Let’s be clear about this. I have the utmost respect for Boise State. This is a team, as Georgia coach Mark Richt said Friday, “that plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played, that plays as hard as any team I’ve every seen.”
Boise’s Chris Petersen might well be the best coach on any campus. (Take that, Nick Saban!) Kellen Moore deserves inclusion on all the Heisman shortlists. Pound for pound, this is the nation’s finest program. That said …
I still can’t get over Boise State being favored against Georgia — in the Georgia Dome.
Go ahead. Call me an SEC homer. I ‘d counter by saying I was rooting hard for Boise to play in the BCS title game last season simply because I enjoy seeing the BCS turn a Boise-esque blue in the face. But I’d also note that facts are facts: The SEC has the best players and plays the best football, and even coming off two down seasons Georgia has better players than the Broncos.
Doesn’t mean Georgia will win. (Although I believe it will.) The Bulldogs spent last season losing every lose-able game save one. The edge Boise has, even under the off-white roof of the Georgia Dome, is its reservoir of contemporary success. Richt again: “When you play a team that’s used to winning and that knows how to win, it’s hard.”
But here’s the thing: Winning Saturday night would mean more to Georgia than to Boise. The Broncos can lose and still point with pride to their cumulative record — they’re 61-5 under Petersen — and last season’s rousing victory over Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C. Boise can lose this game and still be Boise.
If Georgia loses, however, the questions will begin again: About Richt and his job and his program and its future, or the lack thereof. And that has made for a weird dynamic in this made-for-TV opener. The heavyweight has more to prove than does the welterweight.
At Friday’s news conference, Petersen was asked if he was surprised to be favored by a field goal. “Favored by who?” he said. “I don’t see it like that … I don’t know what they’re looking at.”
Yeah, this is Coachspeak 101. But Petersen also noted that he’d included Georgia in his preseason Top 25. “I don’t think I had the Broncos, though,” he said, perhaps even telling the truth.
The media session at the Omni hotel was so sugary-sweet as to induce cavities. Richt gushed about Petersen and his program. (”Coach Pete,” he called him.) Coach Pete alllowed that playing such an opponent in such a game was “always very scary.”
Just to clear the air, Richt mentioned Brandon Boykin’s Tweet. (The Georgia returner dared Petersen to kick to him.) “How ’bout that?” said Richt, glancing at Petersen and ducking his head.
Said Petersen, grinning: “I don’t know anything about it. We don’t have Twitter.”
Petersen even offered an opinion on Georgia’s infamous Pro Combat uniforms. “My boys think they’re awesome,” he said. “They say ours [Boise will also wear a Nike-designed kit] are all right but, ‘Did you see Georgia’s?’ ”
Richt on the uniforms: “The players like ‘em and we’re wearing ‘em.”
But enough about clothing. Back to the game. Richt said of Boise: “They could play in our league and do well.”
And maybe the Broncos could. But Georgia has the chance to do very well in its league this season, and the proving begins Saturday night. It’s a game these Bulldogs have long awaited — Richt recalled announcing the Boise opener after a practice last fall and seeing the heads of all those who figured to be returning perk up — and it’s a game that could go a long way toward making Georgia matter again.
Let’s say it again: Boise State — great coach, great program. But there’s still a difference between the Mountain West and the SEC. In such a bout, a skilled and disciplined welterweight always has a chance. But most of the time a good big man beats a good little man. Georgia 34, Boise 24.
By Mark Bradley