(UPDATED: 5:45 p.m.)
Let’s assume for a moment that, Georgia’s 5-6 record notwithstanding, Mark Richt will be back next season as the Bulldogs’ coach. That seems like the most likely scenario for two reasons: 1) Georgia can still finish with a winning (albeit mediocre) record of 7-6 this season with wins over Georgia Tech and a consolation bowl opponent; 2) athletic director Greg McGarity isn’t one to rush major decisions and may lean toward another year of program evaluation.
But this much we know: Richt’s job next season just got more difficult.
Georgia will play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game against Boise State in the Georgia Dome. As season openers go, this is far closer to playing Oklahoma State in Stillwater (a loss in 2009) than it is facing Louisiana-Lafayette in Athens (a win this year).
The first two opponents of next season now look like this: Boise State (currently 9-0, No. 4 in the BCS) and South Carolina (7-3 and headed to the SEC title game). A strong start is imperative for Richt given the downward trend the last two seasons (13-11 overall, 7-9 in the SEC) and the likely loss of wide receiver A.J. Green to the NFL.
Adding Boise State means subtracting Louisville. While it’s difficult to project a team’s strength from year to year — consider Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and even Alabama in the SEC this season — recent history tells us something about the strength of a program. Boise State: really good.
The Broncos are 9-0 this season, ranked No. 3 by the AP, No. 4 by the BCS and could wind up in the national championship game. They finished fourth in the AP in 2009, 11th in 2008 and fifth in 2006. (They were 10-1 in 2007 until closing with losses to Hawaii and East Carolina.) You can criticize their soft schedule, and some of that is warranted. But when a team goes 35-1 since 2008, it says something about the program. Chris Peterson is one of the top coaches in the country.
Conversely, Louisville (5-5) will finish unranked for the fourth straight year. The Cardinals were sixth in 2006.
This game is great for the Dogs’ program as a whole. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff has become a premier event with great national exposure, and that can only help in recruiting. As McGarity said on a conference call, “This is a game the University of Georgia has never played in and we felt it was important to be on a national stage.”
He also said Richt was “very excited. He wanted to make it work.”
But the coach’s job next season just got a little more difficult.