ATHENS, Ga. -- For 50 years, Georgia's football team barely left its time zone during the regular season. Saturday's visit to Missouri marks the fifth time in five seasons that the Bulldogs will make a lengthy road trip -- this time for a game that before this season would have been a non-conference matchup.
The Bulldogs will load onto three Delta jets on Friday for a 600-mile flight to Columbia, Mo. -- a trip that is a break from custom for players whose typical road trip is to closer locales like Auburn, Ala., Knoxville, Tenn., and the other Columbia (S.C.).
But at least a handful have experience handling a lengthier trip and the schedule adjustments they might have to make after returning home at 3 or 4 a.m. on Sunday. Fifth-year seniors Tavarres King and Richard Samuel were both on the trip when Georgia visited Arizona State in 2008, the first time since 1960 the Bulldogs traveled so far during the regular season. Twenty-one current Bulldogs made the 1,300-mile trip to Colorado in 2010.
"I'd say from being able to take long trips in the past, I've taken away the fact of how to prepare, how to stay mentally focused instead of getting distracted and thinking about going on a trip to somewhere you've never been," Samuel said when asked how those previous travel experiences might benefit him this week. "You have to stay focused and know that you're going on a trip, but you're also going to play a game and also going to win."
For some of their lengthier trips, the Bulldogs would travel together on one Delta 737 airliner, but they'll split up onto three 50-seaters for the trip to Missouri. That can create its own set of trying circumstances -- particularly on planes carrying players as big as 360-pound nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers.
"A smaller plane's a little bit scary when you've got Big John and Kwame in the back of the plane," said defensive end Abry Jones, no shrimp himself at 6-foot-3 and 308 pounds. "They get up and go in the bathroom and it's a little shaky in there, plus all the turbulence and all that."
Thanks to the previous trips of 600-plus miles to Arizona State, Colorado, Oklahoma State and Arkansas, the novelty of the long trips has largely worn off, however.
King said the team is focused more on the game than the distance it will cover to play, which was one of the primary storylines when the Bulldogs visited Tempe, Ariz., in 2008.
"We basically view these things as just business," King said. "We just go and handle our business and come back. It's pretty simple, I think."
Fortunately for Georgia, it faces Florida Atlantic next week -- a game in which it will be a heavy favorite -- and not Alabama, which was the case a week after the Arizona State game in 2008. Most of the Bulldogs will sleep in on Sunday and won't have to become hyperfocused on a powerful opponent like they would if the Crimson Tide were preparing to roll into town.
That helps, as quarterback Aaron Murray and company still like to use their Sundays to begin film study for the next opponent, and they might get off to a later start this weekend.
"I might sleep in a little bit Sunday," Murray said, "but depending on when we get in, I'll still try to get as much film as I can Sunday, because Sunday's my one day to really lock in and try to get a really good feel on what they do defensively. But I might have to stay here a little later Sunday night."
The players recognize, however, that this will be a unique environment, in large part because of the excitement Missouri's move to the SEC generated within its fanbase. This will be the Tigers' first game in their new conference, so the Bulldogs realize they must maintain their focus or it quickly could become an unpleasant trip.
"When you go out there in that type of environment, Colorado, they were going nuts. They were right on top of you," linebacker Christian Robinson said. "I feel like this is going to be very similar. When it's time to make a big play, you've got to make it in these big games against opponents that you don't normally play."