The Blitz: For Richt, a chance at validation
These are the realities of Mark Richt’s tenure: few men have won like
Georgia’s coach and few have been under more constant scrutiny despite
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
But in an era when the SEC has ruled the
college football landscape, winning six straight BCS crowns and seven of
nine 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.
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
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.
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.”
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
“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.
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?
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
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 two less games than the 2010 trophy
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
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
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.”
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
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 face 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.
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.
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
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.
South Carolina’s 27-17 win over Clemson gave the Gamecocks four
straight wins in the series, equaling their longest streak in the series
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)
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
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
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)
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