You know how when a new year starts, and you wonder what interesting things are going to happen to you in the next 12 months. You hope you’ll do something new, something you’ve never done before to make a memory for the rest of your life.
Well, I’m actually sitting in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport writing this column, about to board a plane for Southern California. I’ll start my new year by knocking a few things off my bucket list.
Monday, I’m going to the Rose Bowl. If you love college football, it’s one of those things you’ve got to do. It’s the “granddaddy of them all,” the most prestigious bowl game in America. And the Georgia Bulldogs just happen to be in it this year.
No one could have ever dreamed back in August Georgia would be in this position. They were coming off an 8-5 season. It was the second year for head coach Kirby Smart. There were a lot of questions, including a brand new offensive line.
The SEC East is so weak, so it was logical to believe Georgia could at least win the division. But to believe they would start 9-0 and beat the heck out of most opponents? To believe this would all happen with the backup quarterback coming into the first quarter of the first game of the season and never relinquishing the job?
This is a dream, regardless of what happens in Pasadena Monday or even next week in Atlanta. This has been a dream season for this Georgia program, and we must feel everything that happens from here on out is gravy.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t just a feel-good “Well, we’re glad to be here” type of team heading to the Rose Bowl. This isn’t a “Well, this is our first step, so if we don’t win it this season we’ll be back next year” situation. This team is good enough to win – yes, to win it all.
Oklahoma will be a tremendous challenge. It’s a great matchup between a great quarterback (Baker Mayfield) and the Butkus Award Winner (Roquan Smith). It’s an explosive offense for the Sooners against a stifling defense for the Bulldogs. And it’s a Georgia running game that must be stopped or else.
If Oklahoma stops Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift, then they deserve to move on. It’s just not going to happen. They may make one of them have a bad day, but not all three. And this Georgia offensive line has gone from suspect to special. They’ve got a little swagger now that they bounced back from the debacle in Auburn and likely feel they can face anyone.
Georgia will still have to stop Mayfield, and the defensive whiz Smart will likely consider that his biggest challenge of the season. Let’s see if Mayfield can deal with Georgia’s speed, and let’s see if Oklahoma can neutralize Smith, who can fly all over the field if he’s left unhandled.
Last week, I was having lunch with some friends who are all Bulldogs fans. I said, “Georgia is 60 minutes away from playing for the national championship.” We just all chuckled. It’s still shocking that they’re in this position. You might hear some playful cockiness from Georgia fans, but don’t let them fool you. Most of them are shocked to be going to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl.
My heart is going to tell me Georgia is not going to lose this game. They’ve waited so long for a shot at a championship, and to play a team that is not used to the SEC-type of game is only going to help the Bulldogs.
And my head is telling me the same thing. Georgia is going to win it. Let’s say 44-31. Yeah, I think we’re in for a shootout, and the Sooners just won’t be able to keep up with the Georgia running game.
Okay, here we go, boarding the plane. California here I come, and I never could have dreamed this is where I’ll spend the start of the new year.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.