You have to be kidding me.
Boise State, for crying out loud?
In 1933, the same year Georgia joined the Southeastern Conference, Boise State started playing junior college football.
In 1968, the same year Georgia won its sixth S.E.C. title, Boise State started playing N.C.A.A. Division II football.
In 1978, the same year Buck Belue began playing quarterback for the Bulldogs, Boise State began playing Division I-AA football.
In 1980, the same year the 'Dawgs won the major college national championship, the Broncos won the Division I-AA national championship.
In 1996, the same year Georgia played Auburn for the 100th time, Boise State began playing Division I-A football for the first time.
Georgia has won a dozen league championships: one in the old Southern Conference and eleven in the Southeastern Conference. Boise State has won a dozen league championships: seven in the Big Sky Conference, two in the Big West, and three in the W.A.C.
In 1977, seven Broncos were named all-conference players in the Big Sky. This is pretty impressive, until you pause to consider that one of them was Boise State linebacker Willie Beamon. I am almost positive that Willie Beamon is a fictional football player portrayed by Jamie Foxx in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday," so it may be possible that B.S.U. has made up the rest of its athletic history, as well. (If that turns out to be the case, I guess we won't have to ask what the "B.S." in "B.S.U." denotes.)
For all practical purposes, these clowns still were playing Pop Warner football when Jimmy Carter signed the treaty to hand over the Panama Canal. Georgia, by contrast, was playing Pop Warner football while the French were trying to build the Panama Canal in the mid-1890s . . . when the Red and Black were coached by Pop Warner.
So what are the Bulldogs doing playing these late arrivals on the college football scene, these parvenus without tradition, these made-for-T.V. pretenders playing playground football on a publicity stunt of a field situated in the middle of nowhere?
Well, frankly, the 'Dawgs are playing the Broncos because they're good.
Boise State has been to five bowl games in the last six years, scoring at least 34 points in each of them. The Broncos have been among the nation's top two teams in scoring offense in four of the last five seasons. No team in Division I-A has won more games (36) or had a higher winning percentage (.923) over the last three years than the Broncos.
B.S.U. has finished each of the last three campaigns ranked in the top 15 in the final postseason coaches' poll. The Broncos have the nation's longest active home winning streak (25 games), have posted the most consecutive conference victories in W.A.C. history (26), and have claimed three consecutive league championships with records of 12-1 in 2002, 13-1 in 2003, and 11-1 in 2004.
Between 2000 and 2004, the Boise State Broncos went 54-9, giving them the W.A.C.'s best, and the nation's third-best, won-lost record over that span. During the same period, the Georgia Bulldogs posted a ledger of 50-14, ranking the Red and Black fifth in the country and first in the S.E.C.
That is why we should take Boise State seriously, however delayed their entry onto the college football scene may have been. If you don't take my word for it, though, check out their website at http://www.broncosports.com/fb_history.asp and see for yourself.
None of that, though, is why we should view the Broncos with contempt.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: the Boise State Broncos wear orange and blue.
Boise State's football uniforms, and even their home field, display the same color scheme adopted by the Auburn Tigers, the Florida Gators, and the New York Mets.
That's reason enough to hate these guys' guts.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Bulldogs seldom face teams from the Western Athletic Conference. This fact is due not only to geography, but also to the frequency with which the W.A.C.'s membership changes. If conference affiliation were marriage, the W.A.C. would be Elizabeth Taylor.
At various times, the conference has consisted of Air Force (1980-1999), Arizona (1962-1978), Arizona State (1962-1978), Boise State (2001-present), Brigham Young (1962-1999), Colorado State (1967-1999), Fresno State (1992-present), Hawaii (1979-present), Idaho (2005-present), Louisiana Tech (2001-present), Nevada (2000-present), New Mexico (1962-1999), New Mexico State (2005-present), Rice (1996-2005), San Diego State (1978-1999), San Jose State (1996-present), S.M.U. (1996-2005), T.C.U. (1996-2001), Tulsa (1996-2005), U.N.L.V. (1996-1999), Utah (1962-1999), Utah State (2005-present), U.T.E.P. (1967-2005), and Wyoming (1962-1999).
