ATLANTA -- Recruiting rankings don't count as a portion of the score. Neither do off-the-chart marks on the eyeball test. If they did, Boise State would have spotted Georgia a three-touchdown lead Saturday night. Watching the players warm up left little doubt of this. Georgia looked like an NFL farm team. Boise State looked like a Mountain West team, and a recently minted one at that.
Of course, lofty recruiting rankings and All-Airport selections don't measure the quality of a program. Wins do. Boise State grabbed another win Saturday,
Entering Saturday, a great number believed Boise State couldn't come to the capital city of The South and beat an SEC team that closed last season by losing to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. For years, SEC elitists dismissed Boise State's rise by referencing Georgia's curbstomping of the Broncos in Athens in 2005. That day, Georgia -- en route to an SEC title -- showed Boise State how far it needed to go to reach elite status. The SEC apologists can't hang their hats on that game anymore. They do, however, have another excuse.
The SEC is fine. Georgia is not.
That's what they'll say, and it's difficult to deny after Saturday. LSU hung 40 on Oregon in a top-five clash. With the exception of South Carolina, which needed a half to get cranked before rolling up 56 points against East Carolina, the SEC's best teams cruised. But Georgia hasn't been one of the SEC's best teams for a few years. So that's what the folks down here will say as they continue to dismiss Boise State. Which is not a problem. The Broncos will keep smashing opponents with nary a care what anyone thinks.
"We've been around for a while," said Boise State tailback Doug Martin, who ran for 57 yards and a touchdown Saturday. "I'm sure they've seen it. I just don't know if they believed it."
Despite its circus-play reputation -- the hook-and-lateral masterpiece that helped beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was actually named "Circus" -- Boise State didn't win with trickery Saturday. The Broncos simply dominated both lines of scrimmage and made precious few mistakes. If the coaching matchup had been a game of chess, Boise State's staff would have won in four moves. (Hey look, it's another Boise State receiver wide open over the middle eight yards from the line of scrimmage!) Georgia's first possession, a three-and-out, included two false-start penalties and a delay-of-game flag. That about summed up Georgia's discipline.
"They just beat us tonight," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "They were better than we were."
Wait a second. Why do I smell the faintest hint of Sprayberry's barbecue sauce? I think I'm blacking out ...
... OK, I'm back.
Since I'm a card-carrying Internet writer, this is the part where I'm supposed to call for Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity to fire Mark Richt and then have Richt deported. But I won't do that. Because if the Bulldogs can beat South Carolina in Athens next week, the pain of the Boise State loss would melt away as the Bulldogs stare down the SEC's easiest schedule with the most important East division win already in hand.
The Bulldogs will have to play much better to stand a chance against the Gamecocks. Georgia's offense Saturday consisted essentially of three big plays -- an 80-yard touchdown run by moonlighting cornerback Brandon Boykin, a 36-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Orson Charles and a 51-yard strike from Murray to freshman Malcolm Mitchell, who split Boise State's defense with 10 minutes, 15 seconds remaining to keep the Bulldogs within two touchdowns.
Rarely was a Georgia receiver so open Saturday. On the other hand, Boise State's receivers -- the ones who weren't supposed to be able to fill the cleats of Titus Young and Austin Pettis -- set up a base camp between the hash marks. Freshman Matt Miller, whom Petersen plucked from Helena, Mont., couldn't believe how open he got on a first-quarter slant. That pattern resulted in Miller's first collegiate catch, a 17-yard touchdown.
"It's like your first kiss," Miller said of his first taste of the end zone. "But multiply it by quite a bit."
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore completed 28-of-34 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, but he never completed a pass longer than 20 yards. He contented himself with exploiting the pillow-soft underbelly of Georgia's zone.
"They play zone, you just take what they give you," Moore said. "You move the ball down the field."
Try as they might, the Bulldogs couldn't keep the Broncos from getting open. Part of the problem, Boykin said, was Moore himself.
"He checks like that," Boykin said, snapping his fingers. The other issue was Boise State's offensive line, which rarely allowed the Bulldogs near Moore. "Just a combination of play-action and great protection," Boykin said. "You can only cover for so long."
A program that enjoys as many inherent advantages as Georgia can only spend so much time outside the ranks of the elite without requiring wholesale changes. The Bulldogs receive the bulk of the attention in a state loaded with football talent. Simply by signing the best 25 players in Georgia every year, Georgia should be able to compete for the national title on a regular basis. Instead, the Bulldogs are middle-of-the-pack in their own conference.
Sadly, some will still believe Boise State pulled off an upset Saturday. But that isn't the case. After the Broncos sacked Murray twice on Georgia's final possession, Boise State took over on the Bulldogs' three-yard line with eight seconds remaining.
Moore took a knee. It was an act of mercy. Boise State didn't need style points. It had proven itself the superior program long before.