I’ve heard a number of fans bemoaning how Georgia’s killer schedule is getting off to a particularly tough start with an on-the-road opener against a Top 10 team. But as my son and I were discussing, that’s really a good thing, because Georgia seems to have its best years under Mark Richt when it schedules a hard (or supposedly hard) opener.
In contrast, a season where they open with a patsy generally has seen Richt teams underperform, or at least not be quite as successful.
In 2001, the Dogs opened Richt’s first season with a patsy in Arkansas State and wound up with an 8-4 record (admittedly not bad for a rookie coach’s first year) and a loss in the Music City Bowl.
The next year, 2002, Georgia opened with a tougher opponent, traditional rival Clemson. That season ended in an SEC championship.
Clemson again was the opening opponent in 2003, a road game for the Dogs. Georgia won the SEC East title that year.
It was back down the ladder in 2004, opening with 1-AA Georgia Southern. Now, that certainly wasn’t a bad year, what with a 10-2 record, a demolishing of LSU and a win over Florida, but the Dogs did not meet expectations because they did not win the SEC East, losing to Tennessee and Auburn.
In 2005, Georgia opened with a highly touted visitor from out West, Boise State. Another SEC championship season.
The 2006 season opened with one of those directional patsies, Western Kentucky. The Dogs finished 9-4, with two of those losses to Vandy and Kentucky.
In 2007, the opener was another hyped opponent, Oklahoma State. The Dogs didn’t win the SEC East that year, but they did make it to a BCS Bowl, the Sugar, and wound up the year as the No. 2 team in the country.
Then last year, the preseason No. 1 Dogs opened in what was perceived as underwhelming fashion against 1-AA Georgia Southern. And, again, a disappointing season, despite 10 wins.
Of course, the theory isn’t perfect. After opening with a win over a supposedly tough opponent in 2007, Georgia lost the very next week to South Carolina. And in 2004, after beating a weak opening opponent, the Dogs didn’t lose again until October and had played their best game (LSU) before losing to Tennessee.
And it’s oversimplifying to say that the difficulty of the opening opponent sets the tone for the whole season. The unsettled quarterback situation had a lot to do with the off year for the 2006 team. And it’s entirely possible that if Georgia had played a tough opening game last year, it would have just revealed earlier what we found out against Alabama: The 2008 Dogs weren’t ready for prime time.
But the pattern does seem to show that in the years where we have a tough opening opponent, it tends to get the team focused earlier and they wind up having a better season.
So as difficult as it will be to open on the road against the Cowboys, it’s the best way for Georgia to start this season.
Speaking of openers under Richt, which one pleased you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments, vote in the poll or do both.