Is it just me, or is it a bit odd that the W.A.C. has contained both state schools from the Silver State (Nevada and U.N.L.V.), the Cactus State (New Mexico and New Mexico State), and the Beehive State (Utah and Utah State), yet not once have those in-state rivals clashed in a conference game?
In any case, the 'Dawgs have met just nine of the 24 teams to have claimed membership in the W.A.C., facing Arizona in the 1985 Sun Bowl, Brigham Young in 1982, New Mexico State in 1995, 2000, and 2002, Rice in 1936, Southern Methodist in the 1966 Cotton Bowl, Texas Christian in the 1942 Orange Bowl and in 1980 and 1988, Tulsa in the 1946 Oil Bowl and in 1960, Utah State in 1999, and Wyoming in 1998.
The Red and Black were 12-1-1 in those 14 football games. However, only two of those nine opponents were members of the Western Athletic Conference at the times the Bulldogs faced them.
The Wildcats have been competing in the Pac-10 since 1978; the Aggies of Las Cruces, N.M., have, by turns, been a part of the Border Conference (1932-1962), of the Missouri Valley Conference (1971-1983), of the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference (1983-1989), of the Big West Conference (1989-2000), and of the Sun Belt Conference (2001-2005), in addition to periodic stints as an independent; the Owls competed in the Southwest Conference from 1914 to 1916, then again from 1918 until 1996; the Mustangs belonged to the S.W.C. from 1918 to 1996; the Horned Frogs competed in the S.W.C. between 1923 and 1996; in addition to spending a decade in the W.A.C., the Golden Hurricane played football in the Oklahoma Collegiate Conference (1914-1928), in the Big Four Conference (1929-1932), in the Missouri Valley Conference (1935-1985), and as an independent; and the Aggies of Logan, Ut., were a part of the Big West Conference from 1988 to 2000 and of the Sun Belt Conference from 2003 to 2005.
That just leaves the Cougars (who were W.A.C. members in 1982) and the Cowboys (who were W.A.C. members in 1998) as the only actual opponents Georgia has faced in their capacity as competitors in the league of which Boise State is now a member.
The Red and Black beat B.Y.U. in 1982, by a final margin of 17-14. The 'Dawgs defeated Wyoming in 1998, by a final score of 16-9.
To the extent that past is prologue, therefore, Georgia should expect to prevail in a close game after a tough fight.
For whatever it might be worth, the Bulldogs will be the third Southeastern Conference squad the Broncos have faced. B.S.U. took on South Carolina in 2001 and played Arkansas in 2000 and 2002. Boise State is 0-3 in games against S.E.C. squads, by an average final margin of 37-19.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Upon taking over as athletic director, Damon Evans made a commitment to upgrading the Bulldogs' schedule, which he has done. The Colorado Buffaloes will travel to Athens in 2006, Georgia and Arizona State are scheduled to play a home-and-home series in 2008 and 2009, and, of course, Boise State opens the season between the hedges in just seven days.
This represents quite a step forward from Georgia's previous scheduling. Although the 'Dawgs never regularly brought in the laughable caliber of opposition so often entertained by the Auburn Tigers over the years, the Red and Black have not taken on quality non-conference opponents as often as the good people of Bulldog Nation might have liked.
In fact, the Bulldogs have not played a regular season road game in a state that did not supply a significant number of soldiers to the Confederate army since six months after the 100th anniversary of Appomattox: October 2, 1965, when the Red and Black beat the Maize and Blue in Ann Arbor, 15-7.
In the whole history of Georgia football, the 'Dawgs have played just four away games in California (at Southern Cal in 1931, 1933, and 1960 and at St. Mary's in 1950), ten in Connecticut (at Yale in 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1933, and 1934), one in Illinois (at Chicago in 1922), two in Maryland (at Navy in 1916 and at Maryland in 1953), four in Massachusetts (at Harvard in 1921, at Holy Cross in 1937 and 1938, and at Boston College in 1950), two in Michigan (at Michigan in 1957 and 1965), eight in New York (at N.Y.U. in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1939, at Fordham in 1936, and at Columbia in 1940 and 1941), one in Ohio (at Cincinnati in 1942), one in Oklahoma (at Oklahoma State in 1947), and two in Pennsylvania (at Temple in 1946 and at Villanova in 1953).
