Georgia wants to order respect off Chick-fil-A menu

Since the 2008 inception of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, which features 19th-ranked Georgia and No. 5 Boise State on Saturday at the Georgia Dome, it is evident to the coaches and athletic directors involved, and others who want to be involved, that the advantages of playing in the game, and not just winning it, far outweigh losing it.

It gives top 25 voters, recruits and fan bases a Christmas in September: a chance to see meaningful games such as the Chick-fil-A or the weekend’s other big matchup, No. 4 LSU vs. No. 3 Oregon in Arlington, Texas. Gone are openers against Eastern State and Northwest Whereisthat. Say hello to big-time matchups before you’ve had a chance to find just the right tint of face paint.

"It allows us a chance to be on the big stage in the opening Saturday of the college football season," Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. "It's just an opportunity we couldn't afford to pass up."

This will be Georgia's first appearance in one of these non-conference, neutral-site games. It's the first time since defeating No. 5 and defending national champion Alabama 18-17 in 1965 that the Bulldogs will open against a team ranked as high as the Broncos. Coach Mark Richt and McGarity said this was a necessary game because they want to erase the memory of last year's 6-7 record, as well as return to the national conversation.

"To play in a game of this magnitude is only going to be a positive for this team down the road," Richt said.

To see the possibilities, Georgia only needs to look at how the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game affected another SEC team.

Chick-fil-A Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan maintains that Alabama's demolition of Clemson in 2008 led to the Tide's national championship the next year. Alabama was rebuilding under coach Nick Saban when it outmuscled the Tigers, ranked No. 9 with some aspirations of making it to the BCS national championship game, in the first Chick-fil-A game. Following the victory, which was watched by 4.3 million viewers, the Tide flew up the AP poll 11 spots to No. 13 in one week. They eventually played in the Sugar Bowl, setting the stage for 2009.

The Tide got the nation's attention, similar to what Georgia hopes to do.

"That [win] gives instant credibility that these guys have all decided to play in it, or play again in it," Stokan said.

The next season they opened again in Atlanta as the No. 5 team in the preseason. After a 34-24 win over No. 7 Virginia Tech, watched by 5.5 million viewers, the Tide moved up to No. 4 and earned two first-place votes in the following poll. They were eventually crowned national champs.

That trampoline effect is what Richt and McGarity want.

"This is a game most everybody in the county is going to see," Richt said. "It means a lot to our program and fan base across the country, and the world. It means a lot to recruits who are hearing about Georgia. It means a lot to the voters who will hopefully get a chance to see us play and see something they like, and keep us in the middle of this top 25."

Boise State has played in one of these games before, knocking off then-No. 10 Virginia Tech last year in Landover, Md. The Broncos were No. 3, but with a relatively weak schedule remaining they needed an important benchmark win to remain relevant to voters and the BCS over the rest of the season.

However, polls are just a small part of the plusses. Exposure and recruiting can also benefit. Richt used this year's opener during recruiting last year, telling high school players that if they signed with Georgia they could possibly play against a top-five opponent in a sold-out Georgia Dome in front of a national TV audience in their very first game. The Bulldogs landed a heralded class.

Now that those signees are wearing the red and black, Richt said their effort in camp has been very good. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer noticed something similar leading up to Chick-fil-A games.

"It's made us a better football team," he said. "Even though we lost to Alabama and Boise State we had a chance to win those games. In the big picture, we were a better prepared football team as we went along."

Although Boise State is more than 2,000 miles away, it too expects to benefit from playing in Atlanta.

"It's helped from a recruiting standpoint," Broncos assistant athletic director Max Corbet said. "Most of the time people aren't going to see us a lot on television. Those are things that are hard to put a price tag."

The game has become so big so quickly --  ESPN's GameDay came to the first three --  that teams that have played in it and lost are coming back. ESPN will televise this year's game. The next few years are set. Auburn will play Clemson and Tennessee will take on N.C. State in a doubleheader in 2012. Alabama will meet Virginia Tech in 2013, which will coincide with the opening of the College Football Hall of Fame near Centennial Olympic Park. Ole Miss will play Boise State in 2014. Another game might be added that year, according to Stokan.

"It's great marketing for Auburn football and Auburn University," said athletic director Jay Jacobs, who noted more than 20,000 alumni live in the metro Atlanta region. "This one coming up next year is great for Auburn, great for Clemson and great for Atlanta."

Stokan at one time tried to coordinate a game between Georgia Tech and USC, which fell through. Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich said the Yellow Jackets would like to play in the game as soon as possible, pointing out many of the plusses listed by Jacobs and McGarity: it's a quality game against a quality opponent in front of a national TV audience.

That some teams are willing to give up the financial windfall of a home date to play speaks to the game's growing popularity. Georgia will receive more than half of a $3.1 million payout from this year's game. It's less than what Georgia, Georgia Tech or Auburn said they would receive for hosting a game. The trade-off is what those involved say makes the game worth the risk.

"Schools think, ‘If we win this game, we have a chance to do something special,'" Stokan said. "We've given Georgia a platform; we've given Boise a platform to do something special this year. If Georgia wins this game and wins at home, they are going to be favored to win the East. If you win the East, you are playing Alabama or Auburn in the West, you beat them, who knows?"