ATHENS – As 13th-ranked Georgia prepares to host Oklahoma State on the opening weekend of college football, the Bulldogs look to extend their winning streak in season openers under Mark Richt to 7-0, all at Sanford Stadium.
Under Richt, Georgia is 25-2 against teams from outside the SEC, including a 17-0 mark in Athens. The only non-conference losses came in bowl games to Boston College and West Virginia.
Unlike in previous season, teams will now kick off from the 30-yard line. The NCAA rules oversight panel decided to push kickoffs back from the 35-yard line in an attempt to keep the games moving. The rule could instead slow games by leading to more re-kicks following kickoffs. Kickers unable to reach or come close to the end zone now may be more likely to try to angle kickoffs toward a corner or toward a sideline. More kickoffs may draw penalties by landing out of bounds.
Richt says that doesn't mean the receiving team will automatically accept the penalty and take the ball at the 35. The more attractive option may be taking another chance at a runback.
``I think if a team feels like it has a good return man, you might see a lot of teams decline,'' Richt said. ``You don't have to take it on the 35. You can make them kick it again.''
Of course, repeat kickoffs are not the best way to keep a game moving.
Georgia again is placing some of its top big-play threats deep on kickoffs. Tailbacks Thomas Brown and Knowshon Moreno and cornerback Asher Allen are listed as the top kickoff return specialists.
Brown tied a school record with a 99-yard kickoff return against Tennessee last season, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury on a return against Vanderbilt.
Brown was averaging 25.3 yards per return third in the Southeastern Conference.
One impact of the new rule will be a possible change in strategy for coaches who previously considered taking the ball to open the second half, instead of the game, after winning the coin toss.
This year, if Georgia wins the pregame coin toss the orders from Richt will be clear.
``We'll take the ball,'' Richt said.