Falling just five yards short of making the national championship game against Alabama in what many considered the best college football game played last year hurt Bulldog players and fans. A lot.
But in the long run it appears to be paying off for Georgia’s football program.
Eight months later the game is still being discussed outside the Bulldog Nation — even if many do still maintain Mark Richt should have spiked the ball.
“People are still talking about it, everywhere I go,” Richt said Thursday at SEC Media Days. “Not just in the South.”
On top of that, the Dawgs are the overwhelming SEC media pick to be playing Bama again this year in the conference championship game.
The vote wasn’t even close, with Georgia taking 149 votes to runnerup South Carolina’s 75.
Of course, that same media poll sees the Crimson Tide once again winning the SEC over the Bulldogs, but as Nick Saban noted Thursday, that vote on the eventual conference champ has been right only four of the past 21 years.
Whatever, the fact that Richt’s 2013 team is the SEC East favorite despite losing most of its defensive starters — doesn’t that usually mean rebuilding year? — says something about the lasting impact of taking the Tide down to the wire in that 32-28 game at the Georgia Dome last December.
As quarterback Aaron Murray put it to the SEC media: “We’re back on the map. I think now teams are looking at us differently, saying, ‘We have to play Georgia.’”
“I think we proved to ourselves that we belong in the top five in the country, if not the top two,” said senior tight end Artie Lynch, a pre-season all-SEC first team pick. “We were a play away. It sounds theatrical and dramatic, but that’s what it was. If we get five more yards, we’re a national championship team. That’s what we’ve been doing the last six, seven months is preparing for that last play that will get us over the edge.”
Sure, Richt said, beating Bama would have been better. “We didn’t want a moral victory.” But, he noted, “We wanted to be respected, and I think our players earned respect on that day.”
“It’s nice to know that it’s had that much of an impact on the college football world, to be talked about eight months after,” Lynch said. “It’s what we want as a team; we want to be recognized.”
As for a rematch with Alabama, Lynch said, “if we win those games, and we’re back there, and they win their games, and they’re back there, I would love that heavyweight matchup. It would be worth the price of admission, that’s for sure.”
And the winner of that game naturally would be expected to be playing for the BCS championship. But that’s getting way ahead of what Richt and his players are concentrating on: a threepeat in the SEC East.
A lot of things have to fall into place in order for Georgia to wind up the year in the national championship discussion. A team doesn’t get to the BCS title game without some breaks along the way.
So in the meantime, Georgia is focusing strictly on winning its division. As Richt told ESPN Thursday, “The thing that we can control is that we win the East. If you win the East you play in the SEC Championship Game and if you win that one you’ve got a chance to play for a national championship. So that’s our goal every year and it’s really not much different than any other year.”
What’s different is that more and more people outside the program expect it to happen.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg