A season opener that Georgia ‘needed’

semerson@macon.comAugust 28, 2011 

ATHENS -- Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s preparation for this Saturday began eight months ago, on the final day that coaches could be on the road recruiting before National Signing Day.

“I called Brett Green our video guy and said, ‘We gotta make sure we’ve got every Boise game,’ ” Bobo said. “And since then we’ve been watching Boise.”

This week, after months of build-up, the Bulldogs are finally playing Boise State.

Georgia’s offseason was in large part framed by the decision to open its season against the team that would ended up last season as the nation’s fifth-ranked team.

The Bulldogs have won 13 of their past 14 season openers, the exception a road loss at then-No. 9 Oklahoma State in 2009. That game had some national interest, but it wasn’t seen as so potentially critical to the program as Saturday’s game.

Head coach Mark Richt’s job status has been well-discussed. The game against Boise State, followed by the next week against No. 12 South Carolina, will set the tone for Georgia’s season.

The latter is a scheduled annual matchup. But playing Boise State was a choice made late last year. Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity granted that it was high-risk, high-reward but said it was worth playing Boise State at the Georgia Dome instead of Louisville, a Big East team originally scheduled to open in Athens.

McGarity said his first priority was getting the high-profile opener in Atlanta. But he also touted the benefit of the tougher opening opponent.

“Would our team have reacted all offseason if they knew Louisville was coming in, I don’t know,” McGarity said. “But I do know there was absolutely no doubt in anybody’s mind that opening up with Boise State was gonna get everybody’s attention. And that’s what we needed.”

The Bulldogs players and coaches have echoed that sentiment. Bobo said this was much earlier than he normally looks at film of the opening opponent. Head coach Mark Richt said, “Part of getting everyone’s attention was just knowing who we’re playing in game one.”

In years past, the typical quote about “just worrying about beating Louisian-Lafayette” or “just worrying about beating Georgia Southern” has rang a bit hollow. But it’s hard not to believe it when the opening opponent is the winningest program in college football the past 10 years.

“That makes the whole spring and summer go by so much faster, because you’re looking forward to that game so much,” senior center Ben Jones said. “We’re getting to play in the Dome, we’re getting to wear the new uniforms, and they’re ranked No. 5, one of the best teams in the country. To come off of 6-7 and to try to prove to everyone, Hey, we’re a contender.”

McGarity also speculated that opening with Louisville -- with South Carolina one week away -- had its own risk. Louisville, which went 6-6 last year, is the kind of opponent that could have snuck into Athens and stolen a victory over a Georgia team looking ahead.

“(Louisville head coach) Charlie Strong, knowing him the way I do, he would have had Louisville come in and take care of business,” McGarity said.

There’s little danger of the Bulldogs looking ahead now.

“I felt like a lot of people doubted us. I would too, because we didn’t really finish strong last year,” junior tight end Orson Charles said. “In order to prove to everybody, in order to prove to ourselves that we’re capable of beating a top five team, you’ve gotta beat the best. … So Boise State is one of the toughest teams out there and we just look forward to playing them.”

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