At least one of those schools no longer plays intercollegiate football, some of them now play below the Division I-A level, and one of them has changed names since the Bulldogs' visit: at the time the Red and Black played in Stillwater, O.S.U. was still Oklahoma A&M. Of the 35 regular season road games the 'Dawgs have played outside the South, 25 took place during the coaching tenures of Wally Butts and Harry Mehre, whose names now adorn the athletic building in Athens.
Apart from our traditional out-of-conference rivals Clemson and Georgia Tech, these are the non-S.E.C. opponents Georgia has faced during the regular season in the last 15 years: Alabama-Birmingham in 2003, Arkansas State in 1997 and 2001, Cal State-Fullerton in 1991 and 1992, Central Florida in 1999, East Carolina in 1990, Georgia Southern in 1992, 2000, and 2004, Houston in 2001, Kent State in 1998, Marshall in 2004, Middle Tennessee in 2003, New Mexico State in 1995, 2000, and 2002, Northeast Louisiana in 1994 and 1997, Northwestern State in 2002, Southern Miss in 1990, 1993, and 1996, Texas Tech in 1993 and 1996, Utah State in 1999, Western Carolina in 1991, and Wyoming in 1998.
While not all of those teams are patsies, none of those opponents are apt to make the Georgia faithful quake with fear or quiver with anticipation. Naturally, each of those games was played between the hedges.
Admittedly, there have been reasons for this sort of scheduling. It is necessary to the athletic budget for the team to play a minimum number of home games and Georgia has a long tradition of facing major rivals at neutral sites (Auburn at Columbus for 39 of the 43 seasons between 1916 and 1958; Florida at Jacksonville for 69 of the 72 seasons since 1933).
The S.E.C. went from a six-game conference schedule to a seven-game conference schedule in 1988, then to an eight-game conference schedule in 1992. Like Florida and South Carolina, Georgia has an annual in-state rivalry game against a team from the A.C.C. Even with the augmented conference slate and the season-ending clash with Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs still took on the Clemson Tigers six times in the 14 seasons from 1990 to 2003.
When a team annually competes in the tougher division of the toughest conference while maintaining historic rivalries against opponents from a neighboring B.C.S. league, that team is entitled to give itself a little slack by offsetting an Alabama with an Alabama-Birmingham, an Arkansas with an Arkansas State, a Florida with a Central Florida, a Georgia Tech with a Georgia Southern, a Louisiana State with a Louisiana-Monroe, a South Carolina with a Western Carolina, or a Tennessee with a Middle Tennessee.
Even so, however, we mustn't pretend that playing in the S.E.C. East is synonymous with wearing white jerseys in Gainesville every Saturday.
Georgia has faced Kentucky every year since 1956 and the Bulldogs have beaten the Wildcats 24 times in the last 27 seasons. Georgia has faced Vanderbilt every year since 1968 and the Bulldogs have beaten the Commodores 33 times in the last 37 seasons. In the last 14 years, the Bulldogs have beaten the Yellow Jackets eleven times in the record book and 13 times on the field of play.
Georgia has won four of its last six meetings with Louisiana State and four of its last five meetings with Tennessee. The Bulldogs have a five-game winning streak against Clemson, a six-game winning streak against Ole Miss, and a seven-game winning streak against Mississippi State.
The Red and Black are playing at too high a level, both currently and historically, to be dallying with inferior opponents in glorified scrimmages. We shouldn't be hunting up second-rate competition in mid-major conferences or in Louisiana backwaters where Huey Long used to go trolling for votes; we should be facing storied programs and top 20 teams in home-and-home arrangements.
