(Author’s Note: I have, to put it mildly, a bit of reputation for linking frequently in my postings, to the point that it has been said that I have a link to every thought I’ve ever had. As you will see, this posting contains numerous statements of both fact and opinion which ordinarily would warrant the insertion of a plethora of links, but, given the occasion, I have decided to limit severely the number of links following the first few paragraphs of this posting. I have done so deliberately, with the intention of strengthening the impact of the words without distracting the reader with numerous links, much as Shelby Foote elected not to clutter up the narrative of his history of the War Between the States with footnotes. I apologize in advance if this proves to be a misjudgment on my part; naturally, if anyone takes issue with the accuracy of any portion of what follows, just call it to my attention in the comments, and I will happily provide appropriate links in response.)
As those of you who have frequented the site during previous football seasons are aware, I prepare a weekly breakdown during the autumn, in which I examine the historical and statistical minutiae surrounding the Georgia Bulldogs’ upcoming game. I call this segment "Too Much Information," because that, at least in theory, is what the feature is designed to offer.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot left to say about this Saturday’s showdown with the Boise St. Broncos. I examined this game comprehensively in the Maple Street Press annual, I examined it again in the summer preview series, I talked about it on ESPN Radio on Monday, I talked about it on two podcasts this week, and I answered questions about it at SB Nation’s Boise State weblog, and not a lot has changed in the interim. As Toby Ziegler put it in an episode of "The West Wing," "I have no new information since the last time you asked me that question."
Where, then, does that leave us? Well, it left me in my man cave, contemplating a Labor Day weekend that would showcase, in my environs, NASCAR action at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and DragonCon. DragonCon? Yes, DragonCon. (William Shatner will be there, you know.) That led me to reach up and pull from the shelf my copy of Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, in which I read this:
One observes the survivors, and learns from them. Bene Gesserit teaching
Ours has been an offseason free from arrests, but not free from attrition. Brent Benedict transferred, ostensibly due to a difference of opinion regarding the new strength and conditioning regimen. Washaun Ealey transferred, ostensibly due to his belief that changing his latitude would be easier than changing his attitude. Caleb King was a casualty of poor academic performance. Jakar Hamilton was a casualty of tougher athletic practices that left many of his teammates among the walking wounded and left him sidelined for the season.
I am not being flippant when I say that these things happen; Hamilton’s injury, in particular, is to be regretted and not minimized, but it was to be expected---and, to some extent, even hoped---that increased expectations would serve to cull the roster. To the degree that anyone enjoys football practice, everyone enjoys a football practice free from two-a-days, lacking in tackling to the ground, and without a weight room regimen as demanding as that imposed by the Alabama Crimson Tide’s Scott Cochran, all capped off by a pool party in lieu of hitting in full pads on an August afternoon in Georgia. That, though, is not the part of football that is supposed to be enjoyable; the part of football that is supposed to be enjoyable is winning. As the ‘Dawgs have found out the hard way when learning the difference between using special uniforms as rewards and using sartorial gimmicks as motivation, the fun part of football comes after you’ve taken care of business on the field, not before.
Having read that, I next read this:
The basic rule is this: Never support weakness; always support strength. The Bene Gesserit Azhar Book, Compilation of Great Secrets
Dave Van Halanger came from Tallahassee with Mark Richt, and, for a decade, he filled the same role in Athens that he had filled with the Florida St. Seminoles during a very prosperous era for the Tribe. Given the two men’s track records together, there was little reason to think either that Coach Van Halanger was a part of the problem or that Coach Richt would consider his ouster a part of the solution.
Nevertheless, the results on the field---and, most especially, in the fourth quarter---spoke for themselves. The Red and Black, who built their reputation under Vince Dooley by getting tougher in the final period, distinctly began to fade late in games, giving up back-breaking scores in the closing moments of contests that had remained very much up for grabs just minutes before. Something had to change; someone new was needed.
