How Georgia and Hawai’i Met in the 2008 Allstate Sugar BowlAfter a chaotic season, old bowl hand Georgia squeezed into the Sugar Bowl against an unfamiliar name in major postseason football, Hawai‘i.
The Sugar Bowl was ecstatic to get the Bulldogs for an intriguing match-up with the BCS party-crashing Warriors, who had earned the BCS’ final berth after posting a perfect 12-0 regular season record.
The bowl picture following the 2007 season opened like the parting of the Red Sea on Dec. 1 in a series of games: LSU defeated Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game; No. 1-ranked Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game; No. 2-ranked West Virginia was upset by four-touchdown underdog Pittsburgh; and Hawai‘i preserved its standing as the nation’s only undefeated team by coming back from a three-touchdown deficit to beat the University of Washington.
The upshot was that Ohio State, ranked third in the standings of the Bowl Championship Series, rose to No. 1, and LSU, ranked seventh, ascended to No. 2. Two of the season’s headline teams would play in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game in the Crescent City.
In the end, Georgia, which dropped from fourth to fifth, was done in by the fact that LSU won the SEC Championship while the Bulldogs failed to qualify for the league’s title game; that the Tigers defeated South Carolina and Tennessee, both conquerors of Georgia; and LSU’s 6-1 season-ending record against ranked opponents.
Georgia was still rewarded with a trip to New Orleans – even if it was a week earlier than hoped – to play Hawaii, which boasted an eye-catching offense run by a breath-taking Heisman trophy finalist in quarterback Colt Brennan.
This would be not only a clash of the nation’s highest-scoring team (Hawaii) at 46.2 points per game and one of the nation’s best defenses (Georgia), yielding 21 points a game, but a striking contrast in cultures.
As Baton Rouge sportswriter Scott Rabalais succinctly put it: “This was as much a distinction as you could get in the postseason, Dixie vs. the Ha’a dance; Grits vs. mahi-mahi; Mint juleps vs. something frothy with an umbrella sticking out of it.”
And Hawai‘i had a bit of a chip on its shoulder, too.
The 10th-ranked Warriors had to fight for any respect because they play in the Western Athletic Conference, one of the lower-tier leagues that get little consideration for the prestigious BCS bowls – never mind that in the previous three seasons two schools in similar conferences had upset “the big boys” in the postseason: Boise State of the WAC shocked Oklahoma of the Big 12 in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and Utah of the Mountain West Conference beat the Big East’s Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
Hawaii Head Coach June Jones, playing the underdog role to the hilt, put his team’s task of playing a representative of the perceived best conference in college football thusly: “It’s sort of like the Bad News Bears coming east to play the SEC.”
Ray Jeandron, the Sugar Bowl president, was in Atlanta on Dec. 1, taking in the SEC Championship Game, then watching the other games on television, and trying to keep awake to watch Hawai‘i-Washington, which came on at midnight Eastern time. “By the time I put my head on my pillow, it was 20 hours from the time I had gotten up. To say I was bushed would be putting it mildly, but I went to sleep with a smile on my face.”
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.