HOOVER, Ala. -- Boise State?
Mark Richt heard the questions and second-guesses when Georgia agreed to play Boise State in the Georgia Dome to open the 2011 season.
It was odd, considering Georgia had dropped Louisville for that Sept. 3 game and traded it for a tougher opponent in what was going to become a huge year for Richt.
“Well, I think really the whole philosophy (was), ‘why would you take a game like that? Why would you play a team that has an outstanding chance of whipping your tail?,’ ” Georgia’s coach said Thursday before speaking at SEC Media Days. “Why would you want that kind of challenge (in) Game 1?”
Georgia needed a jumpstart, and Richt didn’t need to be hit over the head to realize it.
“A year ago, when we were making that decision, Georgia had declined in record and how people perceived our program I knew that. That was obvious,” he said. “How do you shake out of that? How do you jolt yourself back into that consciousness of the nation and the college football world, and even within your own building, and in the program, and the Bulldog Nation?’ “
You don’t open with Louisiana-Lafayette, Arkansas State or Western Kentucky, you open with a challenge.
“It’s got to get your attention, it’s got to force you to focus, it’s got to force you to be at your very best as soon as the season begins,” he explained. “Because of that, there is a sense of urgency in your offseason, a sense of urgency in spring ball, and in camp.”
It’s ironic, since Boise State came to Athens in 2005 in hopes of making a statement against a team that was 10-2 the year before.
In that game, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky laid an egg, completing only eight passes for 70 yards with four interceptions. Georgia rolled to a 48-13 win.
Neither program is much like it was back in 2005.
Georgia finished 10-3 and won the SEC title, and followed with 9-4, 11-2, 10-3, 8-5 and 6-7 seasons.
Boise State ended 9-4, and improved to 13-0 in 2006. The Broncos then went 10-3, 12-1, 14-0 and 12-1.
Boise State has gone 61-5 in the seasons since that meeting to 44-21 for Georgia.
“Boise State’s a great team,” center Ben Jones said. “I’m glad we get to play them, because they’re not in our conference. We don’t get to play a lot of teams from the West Coast.
“It’s just a great experience to play a team from another conference. You want to come out and show them, ‘hey, this is the SEC’ and how everything is.”
Of course, they’re playing substantially different schedules from start to finish, but one clearly has momentum and a national reputation and one doesn’t.
“Where we were at that time was a decline in our record, a decline in how people perceived our program, a place that I didn’t really like, I wasn’t very comfortable in, wasn’t used to,” Richt said of the scheduling decision. “I said, ‘What better way to send a surge of energy into this program than to schedule a game like that?’
“There’s risk in playing a team that can whip your tail because they might whip your tail. But in order for us to get back where we want to be, which is highly ranked and highly thought of, we need to play this game.”
This is very much a different Boise State team. Quarterback Kellen Moore has been a quality successor to Zabransky, who shrugged off that visit to Athens pretty quickly and led the Broncos to their current status.
That game was six years ago, so nobody on the roster was part of the blowout. And Boise State’s massive progress has been duly noted. Repeatedly.
“They’re a great team,” Jones said. “They’ve proven that over the past 10 years, and they’re one of the best teams in the country. And it’s a privilege for us to play them in our dome.”
Richt is quite impressed.
“The winningest college football team in America over the last 10 seasons, a team that as you watch their film, you realize that they are a special football team in the way they approach it,” he said. “I’ve probably never seen anybody play any harder than they play as a team down after down, film after film.”
Richt expects the Bulldogs to strap it up and match that trait in perhaps the biggest season-opener of his Georgia career. The Broncos were ranked 19th in that 2005 meeting.
Richt hopes the first game in the Georgia Dome can propel the Bulldogs to a second one, in December.
“The excitement that has been created by playing in the Dome, by playing on national TV, playing against probably a top 5 football team preseason, that gets guys excited,” Richt said. “So now to play Boise State, as I mentioned earlier, opening game, in the Georgia Dome, with hopefully a bunch of wild and crazy rabid Georgia Bulldog fans giving us energy, it’s going to be great for us.”