The someone most of us wanted was not the someone we got; at a time when the Georgia faithful were clamoring for fresh ideas from outside the insular walls of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, what we got was a strength and conditioning coach who was Bulldog to the bone. Joe Tereshinski was a Red and Black lifer from way back, but it was far from clear at the outset that he could do much more than grumble, "That ain’t the way we did it when Coach Dooley was here!"
Actually, though, Coach T could do a bit more than that. If nothing else, Coach T could put a hand in a player’s face and say, "You see that on my finger? That’s an SEC championship ring. I got one here. My brother got one here. My father got one here. My son got one here. You want to get one here, too? You think maybe you might want to listen to me when I’m talking to you, then?" Coach T brought an old-school toughness, but his younger assistants brought at least the possibility of new and improved methods. Trainers watched what the players ate. Injured athletes were made to do what exercises they could on the sidelines. Bulldogs opined on Twitter that they’d rather practice than go see Coach T.
Emboldened, I read on, only to be chastened when I saw:
Blindness can take many forms other than the inability to see. Fanatics are often blinded in their thoughts. Leaders are often blinded in their hearts.
The Orange Catholic Bible
What made Coach Van Halanger’s reassignment so surprising was the fact that Coach Richt so clearly was loyal to a fault. The stability and continuity for which he rightly was hailed began to look like stagnation and imperviousness to needed change; obvious errors were repeated ad infinitum, and a pervasive attitude of "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" caused preventive maintenance to be deferred until a collapse occurred.
Eventually, though, overdue changes at long last came to pass. Before the strength and conditioning program was overhauled, Coach Richt replaced virtually his entire defensive staff, including firing longtime friend Willie Martinez. Todd Grantham came in and stopped the slide, but accomplished little more than arresting the decline. Greg McGarity took some functions off of the head coach’s shoulders, implementing systemic safeguards and reaching out to law enforcement in an effort to get the Bulldogs’ house in order. An edge began to creep into Mark Richt’s public comments, and, though he had ceased to speak as softly, he began wielding an even bigger stick, taking a harder line on discipline.
These efforts were very impressive, however belatedly they may have come, but was it too little, too late? Had Mark Richt lost control to the point that the program was in a tailspin, causing his seat to heat up as his nosedive took him ever more rapidly down through the atmosphere? As I wondered that, I noted this:
Among the responsibilities of command is the necessity to punish . . . but only when the victim demands it.
Prince Raphael Corrino
While the previous accusations of laxity leveled against Mark Richt’s discipline decidedly were overblown, it nevertheless appears that the era of the warning shot is over in the Classic City. In that regard, what Kit said about the possible importance of Demetre Baker’s dismissal on a recent podcast is worth recalling; if there was a break point with the past when it came to punishment, that was it. After Damon Evans’s embarrassing arrest, a player DUI was met with summary excommunication, and the hammer, having been unholstered, became a fixture. Ask Washaun Ealey if anyone is so indispensable that his bad attitude may be overlooked as long as he avoids repeats of his previous run-ins with the law. Once Coach Richt committed himself and his program to slaying the energy vampires in their midst, last year’s Fulmer Cup champions declined even to enter this year’s competition, collecting precisely zero points in defense of their dubious title.
All that means, though, is that matters have not continued to get worse. As with last year’s defense, which merely held steady in the wake of several successive years of backsliding, holding the line is not the same as getting better, and much improvement is needed heading into a critical season that opens on a grand stage against a daunting opponent. This brings us, of course, to Boise State, as well as to this passage:
It’s easier to be terrified by an enemy you admire. Thufir Hawat
There certainly is much that is admirable about the Broncos. It would require great exertion to dislike, or to find very much fault with, Chris Petersen, Kellen Moore, and their coevals. (Oh, all right, they wear orange and blue, but they’re wearing mostly white for this game, so we’ll let it slide.) Their sustained success over the last several seasons is undeniable, and the legitimacy of BSU’s attainments is attested to by the fact that Boise State routinely bumps off the big boys while taking care of business in convincing fashion against the weaker sisters on their slate.
