Last year, at the urging of The Power T’s Doug Coffin, I ran down the Red and Black’s 2007 schedule, arranged according to degree of anticipated difficulty. Given the Bulldogs’ high expectations for 2008, I elected to repeat this exercise this year, "right as our schedule goes from its normal difficulty to absurd."
Accordingly, here, in my estimation, are . . .
1. at Auburn on November 15:
Honestly, I cannot conceive of there ever being a football season in which I don’t consider the Plainsmen the toughest out on Georgia’s slate. The ‘Dawgs have lost to the Tigers 53 times over the last 115 years; no other team has beaten Georgia more than 37 times, and that particular opponent had to win 15 series meetings in a 17-season span even to come that close. The Classic City Canines have not taken three in a row from the War Eagle since Herschel Walker was taking handoffs in Sanford Stadium and Auburn’s offense is now under the capable direction of Tony Franklin, whose Troy squad rung up 34 points between the hedges last fall. Coach Franklin’s spread attack looked pretty potent in the Chick-fil-A Bowl after only two weeks’ worth of practice; at home in the eleventh game of the campaign, it ought to be clicking on all cylinders. Moreover, you can bet that the Tigers, with an open date after the ‘Dawgs within which to prepare for archrival Alabama and still smarting after getting run out of the building in last year’s glorious blackout, will give the Red and Black their undivided attention. This is the scariest Saturday on the Georgia slate, without question.
2. at Arizona State on September 20:
Contrary to what a few message-board trash-talkers would tell you, the Pac-10 plays good football and the West Coast B.C.S. conference is particularly tough at home. Just ask an Alabama fan about the Tide’s 35-24 loss at U.C.L.A. in 2000 . . . or an Auburn fan about the Plainsmen’s 24-17 loss at U.S.C. in 2002 . . . or an Arkansas fan about the Hogs’ 70-17 loss at U.S.C. in 2005 . . . or a Tennessee fan about the Vols’ 45-31 loss at Cal in 2007. The last S.E.C. squad to travel to Tempe---L.S.U., in the 2005 outing that was relocated from Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina---narrowly escaped with a win in a 35-31 shootout and the Sun Devils have upgraded their coaching dramatically in the interim. A.S.U. gets Georgia at home with a senior quarterback under center and the Bulldogs haven’t played a regular-season outing this far from the Classic City since Mark Richt was five years old. There’s no question that this showdown presents cause for concern.
3. Alabama on September 27:
If this game were played on Labor Day weekend, it wouldn’t worry me a bit, but there are two problems to hosting the Tide on the last weekend in September rather than the last weekend in August. First of all, Nick Saban rather clearly has the Red Elephants on the upswing, so the earlier a team gets ‘Bama, the better. Beyond that, this is going to be an intense and physical game of S.E.C. football just seven days after what will either be a glorious win or a crushing loss in Tempe. Either way, the Bulldogs’ heads may not be where they need to be, and it will require complete concentration on the task at hand for the Red and Black to get by an Alabama club coached by a man who doubtless remembers the 45-16 drubbing he absorbed the last time he brought a team between the hedges.
On the plus side, though, at least now we know what Britney is doing with her life!
4. at South Carolina on September 13:
On his last trip to Williams-Brice Stadium, Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions, which is par for the course for Georgia performances in Columbia, where the Bulldogs have not scored more than 20 points since 1994. Jasper Brinkley will be back from injury and some of Mark Richt’s charges will be back from two-game suspensions, meaning that a conference opener in a hostile environment will be the first time this Red and Black team truly plays together as a unit. If the Gamecocks were able to pull off the upset in Athens last autumn, it cannot be put past Steve Spurrier’s squad to make it two in a row in the Palmetto State this year.
5. Tennessee on October 11:
Granted, the Bulldogs have a lot going for them in this contest. The game is being played in Sanford Stadium, Georgia has a bye week before hosting the Volunteers, and the Big Orange will be in the process of replacing noted ‘Dawg-killers David Cutcliffe and Erik Ainge. Why, then, am I worried? It could have something to do with the fact that Tennessee has laid consecutive whoopings on the Red and Black, the latest of which was so bad that I felt moved to write a country song about it. I’m going to need to see Georgia in the lead with no time remaining on the clock before I’m fully confident of victory.
