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Jan. 1 — Sugar Bowl Preview at New Orleans, Hawaii (12-0) vs. Georgia (10-2), 8:30 p.m. (FOX)
CFB – Sugar Bowl – HAWAII vs. GEORGIA (1/1 8:30 PM ET – FOX)
Hawaii was the nation’s only regular season unbeaten team in 2007. Its reward is a date with red-hot Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs won their L6 games of the season, with the final five all coming by double-digits. Many experts believe they were the finest team in the country at the end of the season. They will be playing as a 7.5 point favorite in this game.
However, Georgia was beaten for the SEC East Division title by Tennessee and were left out of the national title game because of it. HC Mark Richt’s main jobs here will be to motivate his team for a Hawaii club not accustomed to BCS-level games, and to ready his defense for the aerial assault certain to come from QB Colt Brennan. The Warriors scored 46.2 PPG this season and gained 529 YPG of offense. Georgia, 10-2 SU & 7-4 ATS, owns a 17-5 ATS record in its L22 non-conference road games, including 7-3 ATS in bowl games.
Much like Boise State last January, Hawaii is the most intriguing team in this year’s Bowl Championship Series. That’s simply because the Warriors are somewhat mysterious, with a pass-crazy offense that has rarely been tested by quality defenses.
Hawaii was barely able to beat WAC opponents Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Nevada on the road, raising further questions about its ability to play with an SEC opponent. But the Warriors certainly have enough firepower to make things interesting. It all starts with quarterback Colt Brennan, directing an offense that has averaged 46 points and 529 total yards. His receivers are dynamic, led by Davone Bess and Ryan Grice-Mullen. Brennan and his teammates demonstrated a knack of coming through in the fourth quarters of close games, such as the regular-season finale against Washington with a BCS bid on the line.
Even while being involved in some high-scoring games, Hawaii’s defense has produced some decent statistics. The Warriors are 33rd in the country in total defense, allowing 348 total yards. If there’s a weakness, it’s in the secondary, but Hawaii’s strength up front could also be an issue against an SEC offense.
Having almost sneaked into the BCS title game despite not even playing in the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs settled for the Sugar Bowl after a 10-2 season that included losses to South Carolina and Tennessee.
Coach Mark Richt was credited with keeping things together and getting his team to improve during a year that was highlighted by a win over defending national champion Florida. The Bulldogs are a typical SEC team. They feature a great defense, a dependable running game and a serviceable quarterback. Georgia is 19th in the country in total defense, allowing 324 yards. Opponents have thrown for 205 yards a game, but that’s partly a function of having to pass because the Bulldogs are so stingy against the run.
Having faced Urban Meyer’s Florida offense the past three years should be good preparation for Georgia’s defense, going into this game. Offensively, Georgia has nice balance with Knowshon Moreno running the ball and Matthew Stafford throwing it. Moreno averages 106 yards on the ground. The Bulldogs are only 69th in total offense at 379 yards a game, but that’s respectable against the quality of defenses they face week after week in the SEC.
This game shapes up so much like the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, it is almost eerie. It is a pairing of an upstart WAC team and an established power. It matches a highly productive, innovative offense against a defense filled with great athletes. And it is another case where nobody can be sure exactly what is going to happen.
Of course, expecting this game to live up to the dramatic standards of Boise State vs. Oklahoma is asking too much. It certainly will be intriguing, though. It basically comes down to a couple of fundamental questions: Can Georgia’s defense hold the Warriors to a reasonable number of points, maybe something in the high 20s? If not, is Georgia’s offense capable of producing enough points to win? The Boise State-Oklahoma example offers some clues.
For all of the Broncos’ heroics at the end of that game, the fact is that they never would have reached overtime at all if not for a terrific start. BSU was wearing down markedly by the end of regulation. The same thing will likely happen to the Warriors, so if Georgia can establish itself early in the game, it could be difficult for Hawaii to last the full 60 minutes. Then again, if the Warriors can shock Georgia initially, the game could go down to the wire.
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