| By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com|
January 2, 2006
ATLANTA – Well, it’s game day. West Virginia hoists the Big East Conference on its shoulders and takes on powerful Georgia of the Southeastern Conference Monday night in the Nokia Sugar Bowl in Atlanta. The 10-2 Bulldogs have a winning legacy that is truly remarkable. Here is what Georgia has managed to do since Coach Mark Richt took over the Bulldog program in 2001:
Georgia is making its eighth appearance at the Sugar Bowl having won the game in 1947, 1980 and 2002. Tonight’s contest will be the first time West Virginia and Georgia have met on the gridiron.
Perhaps that may be some kind of omen if you believe in those types of things.
“The mental mistakes in practices have been at a minimum and they seem to be pretty sharp mentally,” he said Sunday morning. “We had a couple of pretty good, physical practices at the beginning of the week and I think they’re ready to play.”
In an effort to keep his team focused and removed from distractions, Rodriguez took his travel team to an undisclosed hotel in Atlanta Sunday night.
Is there any other school in the Big East capable of going six-deep with fans on Peach Street for a parade two days before the game? Other than Louisville, I’m not sure the rest of the league combined could come up with that many travelers. That is probably just as important for the Big East in its quest for national respect as its on-field results.
And having spent the last couple of days walking the downtown streets of Atlanta, I’m convinced Georgia fans are among the most passionate in college football. Any 50ish-man who saves his head bald, paints a big black G on the back, and walks around barking at other Georgia fans is either passionate or unhinged. And let me tell you, there were many passionate/unhinged Bulldog fans walking the Atlanta streets this weekend.
Of course, there are plenty of passionate West Virginia fans here as well -- some of whom I hear from daily.
The Sugar Bowl TV payout hit five million in 1987. The two biggest jumps came between the 1995 and 1996 seasons ($8.9 million to $15.65 million) and 1998 to 1999 ($15.65 million to $25 million).
Last year’s network payout for Auburn’s win over Virginia Tech was $34 million. The all-time Sugar Bowl high was $36 million for LSU’s victory over Oklahoma to capture the 2004 national title.
Outside of an 11-year period between 1959 and 1969 when NBC had the rights to the game, ABC has been the exclusive network home to the Sugar Bowl.
“When I took the job five years ago I told the media that I wanted to compete for Big East championships every year,” Rodriguez said. “The first goal no matter what league you’re in is to win a league championship. If you win that then you go to a BCS bowl.
“We were able to share a couple of them but we weren’t able to finish the job,” Rodriguez said. “It was almost a feeling of unfinished business with our guys. Our major goal is to win a Big East championship and our ultimate goal is to win a national championship.”
Rodriguez remembered a conversation he had with one of his former Mountaineer teammates when he was named West Virginia’s 31st football coach.
“The day I got the job he said, ‘Which Division I-A school has won more games without winning a national championship? West Virginia.’ I had no idea.
“We’ve been close a couple of times in 1993 there was an outside shot and in 1988 when we lost to Notre Dame. We have a long way to go but (winning a national title) is the ultimate,” Rodriguez said. “Anyone coaching at our level I think will tell you the same thing.”
“I’m glad that happened,” Richt smiled. “I hope the players heard that.”
But Rich Rodriguez isn’t buying it.
“I don’t put a whole lot of stock in what outside analysts believe. We judge based on what we see on film and their coaches will tell you the same thing based on what they see on film,” Rodriguez said. “They’re the favorite and they should be the favorite. They’re a very good football team, they’ve recruited well and we’re playing in their home state and it’s going to be a great challenge.
“But we’re not going to forfeit,” Rodriguez added.
Only three times in its bowl history has West Virginia managed to hold an opponent to seven points or fewer in the 1938 Sun, 1969 Peach and 1981 Peach Bowl.
Not coincidentally, the Mountaineers won all three games.
Clark was 89.
Monday, January 02, 2006
It's Game Day
It's Game Day