All right, it's finally time to get down to business. Together, we have delved into every last facet of the game, and my interview on the subject is now available for viewing over at NBC Sports, so the time has arrived to make a formal forecast. Accordingly, I bring you the conclusion of Too Much Information:
The experience of the Mark Richt era confirms, and the scoring numbers of the two Sugar Bowl combatants underscore, the reality that Georgia can get out in front of a high-powered offense and stay out in front of it (as we saw against Dan Hawkins's Boise State Broncos in 2005 and against Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2007) and Georgia can fall behind against an innovative offense and come back (as we saw against Urban Meyer's Florida Gators and Al Borges's Auburn Tigers this year).
The risk, of course, is that Georgia will surrender too many points too early in the game and allow the opposition to build an insurmountable lead. That is what happened in the Sugar Bowl two seasons ago, when the Bulldogs were outscored 28-0 in the first 16 minutes and outscored West Virginia 35-10 in the final 44 minutes.
Had the Red and Black slowed down the Mountaineers even a little in the early going, the outcome would have been different. If just one of W.V.U.'s first four touchdowns had been a field goal instead---if Rich Rodriguez's squad had gone up by 24 points instead of by 28 points---Georgia would have won the game.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to put this debacle 100 per cent behind us.
When this game is viewed in that light, it is apparent that Doug Gillett is right: we don't need to consider this contest a clash between Hawaii's David and Georgia's Goliath. It's the other way around, in fact. The Warriors are the only undefeated team in Division I-A and are playing in by far the biggest game in the history of their program; the Bulldogs are the upstarts who rebounded from a sorry start but failed even to appear in their conference championship game.
If, say, the Classic City Canines hold a four-point lead late in the second quarter, the announcers calling the Sugar Bowl are sure to say something along these lines: "The longer Hawaii hangs around in this game, the more the Warriors will start to believe and the more likely they are to win this game." In the announcers' defense, they work for Fox, which is heinous at broadcasting college football games, so they are to be forgiven for getting it exactly backwards.
The message of the numbers is clear. The pressure on Georgia doesn't mount the longer the 'Dawgs let the Warriors hang around in this game; the pressure on Hawaii mounts the longer the islanders let the Bulldogs hang around in this game. The Aloha State Adventurers need to build the big lead which will allow them to stave off a furious Red and Black rally in the second half.
If the two teams match each other score for score for the first two periods, the second half will be the Bulldogs' time to shine. If the game is tied at halftime, or if the Warriors hold a single-digit lead at intermission, I'll be feeling pretty good about the game. If Georgia holds the lead at the break, I'll be feeling great.
So, um, yeah, it looks like this Willie Martinez thing is going to work out, after all.
Statistically, Hawaii is much the more proficient team in the first half and Georgia is much the more proficient team in the second half. Barring some fairly significant anomaly, the Bulldogs have only to be competitive in the first two quarters to stand an excellent chance of prevailing. What the numbers indicate is that Hawaii needs to land a knockout blow in the early going; the Red and Black can afford to counterpunch and rope-a-dope on the way to winning a decision by going the distance.
Are the Warriors up to the task? Undoubtedly, the U.H. faithful are emboldened by the memory of two of the last three Fiesta Bowls, in which fellow "B.C.S. busters" Utah and Boise State emerged victorious from major bowl games against teams from power conferences at the end of the 2004 and 2006 seasons, respectively.
We should not forget, however, that previous B.C.S. busters have been battle tested going into their final games. Before meeting and beating a Pittsburgh team that finished in a four-way tie atop the depleted Big East, the '04 Utes defeated a Cotton Bowl-bound Texas A&M team that won six of its first seven games (Utah being the Aggies' lone loss during that span), a B.C.S. conference opponent (Arizona) on the road, bowl-bound New Mexico and North Carolina squads, and a Wyoming team that defeated Ole Miss and U.C.L.A.
The '06 Broncos had an even better pedigree. Even before upsetting Oklahoma in Glendale, last year's B.S.U. squad beat 11-win Hawaii Bowl champion Hawaii, ten-win Sun Bowl champion Oregon State, nine-win New Mexico Bowl champion San Jose State, and eight-win Armed Forces Bowl champion Utah en route to an undefeated season.
In other words, the foundation for this win wasn't built with victories over Charleston Southern and Northern Colorado.
Utah and Boise State were prepared for their respective showdowns with Pitt and Oklahoma by facing slates that posed at least some meaningful challenges. Has Hawaii's mettle been tested adequately during the Warriors' 12-0 run? If so, by whom? Was it one of the two Division I-AA opponents the islanders faced, perhaps?
Did the Aloha State Adventurers steel themselves by surrendering 44 points in a one-point win over a Louisiana Tech unit that won five games or by having to rally to beat a San Jose State squad that similarly went 5-7? Was June Jones's team challenged sufficiently by the likes of Idaho (1-11), New Mexico State (4-9), U.N.L.V. (2-10), and Utah State (2-10)?
Were the Warriors made ready for a major bowl berth by watching a 31-7 lead over Fresno State at home dwindle nearly to nothing as the Bulldogs outscored them 23-6 during the final 35 minutes? Was it a two-point win over the Nevada Wolf Pack, who finished with a losing record after being blown out in a New Mexico Bowl shutout, that did the trick?
If none of these formative experiences truly prepared Hawaii for a January date with destiny, then which of our remaining options allowed the islanders to make the grade . . . hanging 39 points on a Boise State team that surrendered 41 to East Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl or claiming a comeback win over a Washington squad that finished 4-9? We know Georgia has been through the fire, but has Hawaii?
When Hawaii's trip to the Sugar Bowl is made into a movie, will June Jones and Colt Brennan be played by Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe?
It is open to debate whether we honestly can compare two battle-hardened mid-majors playing in the no-man's-land neutral site of Glendale with this year's Warriors, whose negotiation of a soft schedule may or may not have readied them to do battle in the heart of S.E.C. country. We may, however, make certain presumptions with something approaching certainty. I take the following to be givens:
- Hawaii will bring its "A" game on New Year's Day.
- Hawaii's "A" game beats Georgia's "B" game.
- Georgia's "A" game beats Hawaii's "A" game.
My Prediction: Georgia 42, Hawaii 35