The approaching advent of the twelve-game regular season schedule solves the problem of having too few home games and an upgrade in the level of competition increases the popularity (and, hence, profitability) of those home games, thereby offsetting the expense of having to travel to the campuses of out-of-conference opponents who would insist upon a home-and-home arrangement.
Financial considerations aside, wouldn't you be willing to give up a 42-14 steamrolling of some school with two directional indicators or a minor metropolis in its name and a sideline mascot whose costume was sewn by his mom, in exchange for the opportunity to make a road trip to Ann Arbor, Austin, Columbus (the one with the Horseshoe, not the one with Fort Benning), Lincoln, Los Angeles, or Norman?
Arizona State, Boise State, and Colorado represent fine first steps. Damon Evans deserves considerable credit for improving the Bulldogs' non-conference schedule, arranging games with opponents from outside our region, behaving as though Georgia's is the sort of nationally prominent program the institution's alumni and boosters long have believed it to be, and, with any luck, getting the S.E.C.-basher at Heismanpundit.com (http://heismanpundit.com/?postid=477) off of our backs.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Is it just me, or should the Sanford Stadium grass be painted red (with black end zones) just for this occasion?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
As noted above, I take Boise State seriously. Am I giving the Broncos too much credit, though?
A Georgia fan whose free time and pro-'Dawg intensity exceed even my own thinks so. His May 15 posting on Athlon's website (http://www.athlonsports.com/article.php3?story_id=3662) notes that last year's Georgia squad went 10-2 against the nation's 11th-toughest schedule, whereas the 2004 Boise State team went 11-1 against the 71st-hardest slate in the country.
The Bulldogs, who have the best won-lost record over the last six seasons of any team in the S.E.C., have faced teams ranked in the top 25 in the final A.P. poll 36 times over the last eight years, whereas the Broncos have played only six such games in that same span. The Red and Black's last four recruiting classes were ranked in the nation's top ten and 57 former Bulldogs are now in the N.F.L. Boise State's 2005 recruiting class was ranked 64th in the country and eleven former Broncos currently play at the next level.
The author of the Athlon post from which I have culled these figures goes on from there to make his jeremiad against B.S.U. overly personal and I will decline to stoop to that level. I will, however, concede his point that the Broncos have not had anything like the sort of talent, or faced anything like the level of competition, the 'Dawgs have been able to claim.
I certainly agree that, on balance, Mark Richt's 42-10 record in four years at Georgia represents a more impressive achievement than Dan Hawkins's 44-7 record during his four years at Boise State. There is, though, quite a lot to be said for a coach, like Dan Hawkins (or Fresno State's Pat Hill), who can get a less talented team fired up heading into a big game.
Talent alone does not win championships (as underachieving teams like, say, the 1992 Georgia Bulldogs attest) and the importance to Boise State of the September 3 showdown in Sanford Stadium cannot be overestimated. It is, quite simply, the biggest game in Bronco history and we should expect them to play like they know it.
As for Dan Hawkins's 44-7 record, yes, it was earned against W.A.C. competition, but there is only so much he should be penalized for that. No one questions the legitimacy of Southern Cal's back-to-back national titles or scoffs at Pete Carroll's four-year record of 42-9, yet an awful lot of the Trojans' wins during that span came against weak Pac-10 opponents (most of which are, almost literally, defenseless) and Notre Dame (which, with its first-rate nostalgic name recognition but third-rate talent, is the Danny Bonaduce of college football teams).
Likewise, no one doubts that Miami is a powerhouse or minimizes the achievements of Larry Coker, whose four-year record of 44-6 is nearly identical to Dan Hawkins's. A great big bunch of the Hurricanes' victories, however, have come against the poor sisters of the Big East and the bottom-feeders of the A.C.C. If Miami deserves respect for beating up on inferior competition and having its biggest rival's number whenever the 'Canes play the F.S.U. from Tallahassee, why doesn't Boise State deserve respect for beating up on inferior competition and having its biggest rival's number whenever the Broncos play the F.S.U. from Fresno?
