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November 21, 2005

Georgia wins in rebuilding year

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ATHENS, Ga. - So much for the rebuilding year.

The Georgia Bulldogs are headed to the Southeastern Conference championship game for the third time in four years, defying skeptics who thought this team would have trouble keeping up with Tennessee and Florida in the Eastern Division.

"It's been such a great season," senior receiver Bryan McClendon said. "We were picked third to start off with. We came out with a chip on our shoulder."

Georgia clinched the East with a 45-13 victory over Kentucky and will face either LSU or Auburn in the Dec. 3 championship game in Atlanta. The Bulldogs also moved up one spot to No. 13 in the poll.

This season showed just how far the Bulldogs have come under fifth-year coach Mark Richt.

Georgia lost six key players from last year's team, including David Greene, the winningest quarterback in major-college history, and first-round NFL draft picks David Pollack and Thomas Davis off the defense.

But an elite program never goes into a rebuilding mode. It simply replaces its top players and keeps on winning, which is exactly what the Bulldogs have done since Richt took the helm in 2001. They have a shot at their fourth straight 10-win season - which has happened only one other time in school history - and second BCS bowl appearance.

D.J. Shockley, who waited four years for his chance to start at quarterback, made sure the Bulldogs didn't stumble. He's the top-rated passer in the Southeastern Conference, with 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

"This just shows that Georgia has always had the athletes and always had the players to make plays," said Shockley, who threw four TD passes against Kentucky. "If people want to call this a rebuilding year, well, every year needs to be a rebuilding year for Georgia."

The Bulldogs (8-2, 6-2 SEC) likely will face LSU at the Georgia Dome in two weekends. The Tigers merely need to beat Arkansas at home to wrap up the West title and set up a rematch of the 2003 championship game, which LSU won handily on the way to claiming a share of the national title.

If the Tigers falter, another school with the same nickname would win the West. Auburn is perhaps the hottest team in the conference, closing its regular season with a thrilling 31-30 win at Georgia and a convincing victory over Alabama.

Before going for an SEC championship, Georgia will try to retain its state title. The Bulldogs travel to Atlanta this Saturday to face No. 20 Georgia Tech (7-3), which is coming off a stunning upset of Miami at the Orange Bowl.

"I was impressed," Richt said. "They got after them the whole game and frustrated them."

The Yellow Jackets have lost four straight to Georgia and are eager to end that slide.

"I believe this game had the attention of our players anyway," Richt said. "But I don't think there's any doubt that watching a performance like that (against Miami) can get you even more serious about preparation."

For more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs, check out UGASports.com.



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