I would, however, be completely certain Georgia would win if either of these guys had another year of eligibility.
6. Florida on November 1:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Urban Meyer. Tim Tebow. 2006 national championship. 2007 Heisman Trophy. 15 out of 17 between 1990 and 2006. Revenge for the end zone celebration. Whatever; the worm has turned. They know it. We know it. Am I worried that the Gators will stage a retaliatory celebration of their own? I’m hoping they will; it will prove that the psychological advantage in Jacksonville has shifted decisively in favor of the Athenians after a decade and a half of residing squarely with the Gainesvillian villains. Look at it this way: Georgia went 15-3 against Vanderbilt from 1990 to 2007 and Coach Richt read his guys the riot act for showboating in Nashville last year. If Coach Meyer considers it appropriate to stage a demonstration against an opponent his team dominated the way the ‘Dawgs dominated the ‘Dores over the course of the last 18 years, he is displaying a critical lack of confidence that will come back to bite the Gators in the end.
7. at Louisiana State on October 25:
Yes, Les Miles is a better coach than I gave him credit for being. Yes, Baton Rouge is the only Southeastern Conference venue into which Mark Richt has led a Bulldog team without ever emerging victorious. However, two things factor into my lack of trepidation concerning the Bayou Bengals. First of all, the aforementioned 2004 skunking of L.S.U. in Sanford Stadium and the subsequent 2005 S.E.C. championship game outcome have led me to believe that Georgia’s embarrassing loss to the Fighting Tigers in the 2003 conference title tilt will prove to be for Coach Richt what the 1966 Cocktail Party proved to be for Coach Spurrier; namely, the setback that served as a catalyst for many subsequent victories. Secondly, L.S.U. is the defending national champion, which means we have ‘em right where we want ‘em.
I hope the Georgia fans headed to Death Valley for the game have a great day.
8. at Kentucky on November 8:
All right, I ought to be worried. The Wildcats have improved significantly in the last couple of years, and it’s not like they haven’t taken out a top team in Lexington lately. In their last ten trips to the Commonwealth, the Bulldogs have lost four times. Call it a "sandwich" game all you want; after what happened in the Bluegrass State two years ago, I am absolutely confident that Matthew Stafford will be focused heading into this contest . . . and that is bad news for a U.K. squad that has made a habit of playing less than stellar defense for as long as anyone can remember.
9. Central Michigan on September 6:
The Chippewas, winners of back-to-back M.A.C. titles, are no patsies, as they proved in a near-upset of Purdue in last season’s Motor City Bowl. Offseason incidents will keep some Classic City Canines off the field for the squad’s Division I-A opener and a lack of focus could make this one tighter than it ought to be. However, Mount Pleasant, Mich., is a long way from Athens and the heat and humidity are apt to take their toll on the visiting club, which will be worn down by the fourth quarter.
Who among us doesn’t enjoy hosting a team from another region early in the season?
10. Vanderbilt on October 18:
Anyone who remembers Terry Hoage’s game-saving play in the end zone in Nashville in 1983 knows that it’s never been a good idea to take the Commodores lightly, but Bobby Johnson has turned Vandy into a significantly tougher out. After a home loss in 2006 and a narrow escape in 2007, Georgia cannot afford to overlook the ‘Dores, but, come on, get real. The Commies lost half of their starters from last year’s team and they couldn’t quite clear the bar to bowl-eligibility even in recent years in which they had more talent. After going 3-24 in its first 27 trips to Sanford Stadium, Vanderbilt is going to take two in a row between the hedges? Not going to happen.
11 (tie). Georgia Southern on August 30/Georgia Tech on November 29:
Paul Johnson. The option. Second-tier status in the Peach State. No recent history of success in Sanford Stadium. Honestly, if you’re a Georgia fan, what’s the difference between these two teams? O.K., to be fair, there is a difference; the Eagles’ 1990 national championship was legitimate. The ten games in between will determine whether the Bulldogs have a valid claim to being the No. 1 team in the country. That the Red and Black are the No. 1 team in the state is not in doubt, as both of these games will demonstrate.
To give credit where credit is due, though, Coach Johnson did enjoy considerable success at his last coaching stop.
As always, this is just one man’s opinion and I welcome your contrary views. Which teams are worrying you the most? Which teams do you think pose the lowest threat level? Let me know how you see it in the comments below.