So how good is Boise State, really? Last season, the Broncos lost to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl, 44-40. The Cardinals previously had lost to Miami, 41-38. The Hurricanes later would lose to Virginia Tech, 16-10. The Hokies would go on to lose to Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, 16-13.
Feel free to double-check my ciphering, but, if you add up all those narrow margins of victory, it leads you to the conclusion that, in 2004, the Boise State Broncos were roughly 16 points less good than the Auburn Tigers.
Last year, the Georgia Bulldogs lost to the Plainsmen by 18 points.
Are the Broncos playing on the Red and Black's level? You do the math.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Looking at matters from an historical perspective, 2004 was the fifth season in school history in which the Bulldogs posted a 10-2 record. Following the first such season, the Red and Black's 10-2 S.E.C. championship campaign of 1976, Georgia played its first non-conference home game of the ensuing 1977 season against Oregon. The 'Dawgs defeated the Ducks, 27-16.
The Red and Black went 10-2 again in 1981, winning another Southeastern Conference crown in the process. In 1982, the following fall, the Bulldogs opened the season between the hedges by taking on an A.C.C. opponent, Clemson. Georgia emerged victorious, 13-7.
The 'Dawgs next went 10-2 in 1992. The next year, in 1993, Georgia's first contest against out-of-conference competition in the Classic City came in a 52-37 win over Texas Tech.
Most recently, the 1997 Bulldogs concluded their campaign with a 10-2 ledger, paving the way to a 1998 season that opened in Sanford Stadium against a non-S.E.C. squad, Kent State, against whom the Red and Black squeaked by, 56-3.
Coming off of a 10-2 year, therefore, the 'Dawgs have always managed to win their first non-conference home game of the new season. The average margin of victory in such outings is 37-16.
There is another historical parallel worth considering, as well. In 2003, the Red and Black travelled to Baton Rouge to play Georgia's final game for the month of September and lost to the Bayou Bengals by a seven-point margin (17-10). Later in the year, the Bulldogs faced Louisiana State in a rematch at a neutral site in the Peach State, only to lose by a 21-point margin (34-13 in Atlanta).
Now, it is two years later and the 'Dawgs are about to begin the 2005 season against Boise State in Athens.
If we look back 60 years, we will find that, in 1943, the Red and Black also travelled to Baton Rouge to play Georgia's final game for the month of September and lost to the Bayou Bengals by a seven-point margin (34-27). Later that year, the Bulldogs likewise faced Louisiana State in a rematch at a neutral site in the Peach State, only to lose by a 21-point margin (27-6 in Columbus).
Two years later, under circumstances directly analogous to the Red and Black's current situation, the 'Dawgs began the 1945 season with a 49-0 win over Murray State in Athens. The first postwar Georgia squad went on to post a 9-2 record, defeat the Bulldogs' three major rivals (Auburn, Florida, and Georgia Tech) by a combined margin of 102-0, and win a January bowl game to springboard an undefeated S.E.C. championship campaign the following year. I could live with that.
For a number of years, the Red and Black struggled against ranked opponents at home (http://georgiadogs.collegesports.com/sports/m-footbl/m-footbl-history/ranked-wins.html). After upsetting second-ranked Clemson between the hedges in 1984, the Bulldogs would not defeat another top 25 team in Athens until the 1988 season opener against No. 18 Tennessee. The Bulldogs beat sixth-seeded Clemson in the Classic City in 1991, but Georgia's next victory over a ranked opponent at home would not come until the 2000 contest against the Volunteers.
Under Mark Richt's leadership, however, the 'Dawgs have notched wins against top 25 teams between the hedges in each of the last three years, beating No. 10 Tennessee in 2002, No. 25 South Carolina in 2003, and No. 13 L.S.U. last year.
A quick look at Georgia's 2005 schedule (http://georgiadogs.collegesports.com/sports/m-footbl/sched/geo-m-footbl-sched.html) reveals home dates against Boise State, South Carolina, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas, Auburn, and Kentucky. The Broncos and the Plainsmen are the only teams travelling to Athens who are likely to be in the top 25 when they get to Clarke County and, given Auburn's all-time record in the Classic City, B.S.U. appears to be the more likely candidate for the role of this season's ranked victim between the hedges.
