As Jeff Owens wrote back in February, "Georgia football is bigger than any one player on the team." It's also bigger than any one coach. I hope Mark Richt is with us for a long, long time, but UGA football was here for more than a hundred years before he was hired, and it will be here long after he's gone.
Most of us Georgia fans recognize that Mark Richt's tenure as head football coach has coincided with a high level, if not the highest level, of sustained success in the long history of our program. It's fair to say that he's keeping pretty good care of the place. Kyle dutifully has kept us informed of Coach Richt's win tally as it compares to previous coaches, demonstrating that he's on track to becoming the winningest coach in Georgia history. Partly inspired by donkeydawg's inquiry into how we will remember the Mark Richt Era, I took a look at the head-to-head records against our SEC foes and our annual rival, Georgia Tech, to get another perspective on how the program's done under Coach Richt's watch.
Since Richt's arrival in 2001, Georgia has played each Eastern Division opponent, Auburn, and Tech eight times and has played most Western Division opponents at least four times, including both regular-season games and the Conference Championship (Mississippi State's rotation came up in the middle of the last eight years, so has been on the schedule only twice in that period). For extra kicks, I also pulled down some conference championship information. Now, I recognize that an eight-year period and (in some cases) four or fewer games when compared to a history over 100 years old is a sample so small as to be borderline useless, but that's the data we have with Richt so far. Plus, it's mostly good news, which is what I want to think about in July, anyway. And I like to dig up numbers.
Prior to Coach Richt's arrival, the Bulldogs enjoyed a winning record against Tech and every team in the SEC except four: Bama, Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee. Since Richt's arrival in 2001, Georgia has a winning record against Tech and every team in the SEC except Florida. (Let that sink in for a minute; for those of us over 30 (and I'm well over 30), that's something to savor.) The breakdown goes like this:
Games through 2000 (regardless of conference affiliation when played); games 2001-2008
- Bama: 22-35-4 (0.393); 3-1 (0.750)
- Arkansas: 4-3-0 (0.571); 4-0 (1.000)
- Auburn: 46-50-8 (0.481); 5-3 (0.625)
- Florida: 45-32-2 (0.582); 2-6 (0.250)
- Kentucky: 42-10-2 (0.796); 7-1 (0.875)
- LSU: 9-12-1 (0.432); 3-2 (0.600)
- Ole Miss: 26-12-1 (0.679); 4-0 (1.000)
- Mississippi State: 14-5-0 (0.737); 2-0 (1.000)
- South Carolina: 39-12-1 (0.755); 6-2 (0.750)
- Tennessee: 11-17-2 (0.400); 5-3 (0.625)
- Vandy: 42-17-2 (0.705); 7-1 (0.875)
- Georgia Tech: 52-36-5 (0.586); 7-1 (0.875)
With two exceptions (one glaring, one not-so-glaring), the last eight years have shown an improvement in every single head-to-head record over the history of the program prior to 2001. The record against the Gators in the last eight years is significantly worse than the cumulative previous record, but certainly an improvement over the previous 11 seasons (1-10 (0.091)). The winning percentage against South Carolina is just a hair lower, but it's such a small difference as to be neglible, and I'd consider it on pace with history.
Of the four teams against whom the Bulldogs have a losing record, the gap has narrowed under Coach Richt. Of the teams against whom the Bulldogs have a winning record (except Florida*), the gap has widened (or, in the case of the Gamecocks, has stayed the same).
Yes, it's a small sample. And yes, our friends in Tuscaloosa would point out that our modest progress in the series with Bama came during one of the lowest periods of their history and before The Process got under way. And yes, there's the Florida Problem, but like Kyle, I have confidence that the streaky nature of the series with the Gators will assert itself very soon.
In addition to improvement in almost all of Georgia's head-to-head records with routine opponents, Coach Richt famously led the Bulldogs in 2002 to the first SEC championship in 20 years and coached a second championship team in 2005. That's an average of one every four years. In the 68 years of the conference's existence prior to Richt's arrival, the Bulldogs had won 10, for an average of one every 6.8 years. I would suggest that it represents an improvement even greater than those raw numbers would demonstrate, however, because the first ten were won without a championship game and when it still was possible to share the title.
For comparison purposes, Vince Dooley retired from coaching with losing records against Bama, Arkansas, and Auburn, and an even 2-2 record with LSU. On average, UGA won a conference football championship once every 4.17 years, significantly skewed upward by the amazing three-year run from 1980-1982 (and mitigated by the aforementioned change in how the championship is won).
By any measure (and the above is simply one of countless possible), Richt has taken excellent care of the program.
By the way, all this poking around in historic data got me thinking. We know that Bama leads the way with 21 SEC championships. Tennessee is second with 13; Georgia is third with 12; LSU is fourth with 10; and Florida is fifth with 8. Clearly, Alabama's position is safe for a while. Which among the next four will be the first to improve its standing relative to the others?
*I confess to sinking into a bit of a funk after the 2008 Florida game, and I do hate the look of the record over the last 19 years, but honestly, it's Florida, and I just can't get as riled up about that rivalry as I can about Tech and Auburn. Even Tennessee, with whom Georgia didn't have that much of a history until conference expansion, at least has a rich history itself. Hell, Florida didn't even field a football team until a dozen or so years (longer than that, if you ask the Gators) after UGA and Auburn first met in Piedmont Park. They're just not that important to me beyond being another division foe and co-participants in one of the best annual events in college football.