Fearless Picks - Georgia

We close out the season with our forecast of the Sugar Bowl

Andy Easton Last Week: W Season: 11-0
This is the toughest pick of the year, by far. My head keeps telling me, "UGA is in the SEC", "The Bulldogs have won three Sugar Bowls, one Rose Bowl, two Orange Bowls and two Cotton Bowls, along with 14 other bowl games.", "They are bigger and faster", "They beat LSU by 20 points!", "UGA has won 7 of their last 8 bowl games", "The NFL has drafted 31 Georgia players since Rich Rodriguez took over the Mountaineer program."

On the other hand, my gut keeps telling me, "There is something special about this WVU team", "The Blue and Gold are due", "Rodriguez and staff has this team focused and prepared", "The Dawgs may be overlooking the Big East Champion", "Lorello, Hunter, Addae, Justice and the other seniors deserve this game", and "White, Slaton, Schmitt and the other youngsters won't worry about WVU's recent bowl history".

Go with my head, or go with my gut? Its simple, bigger is better and since my gut is twice the size of my head after the holiday season, I'm going with the Mountaineers!

Pick: West Virginia 17-14
Chris Richardson Last Week: W Season: 11-0
Has there ever been a BCS game more overhyped than this season's Rose Bowl? By the same token, have there ever been three other BCS games more underhyped than this season's Fiesta, Orange, and Sugar Bowls? In fact, just about the only Sugar Bowl buzz I've seen in the national media is that this game should be a walk for the Bulldogs. Well America, it's time to wake-up. The Mountaineers are one of the nation's five best teams this season, and they'll showcase that fact before an ABC audience and a sold-out Georgia Dome.

In my lifetime the Mountaineers have won a mere two bowl games. In most of those losses, early mistakes have doomed the Blue and Gold. The longer the Mountaineers stay with the Bulldogs, the better chance they have to win. At the end of every game this season - even the loss to Virginia Tech - the Mountaineers have been the better conditioned team. That's my biggest reason for picking a WVU victory. There's no better conditioned team in America, and this season there are few better teams period. It's been a joy and a pleasure to cover this group of players and coaches, and it'll end on a high note in Atlanta.

Limit early mistakes, stick with what they do best (running the football in a variety of ways), and don't fall behind early. Do that, and the Mountaineers will come away from Atlanta with the Sugar Bowl trophy and a newfound respect in the college football world.

Pick: West Virginia 27-17
Greg Hunter Last Week: W Season: 11-0
When I look at the numbers, I don't think this is a bad matchup for WVU. I believe WVU has a chance to run the football effectively, and if the Mountaineers can run, they can win. But still, logic points to Georgia, and I have to stick with logic.
Pick: Georgia 21-20
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 11-0
Despite spending the week trying to stay above water in a seed of negativity, I still feel like this is a good matchup for the Mountaineers. Yes, the Dawgs are big up front, but I still feel like West Virginia will be able to run the football. We all know if WVU can run it then it can win. I also will not be surprised if Rodriguez uses that run to set up a couple of big plays in the passing game. Don't be surprised if Brandon Barrett makes at least one of them.

On the other side of the football I anticipate Georgia moving the ball, but without the big play it will not be able to outscore the West Virginia offense. UGA will test the West Virginia secondary, and although it will hit a couple big gainers with that attack, it will also lead to at least one interception for the Mountaineers.

Aside from the 2004-05 WVU basketball team, this football team is one of the closest units I have ever been around. The constant barrage of questions about past bowl failures has not affected its confidence at all, and it is simply enjoying this opportunity. With a loose, "nothing to lose" approach, I expect the Mountaineers to play well. Georgia, on the other hand, seems to be a little too loose, and I am not convinced it is taking its Sugar Bowl opponent seriously. That combination is favorable for West Virginia, and it will be the recipe for the biggest win in school history.

Pick: West Virginia 24-20
Chuck McGill Last Week: W Season: 10-1
Georgia's ranking, its performance against a very difficult SEC slate, its overall prestige, its top-notch coach and depth chart filled with blue chip recruits, All-Americans and future NFL mainstays gives this BCS contest a David versus Goliath feel.

After all, the little ole Mountaineers are in a bowl game they don't belong in. West Virginia, as it has been repeated time and again, is miserable in bowl games, winning just once in its last 11 tries. Big-time Georgia on the other side of the ball has won seven of its last eight bowl games, has recorded double-digit victories in four straight seasons, and is one of the three-winningest programs in the country during that span.

Daunting enough? How about surrounding the decided underdog with a crowd cloaked in red? Okay, now the perfect script is set in place. The focus will be on Pat White and Steve Slaton, but don't be fooled. They are only supporting actors. The lead roles will be divvied up between an underrated offensive line and the entire Mountaineer defense.

Georgia will have its moments, but WVU's 3-3-5 defense will - for the most part - stymie UGa's effective ground game. The Bulldogs will accumulate their share of yards, but the aforementioned defense will thwart the their attempts to pile up points with regularity. WVU's running game will be rested and ready, and there might even be a pass completion or two. Throw in a couple Pat McAfee field goals, and this has all the makings of an upset.

