- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2011

ATHENS, GA. (AP) - Mark Richt dusted off an old speech on the eve of Georgia’s first practice.

He hopes it works out like it did in 2002.

The Bulldogs began preseason workouts in sweltering conditions Thursday, only appropriate since their coach is definitely on the hot seat with Georgia coming off its first losing season of the Richt era.

Heading into his 11th season in Athens, the coach knows he must turn things around quickly. His players are eager to do their part.

“We all take it very personally,” defensive end Abry Jones said. “We don’t really want to be seen as the Georgia years where they had the down years. No one wants that on their record when they leave here.”

Speaking with his team the night before, Richt brought up many of the same things he said before the ‘02 season. The Bulldogs went on to capture their first Southeastern Conference championship in 20 years.

Georgia won the SEC again in 2005 but has been surpassed in recent years by conference rivals such as Florida, Alabama, LSU and Auburn _ all of which have won national titles.

“There’s some similarities,” Richt said. “It’s not been 20 years, but it’s been five or six years. That’s too long in my mind. We talked a little about the mindset of that team going into 2002. … We talked about some of the very same things.”

He doesn’t want the players thinking about his future.

“I don’t think it’s been an issue at all,” Richt said. “I’m not going to say the guys haven’t heard it. But when they’re in here or on the practice field or in the strength room, all that stuff, everything is geared toward this season and the excitement of it and the fact that we have a chance to have a great year.”

The SEC sure appears wide open.

Defending champion Auburn must replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Florida is breaking in a new coach, Will Muschamp. South Carolina has been tabbed as the favorite to repeat as champion of the East, but the Bulldogs will get a chance to make their mark when the teams meet in their traditional conference opener in Athens on Sept. 10.

“People are gonna talk and say what they want to say,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “That’s part of the game. Ultimately, we know that we’ve got to go out there, take care of our business and win games. The rest will take care of itself.”

At least Richt isn’t having to answer questions about breaking in a new quarterback. Aaron Murray excelled as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 3,049 yards with 24 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

Murray should be more comfortable in the offense as a sophomore but he won’t have his best receiver, A.J. Green, who gave up his senior season and was one of the top picks in the NFL draft.

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