Make no mistake - the Georgia Bulldogs are on Missouri's mind.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel conceded as much during Tuesday's SEC post-spring teleconference, adding the excitement generated by his school's inaugural foray into the SEC is approaching unheard of proportions.
"I don't think there's any question - that's an understatement, really. It will be mammoth here," Pinkel said. "Our fans are so excited about being a part of the SEC and that being the first game is going to be a big, big game here. People are talking about it already and very rarely do they do that. That enthusiasm, not just for the game but the SEC, has been remarkably positive for us."
Georgia and Missouri are scheduled to meet on Sept. 8 in Columbia, Mo. in what will mark the second all-time meeting between the two schools. The only other encounter took place in the 1960 Orange Bowl in Miami with the Bulldogs taking a 14-0 win.
Kickoff has not been set.
"You knew that would be a historic game for Missouri, Texas A&M for that matter, so it was pretty obvious that the excitement level for those programs would be at an all-time high," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "It's going to be a great challenge from the psychological point of view."
That's just one of the reasons Richt and his coaches are already getting started with their preparations, evaluating Tiger personnel and familiarizing themselves with what Mizzou likes to do on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
"They're impressive. You look at overall record, knowing Coach Pinkel's history of success, they players they have and the big games they've won, the passion, we know it's going to be a tremendous challenge," Richt said. "But we'll be excited about it, too."
Richt knows seeing a team for the first time will likely present some challenges for his defense, which ranked fifth nationally a year ago.
However, with the diversity of the SEC, he doesn't expect the Tigers will show anything defensive coordinator Todd Grantham isn't familiar with.
"Our league is pretty diverse. There's not one way of doing things; they'll be doing some things that a lot of teams do in our league," Richt said. "They may spread out a little bit more than most do in our league offensively, but not anything that nobody's ever seen before."
For Pinkel and the Tigers, transition is a bit more difficult.
Besides getting ready for Georgia, Missouri has to familiarize itself with the seven other conference teams on its schedule, something Pinkel said he and his staff will be doing throughout all of the summer leading up to its opener against SE Louisiana.
"Anytime you make a change like this with so much transition, one (change) is not knowing any of the personnel or schemes of our opponents," Pinkel said. "Obviously, we know the Big 12 teams very well, but we're doing a lot of analysis study, not just of Georgia but of all the teams we're going to play and that's been going on since the end of February and will go on into August. That?s part of our transition. We have to do our homework and do a lot of study and evaluation of the schemes that all these teams use and certainly personnel."
But just because Georgia is the first date on the Tigers? SEC docket, Pinkel explained it's not like the Tigers haven't played big games before.
"We've played some remarkably big games here,? he said. "A couple of years ago both us and Oklahoma were 7-0 where we had a big night game, so we've had a bunch of big games just like Georgia's had along with other teams in the country."
But still, he admits there will be something just a little special when the Bulldogs come to town.
"What this is, it's the beginning of a new era for Missouri football," Pinkel said. "We just happen to be playing Georgia and there's a real enthusiasm for it, and historically it will go down as the first game. So to say it's just another game, it's really not."
Dawgs healthy going into summer
When Georgia's summer conditioning drills get going the first week of June, it will mark the first of something in Richt's 12 years as the Bulldogs' coach - everyone's healthy.
"The most exciting thing for me is that nobody had an injury that should last any longer than a week or two," Richt said. "We had a couple of hamstrings and a knee that got banged up a little bit but everything is non-surgical and we actually the entire team should be healthy beginning in June and can go through the entire off-season program."
That includes injuries to running back Keith Marshall (hamstring) and safety Bacarri Rambo (hamstring), along with safety Shawn Williams (knee sprain).
"If we don't have anything happen this summer, we'll roll into camp for the first time in my 12 years at Georgia where we don't have somebody in the Red Cross area," Richt said. "So that's great."
Offensive line left positive impression
After a rough start to spring, Richt he saw noticeable improvement in his offensive line.
"We've improved a lot. If you look at the first two weeks of practice, the last couple and then G-Day, there's no question that we made a lot of progress up front," he said. "Early in the spring we were rolling different centers in and out of there, doing a little bit of experimenting but the bottom line was we just weren't blocking very good and we weren't handling our mature defensive line and the stunts, blitzes and those types of things that Coach Grantham was bringing.
"But as the spring went on, we got a little more settled in the Top 5, and I think that helped. But also just reps; playing together more helped quite a bit."
Richt said if the season started today, junior Kenarious Gates would be at left tackle, junior Dallas Lee at left guard, sophomore David Andrews at center, junior Chris Burnette at right guard and redshirt sophomore Kolton Houston at right tackle.
But don't necessarily etch those names in stone for the fall.
"We've got other guys battling for position and a couple of pretty good freshmen (John Theus and Greg Pyke) coming in who will have the opportunity to fight for a starting position."