Taft beat Bakersfield, T.C. Williams High School took home the title, and even the Little Giants pulled out all the stops en route to victory. Will Coach Rod pull out the Annexation of Puerto Rico? Who knows, bu! t I do know one thing: This tale has a happy ending.

Pick: West Virginia 26-23
Jane Donovan Last Week: W Season: 10-1
Cue music: Anticipation…Anticipation, it's making me wait. It's keeping me waiting. Yes, Carly, the Mountaineer faithful have been anticipating a solo Big East Championship and BCS Bowl bid for some years now. And then waiting, waiting, waiting for the actual game. It seems months since the South Florida game, not weeks. Much of the punditocracy seems to think that Georgia will be the Alpha Dawgs in this contest, but then most of them have either ignored or disrespected WVU all season. This year's Mountaineers are a remarkable bunch, and not just because they're only the thirrd team in WVU history to win 10 games in a season. They've shown a calm maturity, a fierce determination, and an extraordinary patience. Those are the qualities that make a champion, of the Big East and of the Sugar Bowl.
Pick: West Virginia 34-31
Bill Gleason Last Week: W Season:10-1
West Virginia in a bowl game. You've heard it all. Lack of preparation, over preparation, too much partying, too strict, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It all adds up to a bunch of losses on the big stage.

As if that weren't enough, the Mountaineers carry the pressure of proving to the world that the Big East Champion deserves an automatic bid to one of the big bowls of the BCS. And then throw on top of all that the fact that WVU will be facing Georgia, in Georgia, in the Bulldogs' second home, which will be UGA's third straight game in Atlanta. Rich and his boys might as well just pack it in, right?

Well, to borrow a phrase from the biggest idiot on television: Not so fast my friend.

This game won't be won or lost because of all the finger pointing of the past from the fans. This game won't be won or lost because of having to carry the Big East torch. And despite the rumors to the contrary, this won't be as much of a home game to Georgia as fans are predicting.

This game will be won in the trenches and on turnovers. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage will control the game. And whoever wins the turnover battle will likely win the game.

Total Offense:
Georgia #55
WVU #58

Total Defense
Georgia #11
WVU #8

Turnover Margin
Georgia #9
WVU #11

Even in the penalty department both teams are separated by less than one penalty per game and less than four yards per game. All across the NCAA statistical board, WVU and Georgia appear to be evenly matched. Heck, I'd pick a tie, but they outlawed those, not that Georgia pays much attention to NCAA rules.

It all comes down to the trenches and turnovers, which is how every game among evenly matched teams breaks down. In this department I give West Virginia the edge for one reason. West Virginia's running game has not turned the ball over and West Virginia's defense has forced turnovers. The Mountaineers are eating clock, converting a high percentage of third downs and scoring points. Georgia is also doing all of this, but at a slightly less successful rate.

West Virginia is undefeated on the road this season. And the young Mountaineers appear to have turned the corner with the 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against Louisville in October.

Georgia was highly ranked to begin the season, and were it not for an injury to QB D.J. Shockley, would be sitting third in the rankings with the title of the second straight undefeated SEC team to get screwed out of a shot at the national championship.

West Virginia is making its first return to the scene of one of the greatest wins in school history, the 1981 Peach Bowl. Sure, it is a different venue now, and fans won't get rained on for four hours, not including tailgating, but it is apropos that the Mountaineers play a team they have no chance of beating in a town where they beat a team they had not chance of beating. Lock of the year they said. Lock of the year. Twenty-five years later and Florida still hasn't watched that game film.

Steve Slaton has a huge day. Shockley has a big day. Pat White throws three TD passes. Mike Lorello picks off a pass in the end zone with a minute to play. Another game film goes unwatched.

Pick: West Virginia 34-27
Matt Keller Last Week: W Season: 9-2
Line play will indicate an early frontrunner in the Sugar Bowl. With the attention paid to the skill slots, it is and always will be the horses that pull the plow. For any side to impose its will upon the other, the blocking and ability to move a foe to the desired area and location is key.

Georgia?'offensive line significantly outweighs West Virginia's defensive front; The Bulldogs also have an advantage on the flip side -- but that could be negated by technique and innovative plays. The Mountaineers have both in their arsenal; the question is if they'll use the latter.

Watch the lines and how they perform in the first 15 minutes. If West Virginia's not at least holding its own then, it likely will be too far out of the game when its superior conditioning takes hold in the fourth quarter.

As an aside, head coach Rich Rodriguez has seemed abnormally relaxed and jovial. One can't tell if that?s a positive or negative. I'll view it as a looseness due to lack of pressure and little else. Again on the flip side, the Bulldogs were reportedly jerking around in practice a bit. It won?t be enough because of the skill level. Georgia completes long passes on WVU's corners and runs just enough to keep the Mountaineers honest. Better talent negates any psychological advantage West Virginia might have.

Pick: Georgia 28-13

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