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Monday, January 02, 2006

It's Game Day

It's Game Day
By John Antonik for
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:

  • Won 52 of 64 games to rank sixth among all NCAA Division I-A football programs
  • Won three of its four bowl games including a Nokia Sugar Bowl title in 2002 over Florida State and a victory over Wisconsin in last year’s Outback Bowl
  • Has four straight 10-win seasons including a 13-win campaign in 2002
  • Has a winning 16-11 record against nationally ranked teams
  • Has been nationally ranked all five seasons at Georgia including four straight years ranked in the Top 10
  • Has sent an SEC-best 25 players to the NFL including four more players last year under Richt

    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.

    Bowl Bits:

    A large number of fans turn out for the live telecast of the Mountaineer Magazine Sugar Bowl Special in downtown Atlanta Sunday night. West Virginia faces Georgia today in the Nokia Sugar Bowl at Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
    All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks

  • West Virginia is making its third appearance at the Sugar Bowl, having lost games to Georgia Tech in 1954 and to Florida in 1994.
  • The Mountaineers have a 9-15 all-time bowl record and recently snapped an eight-game bowl losing streak that ties South Carolina for the longest in NCAA history. However, West Virginia has enjoyed some success playing bowl games in Atlanta having won the 1969 Peach Bowl against South Carolina, the 1975 Peach Bowl against N.C. State, and the 1981 Peach Bowl game against Florida.
  • Rain showers moved into the Atlanta area Sunday night and there were some close lightning strikes near the downtown area around 9:30 pm. It’s strange listening to lightning on Jan. 1.

    Perhaps that may be some kind of omen if you believe in those types of things.

  • West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez has been in a pretty good mood all week, saying his young team has done an excellent job of focusing in practice and paying close attention to detail.

    “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.

  • Having witnessed the large number of West Virginia fans in Atlanta and watching the Nokia Sugar Bowl parade on Saturday night, I’m convinced that there is no football program in the Big East Conference that comes close to both the tradition and fan support West Virginia has.

    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.

  • I made the big mistake of waiting to eat dinner Sunday evening after all of the local shops were closed. Room service for a turkey sandwich at the Hyatt is about the equivalent of two-month’s salary.
  • The network payout for West Virginia’s Sugar Bowl meeting against Georgia Tech in 1954 was $289,338. The bowl game got its first million-dollar payout during the 1975 game between Alabama and Penn State. The game reached the two-million mark in 1980 when Alabama took on Arkansas.

    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.

  • January has been a tough month for Mountaineer football. West Virginia is looking for its first January victory since 1948 when WVU defeated Texas Western, 21-12, in the Sun Bowl.
  • Rich Rodriguez said his first goal when he took the West Virginia job back in 2001 was to win Big East championships. Winning Big East championships would then put his program into a position to contend for national championships.

    “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.”

  • Some ESPN commentators have predicted a West Virginia upset victory over Georgia, giving Mark Richt something to feed to his players.

    “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.

  • The one common denominator in West Virginia’s last five bowl losses since 1997 has been its inability to stop the opposition. The Mountaineers have given up an average of 37.6 points per game in its bowl losses to Georgia Tech, Missouri, Virginia, Maryland and Florida State. In its 2000 Music City Bowl win over Mississippi to snap an eight-game bowl losing streak, the West Virginia defense gave up 38 points to the Rebels.

    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.

  • And sadly, the star of the 1938 Sun Bowl team -- running back Harry “Flash” Clark -- died Saturday, Dec. 31, in Morgantown of Alzheimer’s Disease. Clark was a Uniontown product who ran for more than 900 yards at WVU in 1937 before becoming an all-pro runner for George Halas’s powerhouse Chicago Bears teams of the early 1940s.

    Clark was 89.

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