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December 17, 2008

College Football Notebook

Georgia-Michigan St. Preview

The expectations placed on Georgia entering the season couldn't have been higher. The Bulldogs didn't come close to meeting them.

The preseason No. 1 team in the country isn't playing for a national title and couldn't even make a BCS bowl game, so escaping with a 10-win season by beating Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day is their only potential consolation.

Both teams have 9-3 records, but the 19th-ranked Spartans can be proud of achieving the program's best season this decade while the No. 16 Bulldogs might be disappointed by the Florida city they ended up visiting for bowl season. This game is in Orlando, and a few months ago, they had high hopes of making it to Miami for the BCS national championship game.

By closing last season with seven straight wins and routing Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl to finish No. 2 in the AP poll, Georgia was voted to the top of the rankings at this season's outset with many star players returning from that 2007 squad.

The Bulldogs opened with four straight wins before losing 41-30 to Alabama on Sept. 27, then struggled to beat Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home in their next two games. The low point of the season -- and the most lopsided defeat of coach Mark Richt's career -- came on Nov. 1 with a 49-10 loss to then-No. 5 Florida.

The next two weeks saw Georgia barely hang on to beat unranked foes Kentucky and Auburn, and things only got worse in the regular-season finale. The Bulldogs blew a 16-point lead in the second half and saw a seven-game winning streak over rival Georgia Tech come to an end with a 45-42 defeat.

"We're going to do a better job next year," Richt said the day after that loss. "We will critique everything from top to bottom. We have to be open and honest in our evaluations of ourselves."

The evaluation of the three losses shows the difference to be star running back Knowshon Moreno getting shut down and the defense failing to stop anyone.

Moreno led the SEC with 1,338 rushing yards, but was held under 100 in each of the three defeats. Those games saw the Bulldogs allow more than 40 points each time while giving up an average of 241.0 rushing yards, including 409 versus Georgia Tech -- the most they've surrendered since 1994.

"We've just got to look at this season, learn from our mistakes, learn what went wrong and try to improve on it," sophomore linebacker Rennie Curran said.

This matchup features the two Doak Walker finalists who didn't take home the honor -- it went to Iowa's Shonn Greene -- with Moreno looking to outshine Javon Ringer.

It's possible both players could be first-round picks in this year's NFL draft if Moreno decides to leave school after two impressive seasons. Ringer, meanwhile, is a senior who has run for 132.5 yards per game to rank third nationally and is tied for second with 21 rushing touchdowns.

"The perfect game for me would be something like 25 carries, 200 yards, three touchdowns and a victory," Ringer said. "That's the way I want to go out.

"I'm not naive. That perfect game is something you dream about. Georgia has a tremendous defense. And they are going to make it tough. But we've got a good enough team that the dream could become reality."

He's probably the biggest reason why Michigan State already has put together its winningest season since finishing 10-2 in 1999. The Spartans had a chance to share the Big Ten title, but they lost 49-18 at Penn State in their regular-season finale.

While Ringer carries the Michigan State offense -- no player in the country had more carries than his 370 -- Georgia is more balanced with another potential NFL first-rounder under center in Matthew Stafford.

The junior topped the SEC with 3,209 passing yards, throwing for 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He could hardly be blamed for the Georgia Tech loss, having thrown for 407 yards and five TDs, but he was more at fault versus Florida after tossing three interceptions and no TD passes.

"Personnel-wise, I would put them up there with the Penn States, the Ohio States." Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer said of the Bulldogs. "You can see they have talent. We definitely have our work cut out for us."

Hoyer might need to step up because the Georgia defense will clearly focus on Ringer. However, the senior signal-caller has been struggling, throwing no touchdown passes and four interceptions over the last three games while barely completing more than half of his attempts.

Second-year coach Mark Dantonio will be looking to lead Michigan State to its first bowl win since beating Fresno State in the 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic.

The only meeting between these programs was Georgia's 34-27 win in the 1989 Gator Bowl.

"I think win number 10 is very significant in any program," Richt said, "and I think both of us are going to be battling pretty hard for that."

BCS championship to be available live in 3-D

LOS ANGELES -- College football live in 3-D is coming soon -- possibly to a theater near you.

Thanks to an impressive -- though not glitch-free -- test broadcast of an NFL game two weeks ago, Burbank, Calif.-based 3ality Digital said Tuesday it had won the contract to shoot the Jan. 8 BCS National Championship game in 3-D.

The game between Florida and Oklahoma will be broadcast live in 3-D to 80 to 100 movie theaters in about 30 U.S. cities, said 3ality Chairman David Modell. Tickets are expected to cost $18 to $22, said Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp., which is working with 3ality to deliver the broadcasts to theaters.

A startup named RealD is supplying the 3-D projector technology and polarized lenses for audience members.

"We will take what we learned from the NFL shoot and apply it to this so this broadcast gets better," said Modell, 47, former president of the Baltimore Ravens.

This month's test 3-D broadcast of an NFL game between the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers went black twice before the half as the satellite signal went down. And some camera moves had people in the audience crossing their eyes and removing their polarized lenses.