If all that doesn't make you feel good about the Boise State game, consider this: Georgia's all-time record in season openers following a bowl victory is 19-2.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Another bit of good news for the Red and Black is that, while the Broncos return eight defensive starters, their secondary is questionable. B.S.U.'s defensive backfield will be without the services of Chris Carr and Gabe Franklin, both of whom were all-wack last year. (No, I'm not trying to sound hip; I'm telling you phonetically that they were all-conference.)
Even with Messrs. Carr and Franklin, Boise State ranked 99th in the nation against the pass in 2004 and proved vulnerable to the long ball against such weak competition as San Jose State and Tulsa. Last season, the Bronco defense gave up 17.3 points per game at home but allowed 35.8 points per game on the road---and that's without factoring in the 44 points B.S.U. gave up against Louisville at a neutral site. If we get to see the same D.J. Shockley we saw against Clemson in 2002, the Georgia passing game starts to click, and the Bulldogs are up by double digits at the half, this one could get ugly for the visiting team.
I don't expect that to happen, though. The Broncos are too good and will be too excited about this game to get blown out by the home team. In fact, I anticipate that B.S.U. will go up early and Georgia will come back to win a bruising 60-minute game pitting Southeastern strength against Western finesse.
Boise State returns eight starters from an offense that averaged 48.9 points per game last year. Among the key Bronco players who will be back in blue and orange is quarterback Jared Zabransky, who accounted for 16 passing T.D.s and 13 rushing scores last season. With D.J. Shockley long on talent but short on meaningful experience, B.S.U. likely has the offensive edge, which is why I expect the Broncos to take an early lead and hang onto it for much of the game.
Another factor to be considered is that Bronco Stadium---home of the infamous "Smurf Turf" blue field that all true sports fans regard as an abomination that (like the designated hitter, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' old day-glo orange uniforms, interleague play, those freaky metric four-point field goals they allow you to kick in N.F.L. Europe, and any home run record set after 1995) qualifies as a sign of the impending Apocalypse---has a seating capacity of 30,000. In fact, seven of the nine stadiums in the Western Athletic Conference hold fewer than 32,000 fans and no W.A.C. school plays its home games in an arena built to accommodate more than 50,000 folks.
Boise State is building a national reputation in college football, but the Broncos did not garner the respect they have earned by doing what Florida State did in the 1970s, Southern Miss did in the 1980s and the 1990s, or Fresno State does today; namely, by going on the road and upsetting traditional powerhouses in storied venues. B.S.U. is not famous for having the sort of "sod cemetery" the Seminoles once had, nor has any Bronco head coach echoed Pat Hill's "anyone, anytime, anywhere" mantra.
B.S.U. simply is not accustomed to playing in venues comparable to the snake pit the visiting team will enter on September 3. Dan Hawkins's first contest as the Broncos' head coach was an away game at Columbia, S.C., in 2001. Boise State lost to South Carolina, 32-13. Since that time, B.S.U.'s road games have been against Arkansas, Brigham Young, Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, Oregon State, Rice, San Jose State, Southern Methodist, Tulsa, U.T.E.P., and Wyoming.
With the exception of the Razorbacks (to whom the Broncos lost, 41-14), Boise State just plain hasn't played a top-caliber opponent on a green field on Dan Hawkins's watch. The Broncos are used to playing in front of 30,000; in Athens, they will take the field before a hostile crowd three times that size. There is no way for B.S.U. to prepare for the experience of playing under the lights between the hedges. I don't expect Boise State to get spooked by the Lone Bugler (unless he plays "Taps"), but the atmosphere of Sanford Stadium undoubtedly will be electric and may prove a bit overwhelming.
The Broncos will acquit themselves well and give the Bulldogs all they can handle. In the end, though, heat, history, humidity, and home field advantage will make the difference in a hard-fought contest that comes down to the wire.
My Prediction: Georgia 24, Boise State 21.