I’ve heard it said that Georgia has more big “rivalry” games every year than just about any college program around.
There’s Georgia Tech, naturally. And Florida, with the annual neutral site meeting in Jacksonville. Plus, of course, Auburn in the Deep South’s oldest football rivalry. And, to a slightly lesser extent, Tennessee also is a rivalry game.
Which one you consider the biggest depends on where you live, what sort of season the Dogs are having and how the rivalry games have gone in recent years.
Some fans think Florida’s recent domination of that series has diminished the series as a rivalry; others think it’s the most important game of the season.
During most of the Richt era when Georgia was in the thick of the SEC race and Tech wasn’t very good, that rivalry was viewed by some UGA fans as not as big as the SEC rivalries. For others, Tech is always the biggest game, no matter what. This year, with the SEC East already locked up and Tech fans having had a year to brag about last year’s 3-point “blowout,” that game is probably the one most UGA fans would swap a body part to get.
As Georgia’s Clint Boling told the Macon Telegraph, “Each UGA fan probably has their own different biggest rival, whether it be Florida, Tech, Tennessee, Auburn,” but for the players, “all the rivalry games are important, and that’s the way we look at all of them.”
To me the best of Georgia’s rivalries, or perhaps I should say my favorite, is the one with Auburn. There’s the fact that the two schools have had a lot of ties over the years, with the Vince Dooley/Pat Dye thing being the most obvious. It’s a competitive rivalry, with Auburn leading the series 53-51-8 while Georgia has outscored the Tigers over the decades, 1,747 points to Auburn’s 1,698. (It’s the only rivalry I can think of where anyone bothers to look at the cumulative score.) And in recent decades the visiting team often has the upper hand.
The rivalry also produced one of the great college football photos — the 1996 shot of mascot Uga V going after Auburn receiver Robert Baker in one of the greatest games in series history, an overtime win for Georgia.
But as David Ching of the Athens Banner-Herald notes, the rivarly has seen better times, with neither team in the running for more than a midlevel non-BCS bowl this year. Neither team is ranked in AP Top 25 (the first time that has happened since 1991 and only the second time since 1977), though the Tigers are ranked in the coaches’ poll.
What’s there to get excited about?
Well, for one thing Georgia already has lost this season to Tennessee and Florida and likely will be a heavy underdog to the Top 10 Jackets, so Auburn may be Mark Richt’s best chance of winning a rivalry game this year.
And as the Telegraph pointed out, losses to Auburn and Tech would make this the first season since 1999 that all four rivals beat the Dogs — a mark that was widely considered the beginning of the end for Jim Donnan. Richt is not in as precarious a position as Donnan was because he’s already banked two SEC championships and a passle of 10-win seasons. But going 0-for-rivalries this year defnitely would be a blow to the program’s prestige.
What makes this year’s Georgia-Auburn game even more interesting is that the Dogs have the chance to win four straight over the Tigers for the first time since the 1940s. Meanwhile, Auburn’s seniors have never beaten the Dogs and still smart from the Blackout/Soulja Boy experience the last time they visited Athens.
“Last year, there wasn’t as much emphasis” on the rivalry with Auburn, tight end Aron White told the Telegraph. “This year, I feel like people are going to get up for it a little more. It’s a night game, and we are trying to redeem ourselves this season and get bowl eligible. I think the rivalry is going to be a little bigger this year than it was last year.”
Add it all up and you’ve got the makings of a great game, even if it doesn’t involve great teams. Georgia-Auburn is college football at its finest. If you can’t get fired up about this one, whether you’re a player or a fan, you don’t have any business wearing red and black.