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Georgia readies for early-season gauntlet

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HOOVER, Ala. (AP)

Georgia is widely considered one of the favorites to challenge Alabama's dominance in the Southeastern Conference.

Whether that is realistic could be decided by the end of September.

Georgia was picked to win the Eastern Division in a media poll released Thursday, but the Bulldogs have a brutal early-season schedule, including games against potential top 10 teams Clemson, South Carolina and LSU.

''I told the team we're in a race, and that is to try to be at midseason form by day one,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ''The race started back in January.''

Georgia is trying to break through with an SEC championship one year after coming close to the title. The Bulldogs lost to eventual national champion Alabama 32-28 in the league title game.

Georgia is led by senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who is the first in SEC history to have at least 3,000 yards passing in three straight seasons. He already has the school record with 95 career touchdown passes and could threaten several SEC career records by the end of this season.

But the 6-foot-1, 208-pound senior is largely overshadowed in a league that has very good quarterbacks. Murray was named All-SEC third team on Thursday, behind Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron.

''There are some very talented quarterbacks up and down - not just the ones (who made the All-SEC team),'' Murray said. ''We've got a ton of guys ... Usually you think of the SEC as great running games and great defenses, not great quarterbacks, but we're pretty loaded right now.''

Murray completed 64.5 percent of his passes last season for 3,893 yards, 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

He will have plenty of experienced help in his quest for the elusive SEC title. The entire starting offensive line returns and so does Todd Gurley, who ran for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

The defense is a different story. Only four defensive starters return and it must replace stars like linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree.

Even with the unit's relative youth, Murray said he doesn't think the defense will need any hand-holding during the season's crucial first month.

''I don't think we'll have to carry them at all,'' Murray said. ''They look great right now. They're talented and a hungry group of guys ... I think we're a balanced team right now.''

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

Tagged: Alabama, Georgia, Aaron Murray

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