ATHENS – Kansas State coach Bill Snyder emerged from the Wildcats’ locker room after his No. 1-ranked team had just been dismantled by unranked Baylor 52-24 this past Saturday night and he fell on the proverbial sword.
In his postgame remarks, Snyder talked about not handling well his team’s situation. And by “situation” he wasn’t talking about blocking and tackling the Bears that night in Waco. He was talking about the Wildcats’ place among the BCS contenders and all that comes with it.
“I don’t think we handled the situation as well as we should have been able to,” Snyder told reporters after the game. “It had nothing to do with young guys wanting to be successful. They wanted to play well; they wanted to play hard; they wanted to win. We just couldn’t handle the environment as well as we could.”
Suffice it to say, Georgia coach Mark Richt doesn’t want to find himself in a similar situation following the Bulldogs’ game against Georgia Tech Saturday at Sanford Stadium. His No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) moved into the “environment” to which Snyder referred thanks to Kansas State’s loss and to the one also suffered by No. 2 Oregon at the hands of Stanford a short time later.
If Georgia can get by Tech this Saturday, it’s SEC Championship game matchup against No. 2 Alabama (10-1) on Dec. 1 will be a national championship semifinal. But the reality of this week is, the Yellow Jackets (6-5) — as champions of the ACC’s Coastal Division and Georgia’s most bitter rival — pose a much more formidable threat than the 4-5 Bears did to Kansas State.
So what is Richt doing to avoid a similar fate? Nothing, really.
Richt’s approach has been to not make SEC championships or BCS scenarios any part of the discussions he has with the team. He’s not forbidding players from talking about it or having ESPN’s SportsCenter blocked from the locker room television sets. But the Bulldogs are sticking hard and fast to their weekly routine.
“We meet every day and, kind of like we do every week, we talk about who we’re playing next, what kind of challenges they bring and what we need to do on a daily basis to get ready for it,” Richt said Tuesday. “That’s really all we do.”
How the players are handling the situation depends on the individual. For the most part, they seem to be embracing the moment and enjoying being part of the discussion.
“Every time you flip a channel, that’s all they’ve been talking about the last couple of days,” freshman tailback Todd Gurley said. “It’s kind of hard just to put it out of your mind when you’ve got fans tweeting you about that. But we’ve still got to finish off Tech. On Sunday, we can talk about (BCS implications).”
Said junior offensive lineman Kenarious Gates: “I love SportsCenter; it’s probably the only show I watch. I like to see what’s going on around the world and in different sports and how other teams are doing out there. When they’re talking about us and the BCS, I like to hear it. you just can’t let it get all into your head and stuff like that.”
That’s the key, the Bulldogs said, not getting caught up in the hype.
“There’s only so much you can do to avoid it because it’s everywhere,” sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. “You just can’t put all your feelings into it. And whatever they say shouldn’t ever be motivation. We should be motivated all year by the goals we set for ourselves.”
Amazingly, despite a 35-7 loss to South Carolina in Week 6, they are all still there for the taking. The biggest thing working in the Bulldogs’ favor is the fact that Saturday’s opponent is Georgia Tech. Georgia’s upperclassmen are making sure the underclassmen understand all the ramifications of that.
“If they were to beat us, it’d ruin everything we’re doing and they’d love that; that’d be perfect for them,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “We want to beat Tech, that’s obvious. And we’re trying to help those younger guys who have never been in this atmosphere to realize the significance of it.”
Said senior flanker Tavarres King: “I told Todd Gurley (Monday), I said, ‘man, if you remember how bad we felt after losing to South Carolina this year, you’ll feel 10 times worse losing to these guys.’”
Richt likes the sound of that. In the meantime, he’s working pretty hard himself to avoid any BCS questions. And that goes beyond the half-dozen he tip-toed around during his weekly news conference on Tuesday.
“I had to hang up on my mom,” he quipped. “But, I mean, the staff’s not asking me. I get here about 8 in the morning and leave at about midnight,so there’s not many people I talk to outside people in the building. So we really don’t talk about.”
That’s all right. Everybody else is.