothing is set in stone yet, Richt said there’s a chance one of the two will earn considerable playing time this year.
“When it comes to the true freshmen, if I feel one is the true second-team quarterback, we will play him, get him as much experience as we can,” Richt said.
Of course, for that to happen, either Murray or Mettenberger will need to pass sophomore Logan Gray on the depth chart first.
Gray looked sharp this spring, and his athleticism makes him an interesting change-of-pace for Georgia’s coaching staff. With that in mind, Richt said he expects Gray to see the field regardless of where he ends up on the depth chart.
“We may still have a kind of package for him separate from our overall package just because he is athletic enough to do those kind of things that people do in the wildcat (offense),” Richt said.
After creating a bit of controversy earlier this offseason, Richt seems to have learned his lesson when it comes to discussing the future of the Florida-Georgia game.
This spring, the coach told reporters he felt Florida had an unfair advantage by playing the game in Jacksonville, Fla., but when faced with the question again Thursday, Richt dodged any potential bulletin-board fodder.
“I want to focus on winning that game,” he said. “That’s all I want to focus on when it comes to that game. That will be my pat answer from now on.”
The second day of the SEC Media Days found most of the coaches a bit more prepared for the interrogation by reporters wanting to know who left Tim Tebow off their All-SEC ballot. For his part, Richt assured everyone it wasn’t him.
“If I had a vote on a national level, I’d have voted for him, too,” Richt said. “I think that guy might be the greatest player/leader, maybe the greatest one ever in college football. When you take his ability, his productivity, his leadership, his ability to get everybody to rally around him, I don’t know if there’s been many like that.”