Georgia has plenty to gain from win
NEW ORLEANS » Hawaii winning tonight's Allstate Sugar Bowl might be the biggest thing since statehood, but it would be a mistake to assume it doesn't mean as much to Georgia.
The Bulldogs are still disappointed they aren't playing in the national championship game that will be held here in six days. They enter this matchup with a chip on their shoulder pads that head coach Mark Richt believes will be a motivational factor when the two teams meet in tonight's nationally televised game.
For Hawaii, making it this far is quite an accomplishment. So many things had to happen for the Warriors to win a dozen games and reach this BCS stage, it would take a century for the stars to line up that way again. But for Georgia, this is the school's third Sugar Bowl appearance in six seasons.
They have reached a plateau most schools only dream about, and yet, playing for a national championship has remained out of reach for a variety of reasons. Richt was asked during yesterday's final press conference what playing here meant to his program. His answer took a lot of things into account, but it boils down to this.
If the Bulldogs win and win big, it likely means they will be ranked second or third in the final Associated Press poll. The Bulldogs have 16 starters returning -- including top running back Knowshon Moreno and quarterback Matthew Stafford. That gives them a chance to be ranked in the top 5 of the 2008 preseason polls.
It's a lot easier to move into the top two of the first BCS poll if you begin the season in or near that neighborhood from the opening weekend as opposed to having to move up from deep in the top 25. In mid-August, Georgia was ranked No. 13 in the AP preseason poll.
"There are several deserving two-loss teams that think they should be playing for the national championship," Richt said. "I'm sure Oklahoma feels like they should be there; to some extent, so does Virginia Tech. But because LSU has been ranked at or near No. 1 all year, it helps them because they didn't start the season at No. 12."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
June Jones and Georgia's Mark Richt will match strategies today with the Sugar Bowl trophy on the line.
HAWAII'S GOALS aren't nearly as lofty. The Warriors did benefit, however, by being ranked in the top 25 of the first preseason polls. Closing out 2006 with a big win over Arizona State in the Hawaii Bowl got the Warriors enough preseason hype to at least be considered for a national ranking. Without that win to close out 2006, it's unlikely the Warriors would be in this BCS game, no matter how they fared.
UH head coach June Jones didn't want to speculate on where his team should end up if the Warriors do pull off the upset of the powerful SEC program. There will be some who believe Hawaii should be the national champions by winding up 13-0. But let's face it, that's not going to happen.
More likely, Hawaii would finish fifth nationally, much like Boise State a year ago, which could mean a top 25 position in the next preseason polls this summer. A bad loss would likely leave the Warriors on the outside looking in.
Of course, if Hawaii does win, it will be the biggest thing since statehood nearly 50 years ago. Perhaps Jones will have time to reflect on that accomplishment and what it means in the grand scheme of things. It won't mean the Warriors will have a shot at a national title in 2008 as it would for Georgia should the Bulldogs win.
But it will mean Jones might be considered for governor once again; something he hasn't had to worry about much since the miracle turnaround of 1999.
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org