Months of waiting comes to an end Saturday for two football programs anxiously ready to open the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome.
The University of Georgia, a long-storied program looking to regain its luster, takes on the high-flying Boise State Broncos, one of the nation’s winningest programs over the past five years but still lacking the respect that distinction normally would garner because of the weak sister conference they’ve been playing in.
What to make of this matchup? One thing’s for sure: Times have changed since these two programs last met in Athens in 2005 when Boise proved not yet ready for prime time against a Georgia team that went on to win the SEC championship. The Broncos come in with a gaudy record as one of the nation’s most prolific offenses last season and defensive stats nearly as impressive, while the Dogs are coming off one of their most miserable bowl performances ever, which ensured a losing season, but with a lot of promising new talent and, on paper at least, what should be a much improved defense.
For much of the college football world Boise’s numbers are a bit suspect because of the inferior competition they’ve faced most of the time, but they’ve countered that with impressive showings against the few major teams they’ve played the past few seasons, beating the likes of Oregon and Virginia Tech. And while Georgia looked pretty awful in the Liberty Bowl, in fact the Dogs were close for most of the game in nearly all their losses last season, unfortunately running out of gas in the fourth quarter too many times.
Changes in the strength and conditioning program and a new team mind-set have been aimed at specifically addressing that shortcoming. Now we’ll find out whether the Dogs can walk the walk as well as they’ve talked the talk in the offseason.
Georgia should have a size advantage, particularly in its defensive front against the Broncos’ offensive line, which could allow the Dogs to successfully disrupt quarterback Kellen Moore’s game, but Boise comes to Atlanta with a senior-laden team that has gotten used to winning. The Bronco seniors have only lost twice in their playing careers.
There are similarities in the two teams, despite the different results recently. Both have highly touted quarterbacks who are seen as playmakers, though Boise definitely has the edge in Moore, a Heisman Trophy finalist who’s thrown only nine interceptions in the past two seasons and who this season likely will take over the winningest college quarterback title that Colt McCoy took from UGA’s David Greene a couple of seasons ago. Georgia’s Aaron Murray had a freshman season that was more impressive than the team’s won-loss record, and is probably more of a threat with his feet than Boise’s Moore is.
Both teams like to run the ball and throw off play-action, though the Broncos offense tends to be a bit shiftier than what Mike Bobo operates and Boise has an experienced, productive back while Georgia doesn’t yet know for sure what it has at tailback other than very high hopes for Isaiah Crowell. Both teams are having to replace their two leading receivers and have had to reshuffle their secondaries, though Georgia has more experience there than Boise. Georgia likely will have more team speed on defense than the Broncos have faced recently. And the Dogs definitely have the advantage in special teams, with the nation’s best punting and placekicking duo and a terrific return man in cocky Brandon Boykin.
Boise comes into the game the favorite, though only by 3 points. The fact that they’ll be playing before what amounts to a Georgia home crowd is no doubt a factor there, along with the fact that the oddsmakers probably are like everyone else in college football — still not sure how the Broncos stack up against a team from one of the elite conferences.
Clad in their brand-new Nike Pro Combat uniforms, both teams have something to prove Saturday night. Georgia wants to reclaim its former place in the national spotlight and get its fan base excited. But the stakes are decidedly higher for Boise State in this game. Georgia’s main emphasis this season will be trying to compete for the divisision title in a weaker than normal SEC East. The Dogs can lose Saturday night and still accomplish most, if not all, of their season goals.
But for Boise’s hopes of being in the BCS national championship conversation come season’s end, the game against Georgia is do or die. They’re in a new conference, but still one that doesn’t have an automatic BCS qualifying spot. Lose, and the Broncos probably will be butting their heads against the glass ceiling again, no matter how well they do the rest of the season.
Georgia, meanwhile, is in a position where its players can actually just have fun playing football again.
I think Georgia can knock off Boise State, if all goes according to Mark Richt’s plan and the Dogs play a full four quarters up to their potential. But, unlike with Boise, it won’t be a crushing blow for the Dogs if doesn’t happen.
Agree or disagree? Feel free to sound off and offer your own view of Georgia vs. Boise State.
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