ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — No. 1 Georgia was supposed to be hitting the road for a most intriguing matchup.
Instead, the Bulldogs will be facing another overmatched opponent between the hedges on Saturday.
Coming off a 48-7 victory over FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin in a season opener that was little more than a glorified scrimmage, Georgia is a 43.5-point favorite against Ball State, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Coach Kirby Smart did his best to talk up the Cardinals (0-1), but there's nothing to indicate this will be anything more than a second straight romp for the two-time reigning national champion Bulldogs (1-0).
“I think they’ve got a really good football team,” said Smart, putting his coach-speak skills to the test. “Got a lot of respect for their conference.”
Oh, what might have been.
Georgia was initially scheduled to travel to Oklahoma this weekend for the first regular-season meeting between the storied programs.
But, when the Sooners and fellow Big 12 school Texas stunningly announced they were bolting for the Southeastern Conference, the Bulldogs were directed by the SEC office to dump their trip to Norman to accommodate future scheduling for the two new members.
That led to a hastily arranged home game against Ball State, quite a letdown from what would have been one of the week's most anticipated showdowns at No. 18 Oklahoma.
Ball State opened the season against another SEC school, losing at Kentucky 44-14. Now, it's a chance to face a defending national champion for the first time in school history.
“This is what you want,” coach Mike Neu said. “When you're a kid growing up, playing the game of football and you fall in love with it, this is the type of stage that you dream about.”
Smart said he was pleased with Carson Beck's first start as Georgia's quarterback, even if some fans and media were less than impressed.
Beck overcame a sluggish first half to complete 21 of 31 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for a score.
“I don’t understand," said Smart, scoffing. “There will be incompletions in games. There will be looks that maybe they fool you with, you didn’t see in the scouting report. But his run-check game, his carrying out his fakes, his decisions in the pocket, him throwing the ball away, I thought the guy — for a first start — played really well.”
Two key members of the Georgia offense, receiver Ladd McConkey and running back Daijun Edwards, didn't play in the opener because of injuries.
Smart indicated both could be ready to go against Ball State, though the Bulldogs figure to be extra careful in bringing them back with an SEC game against South Carolina looming the following week.
Edwards, who has a sprained knee ligament, probably could have played against Tennessee-Martin, according to Smart.
“He practiced. He warmed up. He did everything leading up to the game,” Smart said. “I feel pretty good about Daijun."
The coach didn't sound as optimistic about McConkey, who has been slowed by a back injury.
“He's day-to-day,” Smart said. "He’s dealing with some back pain that’s been lingering for him.”
Even though these teams are meeting for the first time, the Bulldogs are familiar with Ball State's top running back.
Marquez Cooper played last season at another Mid-American Conference school, Kent State, who lost to Georgia 39-22 in a surprisingly hard-fought contest.
Cooper carried 22 times for 90 yards and a touchdown in that game. Now, after transferring to Ball State, he's got another shot at the Bulldogs.
“Really physical, downhill, power runner, good back," Smart said. “Our guys were talking about ... how powerful he was and how ironic it is you’re playing against him again at a different school in the same conference.”
MEWS STEPS UP
Receiver Mekhi Mews is carrying on the Georgia tradition of walk-ons making an outsized contribution.
With McConkey and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint sidelined in the opener, Mews took a screen pass 54 yards for a touchdown and finished with three catches for 75 yards. He added another 50 yards on returns.
“Out of high school, I was not highly recruited," said Mews, who grew up about 45 minutes from the Georgia campus in suburban Atlanta. "I just wanted to make the most of it once I got here, put my head down every day and work.”
Ball State was more competitive against Kentucky than the 30-point margin would indicate.
The Cardinals dominated time of possession and finished respectably close (357-295) in total yards, but a pair of turnovers before halftime allowed the Wildcats to pull away.
“I really feel like, man, if there's any way we could just remove that second quarter,” Neu said. “It certainly felt like there were a lot of positives going on.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll