The Blitz: For Richt, a chance at validation
NOV 26, 2012 11:26a ET
In his 12 seasons Richt boasts a winning percentage of .750. That trails only four active coaches with at least seven years under their belts, Boise State’s Chris Petersen (.911), Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (.835), Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops (.804) and TCU’s Gary Patterson (.773).
But in an era when the SEC has ruled the college football landscape, winning six straight BCS crowns and seven of the last nine, the Bulldogs have missed out as Alabama, rival Florida and LSU have won titles. Then there are Georgia’s lingering issues with top-10 teams, against whom they’re 2-9 vs. 2007.
Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, Richt has a chance to change all that; beat No. 2 Alabama and the Bulldogs will get a shot at their first national title since 1980 (and against Notre Dame, the team Georgia beat for the championship).
It’s never been simpler and the stakes have never been higher under Richt. Never mind the two SEC titles or what will be the Bulldogs’ fifth conference title game appearance under his watch.
This is about validation, even if Richt won’t say so himself.
“It's not about me, it's about Georgia, it's about this program, this team, these young men, this coaching staff,” he said. “I don't worry too much about all the personal stuff.
But it is great to be in this position at this point. You fight like mad every year to get your team in a position like this. It certainly is a good thing.”
During those lean years of 2009 and ’10, in which Georgia lost a combined 12 games, Richt and I discussed the perpetual rumblings about his job security.
“Every coach is on the hot seat,” he said. “Everybody expects you to win and to play at a high level,” he said. “But you have to set your standards and your parameters for how you want to operate, believe in them, then go and compete.”
He’s turned things around, winning a second straight SEC East title – which seemed unreachable after that Oct. 6 loss to South Carolina -- and when the Bulldogs beat then-No. 2 Florida 17-9, earned their first win over a top-10 team since 2009 and the first against an SEC team ranked that high in five years.
But the cynics will say that outside of that win over the Gators, Georgia reached Atlanta by going 11-1 and 7-1 in the conference behind the nation’s 60th-ranked schedule.
Is this Georgia team different? Is this the year that Richt finally delivers on the biggest stages?
Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, Richt will be taking on a coach who has done just that. Alabama’s Nick Saban has three national titles, a statue outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium and is 10-3 vs. top-10 opponents the last four years.
When the confetti falls down and an SEC champ is crowned, it will either be Richt’s moment or another reason for his fanbase to question if this program hit its glass ceiling long ago.
It may be the most telling and defining game of his career.
Big 12 flashes its depth
The deepest conference in the nation? The SEC will get most votes for its assault on the BCS standings but it can’t touch this staggering stat from the Big 12: Ninety percent of its teams are now bowl eligible. That’s right, 90.
Kansas at 1-10 is the only school in the 10-team league that didn’t hit the six-win plateau. By comparison, the ACC has six eligible teams, the Big Ten has seven and the Pac-12 and SEC have eight each.
With the ACC, Big Ten, and surprisingly the SEC, unable to qualify enough teams to meet their respective bowl tie-ins, the Big 12 should benefit.
It’s a different kind of depth than earlier this season when the conference had five Top 25 teams, including two in the top 10, but in the first year of its post-realignment lineup the Big 12 has impressed.
Heisman Watching (a ballot in progress)
1. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, Fr.: He gave Kyle Field a scare when he grabbed his left knee after a tackle but Johnny Football returned with a knee brace and put an exclamation point on a potentially history-making Heisman resume. Manziel broke Cam Newton’s SEC total offense record of 4,327 yards with 4,600 and most remarkably, the freshman did it in two less games than the 2010 trophy winner.
2. LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, Sr.: For the second straight year we’ll have a defensive player in New York in Te’o but can he rival Hugh Green, who was second in 1980, for the best finish by a strictly defensive player? He now has seven interceptions, which is more than 17 FBS programs, and went over 100 tackles for the third consecutive season.
3. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State, Sr.: A year ago with his biggest rivals’ regular seasons over, Robert Griffin III parlayed a final game against Texas into his school’s first Heisman. Now Klein gets the same opportunity, though it seems his winning is becoming less and less likely. He should at the least join Michael Bishop in 1998 as the Wildcats’ only finalists.
Ups and Downs
Up: Notre Dame
Love them or loathe them, it’s hard to knock what the Fighting Irish have accomplished at this point. They opened the season unranked and will now play for a national title, which if they win will make them the first team to do so since BYU in 1984. Now the question of whether Notre Dame is really back will be answered against the six-time defending champ SEC. As Rick Flair told us, “to be the man, you gotta beat the man.”
