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UGA debuts at No. 5 in coaches’ poll

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

ATHENS — Georgia was ranked No. 5 in the nation in the USA Today Coaches’ poll released Thursday.

Considering the Bulldogs lost seven one-time defensive starters off last year’s 12-2 team, the temptation is to think that might be overly optimistic. But then we learn that Georgia coach Mark Richt also picked the Bulldogs fifth.

“I think that’s about where we were in mine,” Richt said during his news conference Thursday. “Five or six.”

But Richt said he just bases his initial rankings on where he’s seeing teams in other preliminary polls. Georgia had generally been fourth to eighth in a lot of those.

The Bulldogs finished last season ranked fourth in the coaches’ poll and fifth in The Associated Press rankings.

Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford took the top four spots in Thursday’s rankings. Clemson and South Carolina, Georgia’s first two opponents of the season, were eighth and seventh, respectively.

Two-time defending national champion Alabama received 58 of 62 first-place votes.

Alabama coach Nick Saban predictably bristled during last month’s SEC Media Days at the notion of being asked about defending consecutive national championships. Alabama has never won a BCS title when ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches’ poll.

“In the last 21 years, you as the media have only picked the right team four times to win the SEC,” he said. “Now if I was 4-17 as a coach, I’d be back in West Virginia pumping gas at my daddy’s gas station.”

All-American quarterback AJ McCarron is going for a third consecutive national title and, despite losing another fistful of first-round draft picks, Saban landed the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class.

The Crimson Tide’s 118-point margin over Ohio State is the largest in the preseason coaches poll by a No. 1 team since 2005 when Southern California received 142 more points than Texas. The Buckeyes reappeared in the coaches poll after they were ineligible during their 12-0 season a year ago because of NCAA sanctions.

“We appreciate the recognition, but preseason polls don’t determine who the best teams will be,” Saban told USA Today. “We aren’t entitled to anything, and this team’s achievements will be based on what they create with the quality of their play and consistency in performance.”

Five of the Top 10 teams are from the Southeastern Conference, which has won the previous seven national championships. Alabama has won three of the past four.

Texas A&M, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and the only team to beat Alabama last season, came in at No. 6, its highest preseason ranking since 1995.

Rounding out the Top 10 were South Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, the only team in the poll from the new American Athletic Conference, and Florida.

Florida State received 844 points and came in at No. 12, just behind national runner-up Notre Dame.

No. 13 LSU gave the SEC six teams in the top 25. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are represented by five teams each and the Big 12 has four.

This is the final year that the poll will factor into determining the national championship game opponent before the College Football Playoff system begins with the 2014 season.