Last week I was chatting with someone who moved here three years ago from Big 10 country and has never seen an SEC football game in person. He asked me which Georgia game in Athens I’d recommend he try to attend this season.
I ended up suggesting the Tennessee game, because it involves two SEC teams (unlike the season opener against Clemson), the weather is likely to be a little more moderate (unlike the season opener against Clemson) and he wouldn’t have to wait until mid-November for Auburn.
My son chided me for offering up only the third-best home game on this year’s schedule to a newcomer, which brought home to me what a terrific home slate the Bulldogs have this season, starting with the return match in a home-and-home with ACC power and long-ago regular UGA rival Clemson (over whom the Dogs are favored by 7 points in the first betting spread out of Vegas). Throw in the Vols, Auburn and Georgia Tech, and you have a pretty exciting group of games set for Athens. Even the Vandy game could be interesting.
Then, of course, there are the usual pair of cupcake games that will get no one excited — Troy and Charleston Southern — but at least they provide an excuse to go to the Classic City, tailgate and watch football.
As good as this year’s home schedule is, however, next year’s looks much less enticing.
In 2015, Georgia knows it will play South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and an unknown rotating team from the SEC West at Sanford Stadium, plus a very weak nonconference schedule, the likes of which athletic director Greg McGarity should try to avoid ever repeating: Southern University and A&M College, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Georgia Southern.
The one thing that could improve the 2015 home schedule is the possibility that Alabama might visit Sanford Stadium. The Tuscaloosa News originally expected that to happen in 2014, though it didn’t work out, but the Crimson Tide’s hometown paper has reported a trip to Athens as “likely” for 2015. The 2015 SEC schedule should be announced soon.
At least now we know how many conference games the Dogs will be playing, thanks to Sunday’s decision to stick with eight SEC games and maintain the permanent cross-division rivals (Auburn for Georgia) as well as requiring a game each season against a team from one of the four other power conferences (Georgia Tech already supplies that for UGA).
But what about those other nonconference spots on the home schedule? Amid the cupcakes, which he sees as necessary, McGarity has indicated a willingness to schedule home-and-home series with the occasional marquee opponent in addition to Tech.
CBS Sports recently reported that Georgia and Notre Dame are working to finalize a home-and-home series, possibly for 2018-19.
McGarity would only acknowledge that talks have taken place — saying UGA has “had talks with lots of people” and that a matchup with the Irish is no more likely than any of the others — but he did add: “I think it’d be great for the University of Georgia if we were able to make it happen.” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had previously sparked interest in such a game last summer when he called Georgia a natural matchup for the Fighting Irish.
Georgia fans no doubt would enjoy a trip to South Bend, home of Touchdown Jesus, and there’s no denying having the Irish Between the Hedges would be a welcome addition to any season’s home slate — that is, as long as it’s not the opening game of the season (when the Dogs consistently have key players suspended thanks to the school’s tough disciplinary policies).
Georgia has, in fact, played more games against teams from other power conferences in recent seasons than any other SEC school. But scheduling these home-and-home series with major opponents is a tricky thing. While his predecessor, Damon Evans, was big on them — adding Oklahoma State, Arizona State and Colorado — McGarity canceled a home-and-home series with Oregon set by Evans for 2015-16, mainly because the Dogs found those long trips out west tended to be a strain on the players and hurt the team the following week, plus it means one less game in Athens.
Another high-profile match got scrubbed a couple of years ago when Ohio State canceled a series with UGA set for 2020-21.
Still, if Georgia is going to think about scheduling a name nonconference opponent, say, every three or four years, as McGarity has indicated, what other big-name teams should they go for?
I put that question to some friends and to Blawg followers on Facebook and Twitter this week and got some interesting results. By far, the marquee opponent that readers would most like to see added to Georgia’s schedule was Texas, named by nearly 1 out of 5 fans responding.
The next most desired opponent was Southern California, followed by a three-way tie between Ohio State, Michigan and Florida State. Then came a tie between UCLA and Oklahoma, followed by Miami.
Other schools drawing multiple votes included Notre Dame, Penn State, Washington and Stanford.
Also receiving mentions: North Carolina, BYU, Central Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Oregon and “any Big 10 team.”
Of course, there’s always a joker in the pack, and this time it was my longtime friend Dan, who noted he’d be “in favor of scheduling Georgia Southern in alternate years with Georgia Tech — always a home game.” If Georgia Tech wants to keep playing UGA, Dan said, it should be “on our terms.”
So, what do you think? Is adding another marquee nonconference opponent every three or four years enough, or should the Dogs face seasons like 2013-14 — playing another name team in addition to Tech — more frequently? And what big-name opponent would you most like to see added to a future George schedule?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg