(Warning: It is not a stretch to suggest that the posting that follows easily could be read as an optimistic assessment reaching the conclusion that the glass in Athens is half-full. Proceed with caution, and with the understand that I’m not any happier about that fact than you are.)
Earlier today, David Hale offered the latest installment of his "fun with numbers" series, in which he examined the non-conference records of prominent BCS programs. It should come as a surprise to no one (though it likely would come as a considerable shock to several outside of SEC country) that Georgia fares pretty well in that regard. The Bulldogs went 21-3 against non-SEC foes from 2005 to 2009 and their .875 winning percentage matched that of Boston College and Missouri while trailing only Florida (23-1), Louisiana State (23-1), Southern California (20-1), Penn State (22-2), Texas (22-2), Wisconsin (22-2), and Kansas (20-2).
Against out-of-conference opponents from other leagues that qualify automatically for inclusion in the BCS, the Red and Black have been even more impressive in comparison to the rest of the field. In terms of total wins, Georgia’s 11-3 trails only USC’s 16-1 and is ahead of Florida’s 10-1 and LSU’s 8-1.
There’s simply no denying the Trojans their due; Pete Carroll’s club played serious schedules and defeated legitimate teams like Arkansas (in 2005 and 2006), Nebraska (in 2006 and 2007), and Ohio State (in 2008 and 2009). After the Men of Troy, though, the ‘Dawgs deserve considerable credit for their impressive non-conference slates. In addition to an annual end-of-season date against a Yellow Jacket program that has not missed out on a bowl game since 1996, Georgia has faced Boise State (in 2005), Colorado (in 2006), Oklahoma State (in 2007 and 2009), and Arizona State (in 2008 and 2009).
The Gators, in the meantime, have faced a fair amount of schedule fodder, trading on the names of dilapidated Florida State (a team that has lost five or more games in four of the last five seasons) and Miami (which went 7-6 in a 2008 season in which the Hurricanes lost at Florida Field to the eventual national champion Saurians in a game that was a nailbiter after three periods) while otherwise tangling with the likes of Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Central Florida, Western Carolina, Western Kentucky, Troy (twice), Florida Atlantic, Hawaii, The Citadel, Charleston Southern, and Florida International in the last five years.
LSU has not been quite as egregious about beefing up its out-of-conference ledger with third-tier opposition, as the Bayou Bengals have posted wins over Arizona State in 2005, Arizona in 2006, Virginia Tech in 2007, and Washington in 2009. Otherwise, though, the Fighting Tigers have tangled exclusively with North Texas (twice), Appalachian State (twice), Louisiana-Lafayette (twice), Tulane (four times), Fresno State (in the year the West Coast Bulldogs went 4-8), Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech (twice), and Troy.
That’s not to say the Classic City Canines have been entirely blameless when compiling their non-SEC slates, of course. We’ve had our share of Louisiana-Monroes, Western Kentuckies, Western Carolinas, and Tennessee Techs along the way, as well. However, Florida has picked on what was in the final years of the Bobby Bowden era a faded Florida State program gazing upward at Wake Forest, LSU has taken advantage of the fact that there are more college football teams in the Pelican State than there were military bases in the Peach State during Richard Russell’s heyday, and Georgia has faced a Georgia Tech squad that has captured two ACC division crowns in the last four years. The Bulldogs and the Tigers have taken up the challenge of meeting Pac-10 and WAC opponents both at home and on the road, while the Gators consistently have pushed the envelope to see how far they can water down their non-conference slates.
Naturally, it’s hard to argue with the results: Florida and Louisiana State may not have played out-of-conference schedules as daunting as Georgia’s, but the Sunshine State Saurians and the Pelican State Panthers each have won a pair of national championships in the last seven seasons while the Classic City Canines have not made it to the SEC championship game since 2005.
Perhaps it is open for debate whether the ‘Dawgs are scheduling themselves out of contention for titles. What is not open for debate, though, is the fact that the Bulldogs’ 21-3 non-SEC ledger, like Southern California’s 20-1 record in contests outside the Pac-10, represents a real accomplishment. Not every other upper-echelon Southeastern Conference program can make the same claim, and, when we add Georgia’s league ledger as compared to Florida’s and LSU’s into the mix, it becomes clear that the program in Athens is in significantly better shape relative to its coevals than last year’s disappointing record suggested.