ATHENS — Amarlo Herrera was asked if he knew the conference of Georgia's next opponent.
A blank stare.
When told that North Texas was a member of Conference USA, the linebacker insisted that would've been his answer.
"I didn't want to say anything," Herrera said. "I didn't want to get it wrong."
If there was ever a chance for a letdown, this is it.
Unheralded North Texas will be at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, facing a Georgia team that finally catches a break in the midst of a brutal opening month. The Bulldogs (1-1) opened with a 38-35 loss at third-ranked Clemson, beat then-No. 6 South Carolina at home 41-30, and host sixth-ranked LSU in another crucial game before September is done.
In a season that already has produced several upsets of major conference teams by lower-division schools — not to mention Michigan nearly getting knocked off last week by Akron — Georgia hopes to avoid the sort of listless performance that might give the Mean Green (2-1) a glimmer of hope.
Coach Mark Richt is encouraged by his team's outlook.
"I don't see a problem with our guys being motivated," Richt said Tuesday. "You can gauge how they work in practice, and for whatever reason — I don't know what their motivation is — but they're practicing hard, they're practicing with a lot of energy."
During a morning meeting, Richt urged his assistants to keep the pedal to the floor — no matter how much the Bulldogs are favored by (they opened as a 36½-point choice). Along those lines, the coaches are making sure there's plenty of competition for starting jobs and playing time.
Sure, the Bulldogs can probably beat North Texas without their best performance. But if someone falters individually, he might not be playing as much against LSU.
"We talk a lot about how good we can become," Richt said. "There's a competition each day out there at practice. I think the guys probably sense that they have a chance to play, a chance to start, or a chance to make the travel team."
Georgia, which has lost the last two years in the Southeastern Conference championship game, knows it has a good chance of getting back to Atlanta for the third year in a row. The offense is one of the best in the nation. The young defense figures to made significant improvements as the season goes along.
"We think we can become a really good team," Richt said. "We hate to put any kind of limit on what we can do."
Quarterback Aaron Murray is coming off one of the best performances of his career, throwing for 309 yards and four touchdowns against South Carolina. His next TD pass will be the 100th of his career.
"You've got to dream big," Murray said. "We definitely have big goals here. There's nothing wrong with that. In order to reach that big goal, you have to take it step by step, understand the smaller goals along the way."
That's where North Texas comes in.
This game isn't likely to bolster Georgia's reputation if it goes as expected, and it will have no impact on the conference race. But if the Bulldogs should falter, there goes any chance of making it to the national title game.
"I don't think it's a dangerous game for us because we're going into this playing Georgia football, no matter who the opponent is," receiver Chris Conley said. "This game is actually an opportunity for us to get better. We like to improve every week."
Georgia has already played 13 true freshmen in the first two games, including three who earned starting roles — safety Tray Matthews, cornerback Brendan Langley and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. Only Texas A&M (17), UCLA (15) and LSU (14) have played more.
While most of the youth is on the defensive side, a couple of first-year running backs could get extensive playing time if the Bulldogs push out to a big lead on the Mean Green. Brendan Douglas ran five time for 31 yards against South Carolina in his college debut. J.J. Green has played in both games, carrying two times for seven yards.
"We're in a good place as far as guys giving great effort and not being bored with it," Richt said.