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Everyone but BCS saw Dogs maturing..


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By Jeff Schultz | Wednesday, January 2, 2008, 12:59 AM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

New Orleans It had been five years since Georgia ended its season with a win in the Sugar Bowl. Mark Richt was in only his second season. He had already won an SEC title. We now can consider that foreshadowing.

The Bulldogs ended another season in New Orleans on Tuesday night. They often toyed with an unbeaten but overmatched opponent. The same team that looked so lost early in the season appeared mature and resolute at the end. Feel free to consider it foreshadowing.

This season, they were very good. Next season, they should be the next level up.

Presumably, this time the BCS will notice.

If the Dogs wanted to make a statement about playing in the wrong bowl game, they did so. They led Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl 24-3 after their first four possessions. They led 38-3 when the game wasn t even three-quarters old, though it already was clear that Hawaii would be four-quarters awful.

It was another nightmarish result for the BCS, which was not to be confused with the nightmarish result in the Rose Bowl earlier in the day. Southern Cal smacked Illinois in the Rose Bowl 49-17. Georgia was on the way to doing much the same to Hawaii. Once again, the system created muck, not magic.

There are many who believed that the Bulldogs and Trojans, not LSU and Ohio State, should ve been matched in next week s BCS title game. Nothing that happened on New Year s Day will change those sentiments.

Hawaii brought a perfect record to New Orleans. They also brought hula dancers, the ha a dance and band members with war paint. If window dressing and pageantry counted for anything, the Warriors would ve led before the kickoff.

That would ve been their only lead.

After zipping through the season 12-0 against a schedule most would consider soft the toughest opponent: Boise State Hawaii looked out of place in a BCS bowl. Coach June Jones had admitted concern about how his players would react to being on this stage ( This is a Sugar Bowl for Georgia, but it s a Super Bowl for us. ), and his worries were justified.

From the outset, the Bulldogs looked at home. Hawaii merely looked in awe.

The Warriors were penalized twice before their first official snap, first for delay of game, then for a false start. Colt Brennan, who threw 38 touchdown passes and finished third in the Heisman voting, looked rushed and nervous on his first two pass attempts. Hawaii s first possession ended with a punt, after which the Warriors Keenan Jones drew a personal foul for hitting returner Mikey Henderson early and illegally (helmet to helmet).

Henderson suffered a concussion. That would be the closest Hawaii came to having its presence felt. The Bulldogs first four possessions of the game went touchdown-touchdown-field goal-touchdown as they built a 24-3 lead. They were bigger, deeper and better.

Hawaii s defense had no answer for Knowshon Moreno, who had two early touchdown runs of 17 and 11 yards. (Actually, in that sense, Hawaii fit right in with the rest of the SEC, which also didn t have an answer for Moreno.) Hawaii s offense and Brennan didn t have an answer for Georgia s defense, which in the first half sacked the quarterback five times and forced two turnovers.

If the Bulldogs were still upset Tuesday about being snubbed by the BCS, they did what good teams do: They vented on the field.

Consider this another step in the maturing process for a young team that had some early season hiccups, then closed the regular season with six straight wins. The youth that was so painfully apparent in losses to South Carolina and Tennessee, and in a narrow escape at Vanderbilt, looked remarkably stable in New Orleans.

Growing pains shouldn t be a problem next season. The Dogs return 17 of 22 starters next season, including the quarterback (Matthew Stafford), the running back (Moreno), three-fifths of the offensive line (which started three freshmen this season) and all but one defender in the front seven (end Marcus Howard).

For a fan base that sometimes has difficult maintaining perspective, it s hard to imagine Georgia fans keeping their feet on the ground heading into next season.

But it s hard to imagine any projection being excessive. Maybe this time the BCS will notice.

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