This is why we love sports. This is why it’s the greatest reality show we have going – unscripted and unexpected, with fluctuating emotions of fan bases from game to game.
Who foresees this? Who looks at a 0-2 Georgia team last season, with coach Mark Richt under assault by fans and media, with the program a non-factor in the SEC for more than two years, boat-raced in the conference by Alabama, Florida and LSU, and thinks: By the end of next season, those Bulldogs may have a chance to play for the BCS championship?
After some early hiccups in Athens Saturday, Georgia buried Georgia Southern 45-14. That’s one development that surprised nobody. What changed the landscape of college football’s national race is what occurred later that evening.
Kansas State, the BCS’s No. 1 team, got body-slammed 52-24 by Baylor (the same Baylor that was 1-5 in the Big 12 before kickoff). Oregon, the BCS’s No. 2 team, was upset at home by Stanford in overtime 17-14 (the same Oregon team whose point totals had ranged from 42 to 70 in its first 10 games).
These developments made happy people of everybody in the SEC office and a significant portion of the population in Georgia and Alabama. The losses by Kansas State and Oregon opened the door to the winner of the SEC championship game getting a pass into the BCS title game. When the new BCS rankings came out Sunday night, the top five teams were as expected: 1) Notre Dame; 2) Alabama; 3) Georgia; 4) Florida; 5) Oregon. Kansas State dropped all the way to sixth.
For the Bulldogs, it comes down to this: Win two games and they’re in. Yes, really.
Beat rival Georgia Tech at home next week (they will be favored) and Alabama in two weeks at the Georgia Dome (they will be underdogs) and the Dogs will play for their first BCS title.
Suddenly, residents of this state – at least those not associated with the teams on North Ave. – bark in unison.
Richt will have a difficult job trying to keep his players focused on a football game this week. That’s not the norm. Getting players to think about a game against their state rival shouldn’t be a chore. But the circumstances are extraordinary. Georgia’s last national championship came in 1980, and even if the Dogs need three more victories to win another one, nobody imagined they would get this close – not this year.
Just consider the reaction by some Georgia players on Twitter immediately following Oregon’s loss to Stanford:
• Quarterback Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11): “Yesssssssssssss!!!!!! The Murray household just went crazyyyyy!!!!!!”
• Running back Keith Marshall (@truthh4): “Can’t lie. I’m excited right now.” But he followed that with: “Gotta focus on GT first.”
• Wide receiver Tavarres King (@TKUnoDos): “ALL SMILES!!!!!!!!”
• Cornerback Sanders Commings: “Thank you Baylor, thank you Stanford.” And Sunday morning: “And I wake up pinching myself. Yea it’s real. We control our own destiny.”
• Safety Marc Deas (@DatBoiDeas): “Show me the BCS!!!!”
Richt will try to ground them all this week. But one thing Georgia has done well is respond to adversity, whether it’s a loss (like getting pounded by South Carolina) or struggling early in against an inferior opponent (like Saturday against Georgia Southern). Maybe that grounding effect can work in high times, too.
“The one thing that’s different about this team is our composure,” wide receiver Chris Conley said following Saturday’s win. “We haven’t had guys freaking out on the sideline when something’s not going right.”
It follows that now they can’t freak out when everything is going right.
By Jeff Schultz
Recent ramblings from the digital jukebox