The beleaguered league missed its chance to build on the hype for a de facto conference title game as both Louisville and Rutgers lost their lead-in games to UConn and Pitt, respectively. The Cardinals and Scarlet Knights’ Thursday night clash will still determine the BCS bowl representative but it’s now a showdown of two teams who are both outside the Top 25 in the BCS rankings. It’s not exactly a marquee matchup.
Up: Ohio State
Where would the 12-0 Buckeyes sit in the national title race? With three wins over Top 25 teams, none of which ranked higher than 20th when Ohio State faced them, it would be tough to see it edging out a one-loss SEC team. But the fact remains the Buckeyes are unbeaten in their first year under Urban Meyer, marking the sixth unbeaten and untied year in the program’s history and just the second since 1968.
Is there a more confounding team than the Huskies? The same squad that beat Stanford, now one of the hottest teams in the nation, and beat then-No. 7 Oregon State wound up on the losing end of the biggest comeback in the 105 years of the Apple Cup. Washington committed 17 penalties for 127 yards in falling to Washington State and gave its rivals their only Pac-12 win. Steve Sarkisian still has some work to do to get this program back to legitimacy.
One year after finishing third in the SEC East, Will Muschamp has Florida in line for an at-large BCS berth at fourth in the standings. His Gators delivered a statement in dumping rival Florida State as an offense which came in ranked 104th in the nation, and which had produced five TDs in the previous four games, ran for 244 yards vs. the country’s top-ranked defense.
This summer, some pegged the Bobcats as potential BCS busters. They didn’t disappoint in winning their first seven games, including at Penn State, and breaking into the Top 25. Then Ohio went into a tailspin, dropping four of their last five games and ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak. The silver lining is that at 8-4 its still likely bowl bound.
4 – South Carolina’s 27-17 win over Clemson gave the Gamecocks four straight wins in the series, equaling their longest streak in the series from 1951-54.
8 – Taking over a program that was coming off a devastating scandal, Bill O’Brien became the winningest first-year coach in Penn State history by going 8-4.
430 – Oregon’s running game racked up 430 yards against rival Oregon State -- which spent nine weeks ranked in the top five nationally vs. the run – including 198 by Kenjon Barner.
They said it
"It's a shame he's not on the Doak Walker list. That's kind of ridiculous."
-- Stanford coach David Shaw on RB Stepfan Taylor, who, despite 1,364 yards and 11 TDs, didn't make the finalists for the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation's top back.
“It's great to be wearing this hat. But it's not the hat I want to wear.”
-- Offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles after Nebraska donned black hats for clinching a share of the Big Ten Legends Division title and a date with Wisconsin in the conference championship game.
"I'm going to probably get home some time tomorrow and go out in the street and yell."
-- Coach Gary Patterson after TCU knocked off No. 16 Texas 20-13. It was the Horned Frogs' first win at DKR Memorial Stadium since 1967.
Pac-12 Title Game: No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 16 UCLA (Friday)
The formula is simple for the Cardinal during their six-game winning streak: dominate the line of scrimmage. They’ve outrushed their opponents 1,162-320 during this run, including 221-73 in last weekend’s drubbing of these same Bruins. Expect more of the same as Stanford feeds Taylor and keys its first trip to the Rose Bowls since 2000.
Prediction: Cardinal 28, Bruins 14
ACC Title Game: Georgia Tech vs. No. 13 Florida State
It’s strength vs. strength as the Seminoles’ fourth-ranked rush defense faces the Jackets’ No. 3 rushing attack. Florida State struggled against the Gators’ ground game and the triple option is always difficult to prepare for. Here’s thinking the ‘Noles rebound and shut down Paul Johnson’s offense. A loss will drop the Yellow Jackets to 6-7, but they could still be bowl bound as a title game participant given there are only 69 teams currently eligible for 70 spots.
Prediction: Seminoles 30, Yellow Jackets 17
Big Ten Title Game: No. 12 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin
Momentum isn’t on Wisconsin’s side. The Badgers backed into Indianapolis, suffering two straight losses to the teams that actually finished ahead of them in the Legends Division in Ohio State and Penn State. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers, winners of six straight, have the balance with the return of RB Rex Burkhead that should give Wisconsin fits.
Prediction: Cornhuskers 27, Badgers 20
SEC Title Game: No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Alabama (Saturday)
In a conference that’s predicated by defenses, it was a defender that fired the first shot as Bulldogs safety Bacarri Rambo told ESPN radio “I feel like we are more talented. We have better players at each position, across the board, especially on defense.” As good as these Ds will be, which offense is more apt to break through? The Tide have the more potent running game and a QB who rarely makes mistakes, throwing three picks in the last 15 games. That should be enough to punch a ticket to Miami.
Prediction: Crimson Tide 20, Bulldogs 14
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