Furthermore, there is no gainsaying the sincerity of the Broncos’ commitment to excellence: Boise State has gone to great pains to move up in weight class, both in conference affiliation and in out-of-conference scheduling, and BSU reshuffled a number of games in order to arrange this weekend’s date in the Dome. Even the Broncos’ recent run-in with the NCAA involved piddling allegations about the football program so silly that they made A.J. Green’s jersey sale look like, well, an offense that warranted a four-game suspension by comparison. I will have no trouble rooting for Boise State in each of the team’s remaining games after the first one.
2011 marks the fourth straight season in which the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game has matched two teams ranked in the preseason top 25 to open the campaign. At No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, Boise State is in a two-way tie for the title of highest-ranked team ever to appear in this contest, yet, for the first time in four years, "College GameDay" will not be in Atlanta for the festivities. Why? Because Georgia, a marginal top 20 entrant, is coming off of a 6-7 season, lost last year’s best offensive and defensive playmakers to the NFL Draft, is led by a head coach on the hot seat, and has gone 1-6 against top ten teams since shellacking Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl to cap off the 2007 season.
Frankly, the Bulldogs have precious little going for them other than hope, which may be why we are so quick to view any tidbit from the mouth of Mark Richt or the pen of Seth Emerson as cause for conviction that the Red and Black are on the verge of returning to their previous form. I vacillate between hope and despair, between Manic Kyle and Depressive Kyle, and, just as I begin to buy into the belief that I have reason to believe, my gaze falls upon the page, and I see:
Hope can be the greatest weapon of a downtrodden people, or the greatest enemy of those who are about to fail.
Lady Helena Atreides
This could all be complete crap. Every bit of it. Every last word of it. We know that because it was complete crap when we were justifying the No. 1 preseason ranking in 2008, or when we were downplaying the importance of the losses of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Rockwell Moreno heading into a 2009 campaign in which "the team would be the star," or when we were scoffing at Andrea Adelson’s claim that Georgia would be the No. 64 team in the country in 2010.
The lines we parse for hidden meaning never change. It’s always been the best spring practice ever, the team chemistry is always the best it’s ever been, guys are always getting after it in the weight room like never before. Exactly the same words are spoken every single offseason, and they are no different in the years that end in Sugar Bowl victories from what they are in the years that end in Liberty Bowl losses. Believe none of it; it’s all hype until it’s proven to be other than hype. Resist in all things the siren song of preseason enthusiasm. Know, ever and always, that, if you expect the worst, your only options are to be proven correct or pleasantly surprised.
Hope, though, is not the villain here; you are free to hope when wallowing in the depths, when already fallen, when intent upon turning hope into opportunity and opportunity into achievement, rather than when using hope as a means of concealing from yourself the doom you know, but are not prepared to admit, is certain. Hope may inspire; it is the misplaced certainty that hope is warranted that will get you, as I learned when I read:
The worst sort of protection is confidence. The best defense is suspicion. Count Hasimir Fenring
Bulldog Nation is wary; we have been led astray before, and we have learned that Fate is to be accepted, and, where possible, appeased, but not tempted. We have learned that there is no shortage of shoes yet to be dropped, no matter how many clodhoppers we have heard thud to the floor before. We have become acutely conscious that the sin of hubris is committed in the opening acts of Greek tragedies whose final acts do not end happily. There is a reason why presidential speechwriters prepare two versions of each speech that is slated to follow an important national happening.
This, evidently, is news to college football’s nouveau riche, as the Boise State faithful do not seem lacking in confidence that their team will prevail. For a program whose first season in Division I-A coincided with Jim Donnan’s first season as the Bulldogs’ 24th head football coach, and whose ledger against the Southeastern Conference has yet to include its first positive integer on the left-hand side of the dash, and whose last trip to the Empire State of the South six years and a lifetime ago gave the Broncos little cause for confidence or even hope, they surely seem sure of themselves and their team. Such are the divergent experiences of fan bases whose traditions in major college football date back to the 1890s and to the 1990s, respectively.
