Welcoming Visitors From a State Named For a Show Tune

Ere I give in to the temptation to rename this site "Knight Sports" and spend the rest of the season devoting my weblog to covering Rutgers football, I should hasten to return my focus to the well-being of Bulldog Nation . . . where, as it turns out, there is news to report.

Well, all right, by now, it is no longer news, but it has been made official: Georgia will open the 2007 season at home against Oklahoma State next September 1. The Red and Black will travel to Stillwater to kick off the campaign in September 2009.

Like Augustus McCrae, Bulldog Nation looks forward to a few good Pokes.

I join the Georgia Sports Blog's Paul Westerdawg and Dawgnoxious in applauding Damon Evans for making such a quality scheduling move, particularly on such short notice. Georgia's athletic director arranged a home and home series with a legitimate opponent from a B.C.S. league and he didn't have to give up next year's open date before the Florida game to close the deal.

Yes, I classified the Cowboys' contest against Texas as last week's national game of disinterest, but that good-natured ribbing was specific to O.S.U.'s rotten luck at holding leads on the Longhorns . . . not that everyone got the joke.

I particularly like opening the season against a good team . . . especially in light of the vote of confidence in Mark Richt's leadership represented by the decision to eschew bringing in an opening day cupcake to springboard the Bulldogs' rebound from their 2006 skid. For too long, Georgia has treated Labor Day weekend like little more than a full-contact preseason scrimmage and I am happy to see that philosophy changing in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.

The University of Georgia boasts a nationally prominent program. The fellows who work in this building finally have arrived at the realization that the Bulldogs' scheduling should be commensurate to their stature.

In the last decade, the Red and Black have kicked off the fall campaign with games against Arkansas State in 1997 and 2001, Kent State in 1998, Utah State in 1999, Georgia Southern in 2000 and 2004, and Western Kentucky in 2006. The closest of those seven games was settled by a 20-point margin and none of the Bulldog squads to have commenced the autumn in such a fashion managed anything better than an Outback Bowl appearance.

What about the seasons in which the Classic City Canines started the season against genuine competition, though? In 2002, the 'Dawgs began the year by winning a 31-28 thriller over Clemson . . . and went on to capture the Southeastern Conference championship. In 2003, the Red and Black administered a beat-down to the Tigers by the shores of Lake Hartwell . . . and went on to represent the Eastern Division in the Georgia Dome in an 11-win season.

Is that coincidental? Maybe, maybe not . . . Georgia's previous experience with opening the season against Clemson suggests that it is not mere happenstance, however. The 1946 Bulldogs began the year by beating the Ferocious Felines from Fort Hill in a night game in Athens, kicking off an 11-0 S.E.C. championship run. The 1982 Georgia squad did likewise, running the table in the regular season and finishing the year with an 11-1 record and a third straight conference crown.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather see this than some Division I-AA school from whom we swiped a basketball coach.

Clemson isn't the only opponent that can get the fall started off right for the Red and Black, though. I spent the summer of 2005 fretting over Boise State, but, when the Bulldogs rose to the occasion and blasted the Broncos in Athens, another Southeastern Conference championship campaign was underway.

Obviously, we should take care not to confuse association with causation; seeing the sun rise after hearing the rooster crow does not mean that the rooster's crowing caused the sun to rise and we cannot posit a simple dichotomy holding that Georgia teams are good when they open the season against good teams and bad when they don't.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said for laying it all on the line in the first game. Of necessity, it lends intensity to offseason preparations and demands focus in the weeks leading up to the start of the fall. Might this year's Georgia squad have had a better season if circumstances had dictated that they be ready from day one? Is it reasonable to suppose that the players would have practiced harder (and, hence, played better) had they been deprived of the luxury of what Bill Snyder euphemistically described as "stairstepping into their season"?

Call it what you want, Bill, but we all know you're really just scheduling like a nancy-boy.

Enter Oklahoma State. The Pokes have stumbled of late, losing 11 of their last 17 outings, but, before that, O.S.U. had been to three straight bowl games, including a Cotton Bowl following a nine-win 2003 season.

Though the Cowboys experienced a lengthy downcycle following the departures of Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, losing at least six games in each of the eight seasons from 1989 to 1996, Oklahoma State has made it into postseason play in 10 of the last 25 years. That ain't bad for a team that attended exactly one bowl game between 1949 and 1973.

The Bulldogs have some history with the Cowboys, but it dates back to the days when the school in Stillwater was still known as Oklahoma A&M. The Pokes were among the 11 victims of the aforementioned '46 Georgia squad en route to the Red and Black's second S.E.C. championship. After that victory in Athens, the 'Dawgs returned the game in '47, traveling to Stillwater to claim a 20-7 win over the Missouri Valley Conference squad during the era in which the Red and Black regularly played road games outside the region.

It appears that era is coming 'round once more. Although the 'Dawgs have not played a regular-season road game outside the South since 1965, Georgia's future schedules include trips to Arizona State in 2008, to Oklahoma State in 2009, and to Colorado in 2010, which will mark the first time the Red and Black have gone outside the region in back-to-back-to-back seasons since World War II.

How can I be the man when Damon Evans is the man?

The Bulldogs have scheduled well and I will look forward to welcoming the Cowboy faithful to the Classic City next Labor Day weekend.

(By the way, I was just kidding about renaming my weblog "Knight Sports." I couldn't have done that even if I'd wanted to, since the rights to the use of that name are owned by the company that produced a series of straight-to-Cinemax thrillers starring Shannon Tweed and Andrew Stevens, so that was never really an option in the first place.)

Go 'Dawgs!

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