Tomorrow the countdown will reach only 36 days until Georgia opens its 2011 season with a big-time game against big-time opponent Boise State in the Georgia Dome.
There will be plenty written about the encounter leading up to that day. But we first wanted to welcome to this site Brian Murphy, a columnist for the Idaho Statesman (view his columns here). Murphy was gracious enough to give us a little offseason background as the Broncos gear up way out West.
And a little background on Murphy: He's formerly a beat writer at the Macon Telegraph, so he's not a stranger to this part of the country either.
1) As someone who has logged his time in Georgia, how have you found the footballing passion of the fan base at Boise State to compare with larger SEC programs like UGA? Is it closer than people in the South might think
or not so much?
Murphy: There is tremendous passion for Boise State football in Boise and the surrounding areas. In many ways, it is similar to the SEC -- tailgating, traveling fans, the visibility of Boise State gear around town. It’s hard to go anywhere (the store, the airport, the mall) and not see people wearing Broncos’ hats or shirts at all times of the year.
But, I believe, there are differences — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. First, there are fewer fans, a product of the state’s smaller population and Boise State’s relatively young age as a university. And, in my opinion, there is less fanatical behavior. I’m not sure you’d hear about Boise State fans poisoning trees of their rival or beating a fan of the opposing team.
2) After spring, what was your biggest question about this team?
Murphy: Probably the same question I had about the team entering spring practice: Who will replace wide receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis. Young, the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards, was a second-round NFL Draft pick. Pettis, the Broncos’ all-time leader in receiving touchdowns, was a third-round pick. They leave a huge hole at wide receiver, where Boise State is likely to use a lot of players to try to replace them.
Sophomore 6-foot-4 receiver Geraldo Hiwat had a nice spring and got plenty of attention. He appears to be part of the solution, along with senior Tyler Shoemaker and sophomore Kirby Moore, the brother of quarterback Kellen Moore.
Running back depth behind starter Doug Martin is of concern as is the team’s placekicking situation.
3) Along those lines, what do you think is the primary strength?
Murphy: This team has a lot of strengths, but I think you have to start with the Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback — Kellen Moore. In three seasons as the starter, Moore is 38-2 and has thrown 99 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. It helps that he has Martin in the backfield and Nate Potter, a likely first-round draft pick, at left tackle.
That said, I think the Broncos’ defensive line might be its biggest strength with defensive tackle Billy Winn and defensive ends Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford highlighting one of the best units in the country.
4) Do you think the NCAA issues will have much of an impact on this team beyond the missed practice time? And do you think the preseason routine will change much at all because of those missed practices?
Murphy: Boise State will have three fewer preseason practices this year (and next) as self-imposed penalties for an NCAA case that went before the Committee on Infractions June 10. I’m not sure it will have that much of an impact on such a veteran team. If Boise State loses to Georgia, I don’t think it will be because of three fewer practices.
5) Despite beating teams like Oklahoma and Virginia Tech and being ranked among the elite, is the same rallying cry of national respect (or lack thereof) still evident for this team while entering a game against Georgia, who went 6-7 last season?
Murphy: Boise State is in an odd situation when it comes to national respect. The pollsters and voters certainly give the Broncos a lot of respect. I’d expect Boise State to start the year in the top 10 and possibly the top 5. But that respect doesn’t often carry down to fans of big-time programs who generally feel as if the Broncos don’t belong ranked so highly. Beating Georgia, which throttled the Broncos in 2005, in what will be a road game could help chip away at that. Though some fans, no doubt, will point to Georgia’s record last season and say that it isn’t that big of a deal. The best case for Boise State would be beating Georgia and then having the Bulldogs reach the SEC title game and, possibly, win it. That’s what happened last year with Virginia Tech and, to a certain extent, in 2009 when Boise State defeated Oregon to start the season and the Ducks made the Rose Bowl.