Georgia fans across the state will travel to Athens on Saturday for the team’s first home game of 2016. If all goes according to plan, they could very well leave by halftime and not miss anything important.
While it’s true that the Bulldogs’ second game of 2016 is highly anticipated, it should not be one that is highly contested.
Georgia’s first game in Sanford Stadium under Kirby Smart is against Nicholls State, an FCS team that plays in the Southland Conference. The matchup falls into the cupcake category of games, a descriptor often used when FBS programs host FCS teams with the promise of a victory for the bigger team and a significant financial incentive for the smaller squad.
Three FCS teams upended FBS teams in this season’s first week, but the Colonels are not quite at that level. Nicholls State is fresh off a 3-9 season in which it played two FBS schools: Louisiana-Monroe and Colorado. The Colonels lost both games by a combined score of 95-0. It’s worth noting that excluding the wins over Nicholls State, UL-Monroe and Colorado combined for four victories in 2015.
The topic of scheduling FCS programs has been a divisive one at the FBS level. The Big Ten, for example, announced last year its teams would no longer schedule FCS opponents beginning in 2016. On the other side are coaches like Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who argue that scheduling FCS opponents not only gives those athletic departments needed funds but also works as a trickle-down effect of cash when those programs schedule Division II foes.
The Nicholls State game was out of the hands of Smart, as the two teams agreed on this game two years ago. When asked about the matchup, which will give Nicholls State a $525,000 payday, Smart explained you have to see it from the perspective of both teams involved.
“It gives those kids an opportunity to play in a venue they don’t get to play in,” Smart said. “It’s not something that I can say I love or don’t love, because it’s not fair to them. Some of these teams fund their programs with these games, and they give their kids an opportunity to play football.”
Smart pointed out how valuable games like Saturday’s can be for a program such as Nicholls State as well as college football in general. He drew upon his season spent as LSU’s defensive backs coach to explain that he’s seen quite a bit of high school talent in Louisiana. Many of those players couldn’t continue playing football without teams such as Nicholls State, which need these high-paying games for their budgets.
“You’ve got to look at both sides of the straw,” Smart said.
On the other side is Tim Rebowe, now in his second season with the Colonels. Rebowe has witnessed this type of games from both sides, having also spent 14 years as an assistant coach at FBS teams Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette.
While the time at two Sun Belt teams wasn’t quite on par with being on an SEC coaching staff, it reinforced Rebowe’s mindset that these games need to happen.
“It’s what you do: You have to play some of the big boys,” Rebowe said. “We like to do it. It’s great exposure for our program and for some of our teammates to go out there and see if they can compete at the higher level.”
Rebowe was quick to dispel worries over the score getting away from the Colonels early on, instead talking about the opportunity this gives his team. This group of players have never played in a stadium as large as Georgia’s, and with that comes more attention if someone was to have a breakout game.
The final showing on the scoreboard may not demonstrate it, but the Colonels won’t be leaving Athens with nothing to show for it.
“It’s a necessary evil,” Rebowe said.