This, of course, does not necessarily mean that the BSU boosters’ faith is misplaced; their confidence very well might be confirmed as correct, and that, according to all the indicators, certainly would be the way to bet. It’s just that, for all the crowing coming from partisans of the Gem State invaders, there has been a nearly eerie silence emanating from Athens. The offseason has been atypically, even remarkably, quiet. On G-Day, the coaching staff put nothing novel on film in a plain vanilla spring scrimmage. Hard-hitting practices and hard-knocks discipline have produced more trauma than drama, and what little spectacle there has been has been decidedly predictable, from Washaun Ealey’s judgment, vel non, to Caleb King’s classroom performance, vel non.
Meanwhile, as tankertoad has noted, Todd Grantham has been seldom seen and rarely heard. We are hearing only platitudes, not details; we are hearing only the slap of pads on the practice field and the grunts of exertion in the weight room, but little else. There have been neither police blotters to peruse, nor revelations of wrinkles in the game plan to examine, nor mysteries of the depth chart to plumb more inscrutable than the status of a single defensive back.
There has, in short, been silence. It is, in sum, quiet over there. Too quiet.
Into that noiseless calm is injected this thought:
In adverse circumstances, every creature becomes something else, evolving or devolving. What makes us human is that we know what we once were, and---let us hope---we remember how to change back.
Ambassador Cammar Pilru
It has been a decade, so it is hard to recall, but, if you put your mind to it, you can remember what we once were. You can remember that the Bulldogs posted just two ten-win seasons in the 18 years from 1984 to 2001, before notching double-digit victory totals six times in seven seasons between 2002 and 2008. You can remember the nine-game losing streak to the Tennessee Volunteers from 1989 to 1999. You can remember failing to beat the Auburn Tigers between the hedges in five straight series meetings in Sanford Stadium. You can remember losing three in a row to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, even if it took two blown officiating calls and several ineligible players for that to happen. You can remember never once having won in Tuscaloosa in the program’s whole history. You can remember that going 1-10 against the Florida Gators from 1990 to 2000 was even worse than going 2-8 in Jacksonville thereafter.
You can also remember David Greene and Verron Haynes bringing down the hobnailed boot in Knoxville in 2001, though, and the Bulldogs beating the Big Orange on their next two trips to Rocky Top. You can remember that the Red and Black were "man enough" to beat ‘Bama in the Yellowhammer State in 2002, and again there in 2007. You can remember beating the LSU Tigers by double-digit margins in Athens in 2004, in Atlanta in 2005, and in Baton Rouge in 2008. Can’t you?
You can remember taking three of four from Alabama, four of five from Auburn, nine of ten from Georgia Tech, and six of ten from Tennessee. You can remember going to three SEC Championship Games in four years, and winning two of them. You can remember attending three Sugar Bowls in six years, and winning two of them. Can’t you?
You can remember David Pollack’s interception in the end zone in Columbia. You can remember winning by 30 points in Clemson after prevailing in a pitched battled with the Country Gentlemen in the Classic City the year before. You can remember beating the Plainsmen with an Odell Thurman interception that left me breathless and a Bacarri Rambo pass breakup that left him unconscious and a play called "70 X Takeoff" that became this generation’s version of Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott. Can’t you?
And you can remember D.J. Shockley having one of the best games ever by a Georgia quarterback in his first career start against some team from out west to spark an SEC championship run no one saw coming.
The architect of all that glory will be standing on the Georgia sideline this Saturday. He’s in adverse circumstances. He’s evolved. He’s a human being who knows what we once were. He remembers how to change us back. He’s done it before. He can do it again.
We’ve hoped before. We’ve dreamed before. We’ve believed before. It’s hard to remember, because it’s been a while now, but we’ve seen our hopes realized and our dreams fulfilled and our belief reward before. We can hope and dream and believe again.
Well, I can, and so can you, and, at least for now, while hope remains possible and dreams remain plausible and belief remains sustainable and everyone is 0-0, I will, and we should. I’ll tell you what you can’t do, though. You can’t spell "the Georgia Bulldogs will beat Boise State on Saturday" without "Bene Gesserit."
Against my better judgment, I’m standing by the prediction I made on ESPN Radio on Monday afternoon. The sleeper will awaken at 8:00 this Saturday night.
My Prediction: Georgia 27, Boise State 24.