A perfect fall evening in Columbia. The Gamecocks were driving for another touchdown and a 35-0 lead over the Bulldogs. In case Georgia wasn’t defeated and humiliated enough, South Carolina’s giddy fans were chanting “Over-Rated!” at the team considered the fifth best in the nation at the time.
In the hang-dog aftermath for anyone wearing red instead of garnet, it was hard finding a rosy tint. Some idiot Bulldog fans even delivered eggs and toilet paper at quarterback Aaron Murray’s house back in Athens.
The words of the Bulldogs head coach seemed almost laughable in the context of when they were said.
“Tonight we weren’t very good,” Mark Richt said in his trademark understatement. “But the world didn’t end. We’ve still got a lot of things to play for and a lot of good things can still happen.”
Fast-forward 46 days and it’s almost like Oct. 6 never happened. Murray is back in the good graces of Bulldog Nation. Georgia is still ranked No. 5. It will once again represent the East in the Southeastern Conference championship game. With just a little more help, it could even earn a shot at the BCS title.
Richt’s nonplussed reaction to the South Carolina debacle looks prophetic.
In fact, Georgia hasn’t taken the field a single game this year when its destiny wasn’t in its own hands. By the time the Bulldogs kicked off against Kentucky in their first performance after the Williams-Brice debacle, the Gamecocks had already lost twice and conceded control back to the Bulldogs or Florida Gators.
Las Vegas oddsmakers say Georgia has a 20-to-1 shot of reaching the BCS title game in Miami – behind SEC title opponent Alabama (13/2) and unbeatens Notre Dame (13/2), Oregon (1/1) and Kansas State (3/2).
Richt sounds about as unmoved about it all as he did in the bowels of Williams-Brice last month.
“I don’t worry about it,” he said. “I don’t because I can’t control it. If you worry about stuff you can’t control, you’re really wasting your time and you’re going to make yourself crazy a little bit.
“I can only control what we do on a weekly basis. It’s just like when we lost the first game to South Carolina. Once we lost it, we couldn’t do anything other than control trying to win and hope something good happened, but we weren’t going crazy about it. Of course it happened pretty fast this particular year. Last year it took a long time, but it’s the motivation of still having your goals out in front of you. When it’s mathematically possible to win the East, there’s still hope, so you keep grinding and trying to reach your goal.”
Mathematically, Georgia is very much in the BCS mix. Until Alabama skidded a few rungs on the ladder to fourth this week, the Bulldogs were the highest rated one-loss team in the nation, which is pretty amazing considering the nature of that one loss.
But here they are, in the thick of the national conversation while the team that beat them handily is trying to figure out which lesser bowl it will wind up in.
Of course the only thing that can make a BCS title shot happen for Georgia is winning out the next three weeks. Envisioning wins over Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech are easy enough. That would make the Bulldogs 11-1 for the first time since 2002, when they slid into the Sugar Bowl at No. 3 in the nation.
Beating Alabama in the Georgia Dome is another matter. But the defending BCS champs don’t seem quite as invincible anymore after barely surviving against LSU and then losing a stunner at home to Texas A&M.
But the winner of that game should get heavy consideration from voters who can’t dismiss the six-year streak of SEC dominance on the national title stage.
“In some kind of way two really good teams are going to play in the SEC championship game, and that elevates their status and I think they deserve to go to the (BCS) game,” Alabama’s Nick Saban said this week.
Just as the Bulldogs needed an assist from South Carolina to get back into the SEC East picture, bad things need to happen to other good teams for the BCS house of cards to crumble in front of them.
No. 1 Kansas State has the benefit of not having to deal with a conference title game. So all the Wildcats have to do is keep Collin Klein healthy, not screw up against Baylor and then beat a very beatable Texas team at home to secure a BCS title berth.
If No. 2 Oregon gets through the gauntlet of Stanford, Oregon State and a possible rematch with Southern Cal in the Pac 12 championship game, the Ducks are a lock for a BCS title shot. By that time, the computers will have caught up with the eyeballs in assessing Oregon as championship worthy.
No. 3 Notre Dame has some work to do. Without a conference title to contend with and the lingering memory of what should have been a damning loss to Pitt, the Irish will need to impress with decisive victories over Wake Forest and Southern Cal to try to unseat one of the top two teams and hold off any one-loss SEC challengers.
Former Tennessee coaching loudmouth Lane Kiffin could become the most popular guy in Athens if his Trojans can take out Notre Dame and Oregon in successive weeks.
Since one- or two-loss SEC teams have four of the last six BCS titles and the conference takes up six of the top nine spots in the current BCS standings, a late-season comeback is far from out of the question.
“All of us in the SEC would like to see that happen,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “I would still say one of our teams has a shot at getting into the final game. I don’t think it’s over yet.”
Hard to believe that one of those teams is the one Spurrier’s program all but buried and left for dead 46 days ago.