December 2, 2011

Not conceding a thing



ATLANTA - Georgia coach Mark Richt couldn't help but smile.

During Friday's press conference at the Georgia Dome with the assembled media, Richt was asked if there was a part of him that would like to walk to the 50-yard line and scream to the masses, "I told you so."

"No, no. I mean, I'm thankful. I've always tried to have a thankful attitude anyway, but this year in particular I'm very thankful for what has happened," Richt said. "I'm just real proud of how everybody just stayed the course, kept believing, and we began to win. I knew we had the ingredients for a very good football team. Over time we began to prove it."

It's been quite a journey.

Friday, Richt admitted he heard the whispers, how many were calling for his job after starting the year 0-2, that on the heels of last year's 6-7 campaign.

But 10 wins later, those loses seem a distant memory for the 12th-ranked Bulldogs, whose battle back to win the SEC East has the respect of Tiger coach Les Miles, who as recently as two seasons ago was under fire from his own constituent of fans in Baton Rouge.

"I do understand criticism, but how much better are you going to get than Mark Richt? That's a great coach," Miles said. "So I think given the scenario that's explainable, you better find that coach an opportunity to stay rather than to find that coach an opportunity to leave, because you just might hire yourself a guy that's not as good as the one you showed the door."

Obviously, neither Miles nor Richt have to worry about that now.

Instead, the only concern on their respective plate is to get their teams focused on the task each faces Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome (4 p.m., CBS).

That won't be a problem.

For Georgia, should the Bulldogs (10-2) pull the upset, Richt's squad will head to New Orleans as the SEC champs.

With apologies to Georgia Tech Paul Johnson, the Tigers (12-0) have bigger fish to fry.

Win and LSU moves onto the BCS Championship, quite likely against Alabama. Lose, and LSU still will likely go to the BCS Championship, which will be held in the Tigers' backyard at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Miles isn't even considering the latter possibility - winning the SEC is only thing on his mind.

"We've (Miles and his team) talked about it several times, but not about the what ifs. It's all about what we've accomplished to this point," Miles said. "We've put ourselves in position to play a championship game. That's this Saturday and against a very, very talented Georgia team. I promise you, our football team understands that."

Regardless, the Tigers would have Richt's vote to play for the national crown, if hypothetically, his Bulldogs were to win Saturday's game.

"I would think so. If you go by how the BCS is set-up, and if you look at all the one-loss teams, if, in fact, they became a one-loss team, you just look at who they played. They played Alabama, they played Oregon, they played West Virginia, and they played the SEC schedule," Richt said. "Absolutely, I would think they'd be a shoe-in to play. I know that's not what they're focusing on, because you don't go 12-0 unless can you focus on every game. I understand the importance of it. I know that they're doing that. But when the question was asked if, hypothetically, if we won, do I think they should be in the game? I said yes."

One hypothetical Richt didn't want to deal with Friday was who's going to start for his team at tailback.

On Wednesday, Richt declined to talk about his tailback situation, including the status of freshman Isaiah Crowell, who sources told UGASports was involved in an incident Tuesday at practice which resulted him walking away before returning Wednesday in a green non-contact jersey.

Friday, Richt was asked again, but he wasn't budging.

"I'm not telling (laughing). I haven't really talked much about the tailbacks this game. I don't even know why," he said. "I just got tired of talking about it. I didn't tell our local media guys, so we'll wait until the game."

Crowell was at Friday's walk-through and is expected to play.

LSU has no such problems.

Miles said his team is at full strength, including his four-man backfield led by Spencer Ware, who will get the start against the Bulldogs.

"LSU is as good as I've seen. You can't go too deep in your lineup. Not many people go to third and fourth stringers very much. But they certainly have a lot of guys that they can interchange and get the same level of play out of," Richt said. "Actually, because of the depth, it makes the first teamer better because of competition. It also makes them better because he's fresh. He doesn't have to play every snap. He doesn't get worn down as the game goes on. He doesn't have to get worn down as the season goes on."

But Richt promised his Bulldogs won't be conceding a thing.

"There is no bigger priority than this game to us. I mean, this is what we gear all of our -- all of the hours that we work, all the things that we do we're trying to get to this game. I mentioned it earlier at the luncheon, but the Southeastern Conference is an awesome conference in that if you win the league, you know you've done something special. Your fans know you've done something special. It's not easy to get here, and it's not easy to win this league," he said. "So if you do that, you've had a tremendously successful year where I think in some other conferences you might win the league, but it's like oh, well, so what. And that's not the way it is in this league. That's not the way this game is. It's a great league for that reason. It's an unbelievable challenge, but if you happen to win it, you'll lay your head on the pillow that night and know you did something special."