I’ve said it before here that Georgia seems to have more big “rivalry” games every year than just about any other college program around. And by rivalry, I mean those games that take place every year and get the fan bases on both sides revved up to the point that even the players approach it as more than just another game.
Besides our in-state rival, Georgia Tech, the Dogs have conference rivalries that go a long way toward determining the champ each year: The neutral-site meeting with the Gators in Jacksonville. The Deep South’s oldest football rivalry with Auburn. The longstanding border war with South Carolina that predates the Gamecocks being in the SEC and gives one or the other an early-season leg up in division battle. And then there’s the rivalry with Tennessee, which is of more recent vintage but has been red-hot over the past 20 years, especially since the conference split into divisions and both wound up in the East.
(We unfortunately lost still another big nonconference rivalry with Clemson when the SEC went to eight conference games, but if there was a way that one could be played every year, a full half of Georgia’s schedule would be rivalries!)
Recently, when the possibility of conference expansion was threatening some of those annual matchups, Chris Low of ESPN.com ranked what he saw as the SEC’s “untouchable rivalries.” While his list was topped by Alabama vs. Auburn, the most notable thing about it was that four of the top rivalries involved Georgia: the rivalry with Florida at No. 2, Georgia-Auburn at No. 6, Georgia-Tennessee at No. 7 and Georgia-South Carolina at No. 10.
Georgia’s four top SEC rivalries was more than any other school, with Alabama and Tennessee next with three each.
So what makes Georgia the rival’s rival in the SEC? A couple of reasons come to mind.
First, the Dogs are usually among the more competitive teams in the conference, and in order for a rivalry to thrive you need it to be close. (Florida’s domination in recent years in Jacksonville is one reason some folks think that rivalry has waned a bit, but the color and spectacle of the Cocktail Party has managed to keep it thriving.)
Also important is location, location, location. Georgia is centrally situated in the conference and shares a border with all its big rivals. That boosts the rivalries because the fans live in close proximity to each other (and can trash talk all year). Perhaps more importantly these days, it means the rivals go after many of the same high school prospects, so a win provides a possible recruiting edge.
I’m on record as believing that the Georgia-Auburn rivalry is our greatest, but you can make a case for any of them depending on how the respective programs are doing.
As the Dogs’ Clint Boling said last year, “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.”
Which rivalry matters most to you?