ATHENS – When it comes to the BCS championship race, Georgia coach Mark Richt refuses to talk about it. He won’t even acknowledge that the it’s nice just to be in the discussion. This past week he dodged questions about it like spitballs flying across a classroom.
“I don’t worry about it,” said Richt, who will lead the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs into Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern. “I don’t, because I can’t control it. If you worry about stuff you can’t control, you’re really wasting your time and you’re going to make yourself crazy a little bit. I can only control what we do on a weekly basis.”
But that hasn’t been the case with Georgia’s players. While they’re clearly focused on Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern — the coaches have made certain of that with four full-contact practices this week rather than the customary one they would have during a normal week of game preparation — that hasn’t kept them from scoreboard watching. In fact, they say they’ve been playing with one eye on SportsCenter the last two weeks and they definitely will the next two.
“Oh, yeah. We know we have to continue to take care of business this week and next week and three weeks from now,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “But I’m definitely going to be watching the Kansas State and Oregon and Notre Dame matchups for the next three weeks. Hopefully we’ll see two of them lose.”
That is what has to happen for Georgia to have any shot of reaching the BCS title game. The Bulldogs are set to play No. 4 Alabama in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 1 if the heavily-favored Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1 SEC) can get by Auburn on Nov. 24 in Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, the three teams Murray mentioned are all undefeated and ranked ahead in the BCS.
The SEC needs at least two of those teams to lose to have a representative in the title game for a seventh consecutive year. Obviously the Bulldogs are rooting hard it would be them.
“After the Ole Miss game, we were all just sitting there in the locker room; no one left because we were all watching Notre Dame (playing Pitt),” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “Everybody in the nation knows we’re cheering for other teams because, at this point, it’s the only way we would have a chance of getting in.”
Tight end Arthur Lynch, a native of Dartmouth, Mass., was telling everybody that Boston College to pull off the upset over Notre Dame last Saturday. Senior cornerback Sanders Commings can recite in a snap the remaining games for Kansas State, Oregon and the Fighting Irish.
For the record, No. 1 Kansas State is at Baylor on Saturday and home against Texas on Dec. 1; No. 2 Oregon has games against Stanford on Saturday, at Oregon State on Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 in the Pac-12 championship game; and No. 3 Notre Dame plays host to Wake Forest on Saturday and travels to Southern Cal on Nov. 24.
Said Murray: “It’s cool. It definitely excites our guys. There’s nothing wrong with thinking big and dreaming big. We just have to makes sure we stay focused on these next two weeks and finish off the season strong.”
The task at hand begins Saturday against Georgia Southern. The Bulldogs play their FCS neighbors to the South every four years as a sort of favor to the late Erk Russell, who resurrected the program in the 1980s and built it into the FCS powerhouse it is today.
And that’s what concerns Richt. The Eagles are a program that is accustomed to winning and is not intimidated about playing storied major programs in large stadiums. Coach Jeff Monken took his team into Tuscaloosa last year and rolled up 302 yards rushing and scored more points on eventual BCS national champion Alabama than anybody did all year en route to a 45-21 loss.
That is the real rub for Georgia when it comes to its BCS pursuits. Georgia Southern – and its schematic cousin Georgia Tech, which plays Georgia next week – is built to make defenses look bad. The spread-option offense both teams utilize is virtually unstoppable. That’s not to say unbeatable, but they’re going to move the football and score. In the beauty contest that is the BCS and the college poll system, the Bulldogs aren’t likely to accrue many style points the next couple of weeks.
But that’s not Richt’s concern. He’s more worried about potential for an earth-shaking upset such as the one Appalachian State executed against Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2007.
“I look at Georgia Southern as a winning program,” Richt said. “I really don’t look at what league they’re in. I know that a team that’s used to winning is much more difficult to beat than a team that’s not used to winning. . . . Michigan might have been better off playing a Division I team that year. When you play teams that are used to winning, they’re the toughest ones to beat.”