September 4, 2011

Boise State proves it belongs

ATLANTA - Go ahead and be a Boise State believer. It's OK.

Georgia is the latest program from a power conference to learn about the Broncos.

Boise State didn't just beat Georgia on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome. It whipped the Bulldogs, taking a 35-21 decision that honestly wasn't that close.

"They just beat us," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They were better than we were. I understand that and the players understand that."

Boise State entered as the favorite and played like it from start to finish.

"All of us are going for the same thing," Boise State wide receiver Mitch Burrows said.

That would be a shot at the BCS title, and Saturday's win again stamps the Broncos as legit contenders.

This is the second season in a row Boise State has opened the season by beating a marquee foe (Georgia) on a neutral field (Georgia Dome). Last season, the Broncos dumped Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in what basically was a home game for the Hokies.

"You know, it's awesome," said Boise State tailback Doug Martin, who ran 24 times for 57 yards and a score. "Last year with Virginia Tech, there was a lot of energy. Tonight, there was a lot of crowd noise.

"It's always great to win the first game, but we have to go back and practice and keep getting better and better."

When are people going to stop doubting Boise State? When are they going to realize Boise State is an elite program?

Yes, Georgia beats Boise State every day of the week when it comes to star recruits, tradition, stadium size and cool mascots. But the Bulldogs - and most other name-brand schools - don't measure up to the Broncos where it matters most: on the field.

[Recap: No. 5 Boise State 35, No. 19 Georgia 21]

At the 10-minute mark of the third quarter, Boise State was cruising with a 28-7 lead and boos had begun emanating from the partisan Georgia crowd. It was a far cry from the last time these teams met, when Georgia administered a 48-13 beatdown on Boise State in Athens in 2005. That was six years ago but seems like 100.

"They are a better defensive team," Richt said. "Good on both sides of the ball."

Broncos coach Chris Petersen, who improved to 63-5 in his sixth season on the job, put another notch in his formidable belt. If you give him months to prepare, he'll come up with an effective game plan. Ask Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia Tech and now Georgia.

"It's just important to win your first game," Petersen said. "If you win, you come off on a good note, and that gives you a lot of confidence."

This was a must-win game for Boise State. Had it lost, it would have been irrelevant on a national level for the rest of this season, cast off to toil in the Mountain West Conference and battle for a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl.

Boise State was as high as No. 4 in the BCS standings last season before a 34-31 overtime loss at Nevada on Nov. 26 ended its title-game dreams. Those dreams may not get trashed this season. Look at the Boise State schedule. Try to find a scary game. A trip to Fresno State on Oct. 7? Perhaps when Air Force comes to Boise on Oct. 22? When TCU visits Nov. 12? When the Broncos play at San Diego State on Nov. 19? That's it. That's the extent of Boise State's heavy lifting the rest of the season.

A move from the WAC to the Mountain West should give the Broncos more juice in the BCS standings. This team is primed for perfection.

"I love playing early in the season in games like this," Bronco linebacker Byron Hout said. "It sets the tone for the rest of the season. It's a taste of what a big bowl can be like with this type of atmosphere.

"If you do the right thing, you can find yourself in another event like this at the end of the season."

If Boise State does, it can thank quarterback Kellen Moore, one of the best quarterbacks in America. He again proved it Saturday, going 28-of-34 for 261 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

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"Guys like Kellen, you know they are going to come through," Petersen said.

As for Richt, his team didn't come through. This was no way to open his season on the brink. The deflating loss surely will set off a firestorm on Atlanta sports-radio talk shows and internet message boards all week about Richt's future and who should be Georgia's next coach.

The Bulldogs ended the 2007 season with a demolition of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl and opened the 2008 season No. 1 in many preseason polls. But they finished second in the SEC East and ended up in the Capital One Bowl. Things have gotten worse since, with an 8-5 record in 2009 and a 6-7 mark last season that was the school's first losing record since 1996. It was bad enough having to play in the Liberty Bowl. But losing a hideous 10-6 game to UCF only made matters worse.

The one positive from Saturday is that it wasn't a conference game. While the Bulldogs certainly are not national title contenders, they still can win the SEC East - which really isn't much when you consider how superior the SEC West is.

Next Saturday in Athens, SEC East favorite South Carolina visits. But if they can beat the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs become the East favorite.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Richt said. "Everybody [in the SEC] is 0-0 in league play. The goal is to win the Eastern Division - that's not changing."

Hey, that's something Georgia fans can cling to after their team lost to a Boise State program that has passed them in the national pecking order.

"They've got a bunch of well-coached, great athletes who just played a great game," said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who was 16-of-29 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and a pick.

Murray was sacked six times as Boise's defensive line dominated Georgia's offensive front. Boise's offensive line also won its battle with Georgia's defensive front seven. The bottom line about the lines: They're a big reason Boise State is in the BCS title-game hunt.

Deal with it, America.

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Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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