But audiences -- test runs were done in Boston, New York and Los Angeles -- generally approved of the technology, which adds depth to the field and gives a sense of being there in person. Shots of cheerleaders were a big hit.

"There's been lots of post-morteming," Modell said. "Mostly it's been warm handshakes, hugs and backslaps for having done a good job."

Modell said the format will be roughly the same as it was during the test screening, which had eight 3-D camera crews beside their 2-D counterparts, and a separate set of commentators.

Auburn hire: More incompetence than bad intent

Whether Charles Barkley was right when he said "race was the No. 1 factor" why Auburn chose Gene Chizik over Turner Gill is something only a few higher-ups in the athletic department and the administration at his alma mater will ever know.

But Barkley may be giving them too much credit. Judging by the process that led to Chizik's selection as the Tigers football coach, incompetence appears to have trumped any questions of bad intent.

"I just thought Turner Gill would be the perfect choice for two reasons: He's a terrific coach and we needed to make a splash," Barkley said. "I thought we had to do something spectacular to bring attention to the program. Clearly, if we'd hired a black coach, it would have created a buzz."

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs created a buzz, all right -- just not the kind he hoped for. Polls show fan sentiment running 2-to-1 against his new coach, something Jacobs might have suspected after being heckled mercilessly by some Auburn fans upon returning to the university's airport with Chizik's deal in his briefcase.

After first declining to confirm the hiring, Jacobs later issued a statement saying, "I'm confident that Gene can build upon the foundation that has been established and make this a program that competes for championships on a consistent basis."

Those remarks make you wonder what program Jacobs was watching.

Auburn consistently competed for championships under Tommy Tuberville, who went 85-40 in 10 seasons at the school, including a perfect season and Southeastern Conference title four years ago and six straight wins over archrival Alabama -- and whose contract ran through 2013.

Maybe that's why early reports labeled his departure a "surprise."

But soon enough it became clear Tuberville agreed to resign in exchange for a $5 million payoff, because the university was under no obligation to buy out the deal if Tuberville quit. There was no evidence Tigers fans wanted him gone, either, since six dozen protesters marched in front of university president Jay Gogue's mansion to protest their former coach's ouster.

Tuberville's 5-7 record, after all, was only his second losing season; he went 5-6 his first year in charge. And while Alabama's resurgence under Nick Saban made some Tigers fans nervous, few see the sense in paying a proven winner $5 million to go away and hiring a one-time defensive coordinator at $2 million per year -- especially since Chizik went 5-19 at Iowa State in his only stint as a head coach.

Neither Jacobs nor Gogue was around the last time Auburn's athletic aristocracy tried to kneecap Tuberville. Just before the Alabama game in 2004, a few of them climbed in a private jet to meet with then-Louisville (and now Arkansas) coach Bobby Petrino and gauge his interest in Tuberville's job.

But Jacobs' fondness for flying was the equal of his predecessors. In a 10-day span, he met with a near-record number of candidates -- rumored to include Texas Christian's Gary Patterson, Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Tulsa's Todd Graham, Ball State's Brady Hoke, Buffalo's Gill and Georgia assistant Rodney Garner.

Gill and Garner, an Auburn graduate, are believed to be the only two blacks on Jacobs' list, and Barkley may have overstated the case when he said, "Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume."

In truth, plenty of smart football people vouched for Chizik's talent as a defensive coordinator, including former Tiger and current Redskins defensive back Carlos Rogers, who flew to Auburn following his game Sunday to lend support in person at Chizik's news conference.

Former Auburn coach Pat Dye also contributed an e-mail addressed to the "Auburn family," in which he wrote, "Nobody is more qualified to make this decision than Jay. He is a true Auburn man to the bone and understands better than anybody the kind of man we need to lead our football program into the future. Gene Chizik is that man."

If that's true, Jacobs has done his man very few favors. Because of the way Tuberville was deep-sixed, and the sloppy, frenetic search for a successor, those already notoriously impatient Auburn fans will begin Chizik's tenure in a very bad mood.

Gill was the favorite not just of Barkley, but apparently a majority of the Tiger faithful. His resume at Buffalo was short, but substantial. After taking over one of the worst programs in the country, the former Nebraska quarterback led the Bulls to an 8-5 record and their first MAC title, upending previously unbeaten Ball State 42-24 for the conference championship.

Gill might have been overmatched at Auburn, of course, but he almost certainly would have been granted a longer grace period. More fascinating, still, would have been the chance to watch a black coach take over a strong, stable college program in need of some fine-tuning, as opposed to the wrecked, wretched ones they usually get hired to turn around.

That may be what angered Barkley most.

The number of black coaches running major college football programs is abysmal: four of 119, the same number as 15 years ago. Of the nearly 200 head-coaching jobs that have opened up since 1996, a dozen have gone to blacks, who make up half the players.

"They're not getting good jobs. They're not getting jobs where they can be successful. That's why I wanted Turner to get the Auburn job," Barkley said. "He could win consistently at Auburn. You can't win consistently at New Mexico. You can't win consistently at Kansas State. He could have won at Auburn."

Now we'll never know.



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