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More Georgia teams join the party
With every college football head coach in the state gathered at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame for the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview on Tuesday, everybody seemed to be talking about it.
While it’s business as usual for the Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech in 2013, the topic of conversation was, well, everyone else.
Georgia Southern and Georgia State are joining the Football Bowl Subdivision. Mercer and Kennesaw State are building new programs and will join the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. Even Reinhardt is jumping on the bandwagon with a new program.
Bobby Lamb, a former Furman player and coach, who will lead Mercer into its inaugural season this year, paused before leaving the podium after his press conference and summed it up better than anybody.
“Let me say one last thing about the football in the state of Georgia with all these new startup schools,” Lamb said. “In my opinion the state of Georgia has been underpopulated with universities playing football for a long, long time. We’re finally catching up. If you look at the state of South Carolina, there’s seven Division-I FCS programs, there’s Clemson, there’s Carolina and you’ve got two Division II (programs) in a state that has 4.2 million (residents). Depending on where you draw the loop in Atlanta, there’s 5 million people. So we’re finally getting to where we can keep (high school players) home and they can play all levels of college football in the state of Georgia.”
Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken, whose Eagles will join the Sun Belt Conference in 2013, doesn’t see the state’s football landscape changing too much any time soon.
The state still belongs to UGA and Georgia Tech.
“I think the hierarchy of college athletics really remains pretty much the same,” Monken said. “Though you might change status, there’s a pecking order. Everybody gets that.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt sees the possibility of things getting crowded at the top in the state, eventually. Richt, who coached as an assistant a Florida State after playing quarterback at Miami, has seen the balance of power shift a bit in the state of Florida. Even his Bulldogs fell victim recently, when Central Florida beat UGA in the 2010 Liberty Bowl.
“I’m using the state of Florida as a reference point,” Richt said. “Central Florida, South Florida, teams that weren’t considered one of the big three in the state of Florida now have become as good or better than those programs.”
Everybody agrees with Lamb that too much high school talent leaves the state of Georgia.
“Unfortunately for all of us, everybody recruits the state of Georgia,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s not just Georgia and Georgia Tech. You get everybody in the ACC, everybody in the SEC, the Big 10 is in here now with Ohio State, you’ve got Notre Dame, Stanford — it’s very thoroughly recruited.”
“You’ve got to have a talent base in your state. Obviously, Florida has that kind of talent base. Georgia does, too,” Richt said. “I think there’s plenty of FBS, Division-I-type football players who, if they choose to stay in the state, can feed all the teams in our state.”
Johnson, who won two national championships while at Georgia Southern and led the team to the Southern Conference championship each year he coached the Eagles, from 1997-2001, said that the upstart FBS programs have a long way to go to catch the BCS programs in the state, but admits he’s not looking forward to playing GSU, which will visit Georgia Tech in 2014.
“It’s a game that scares the fool out of me,” Johnson said, “because I know how good Georgia Southern is.”
So maybe the balance of power could shift in Georgia. It’s happened elsewhere.
After all, everybody brings up the program that, so far, has made the transition to FBS better than anybody — Boise State.
“It’s certainly a goal of ours to try to do that,” Monken said. “This is just the start of it.”
Rising Georgia Southern senior running back Robert Brown has been medically disqualified from playing, the school announced Tuesday.
Brown will remain with the team to assist off the field.
“He’s going to work with us in some capacity — we don’t know what yet,” Monken said. “Through ongoing diagnosis with multiple head injuries, it was time for him to hang up the cleats and move on. The most important thing is his long-term health. That’s most important to us. As much as we would have liked to have seen him play and as much as he wanted to play — he really did have a desire to return — this is best for him. He’s going to get his degree from Georgia Southern, and that will be the proudest day for us, to see him accomplish that.”
Brown, who missed nine games due to injury as a junior in 2012, finished his GSU career with 2,063 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
By MATT YOGUS, Statesboro Herald