Those of us who liked Damon Evans’s practice of scheduling nationally were disappointed, though not altogether surprised, by the hints coming out of Athens that the new regime in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall may be looking to change approaches.
Greg McGarity clearly is considering other options, having just returned home after spending nearly two decades at a program that has won three national championships in the last 14 seasons while facing only its in-state rival and two or three patsies on its non-conference slate most years. Mark Richt is utterly unequivocal about what he wants his new boss to do:
Richt clearly isn’t in favor of beefing up the schedule. That doesn’t necessarily mean he would weaken it, but the western trips – such as to Colorado this year – are probably on the way out.
"I’ve learned it first-hand that flying back through the night from Arizona is not good for your team," Richt said. "I think in the future we’re gonna try and minimize that as much as we can."
If we’re not looking west, then . . . how about east?
Although folks, both within Bulldog Nation and without, sometimes need reminding that the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers are still rivals, those of us on the far side of 40 know that the rivalry needs reviving (and it deserves to have a book published about it, but we’re still working on that part). Fortunately, McGarity is in the right chronological demographic group to appreciate this.
Our new athletic director’s earlier stint in Athens lasted from 1973 until 1992. During that period, he witnessed firsthand the heyday of the border war between the Classic City Canines and the Fort Hill Felines.
McGarity’s previous tenure at his alma mater included such historic moments in the Georgia-Clemson rivalry as Gene Washington’s 97-yard kickoff return as a freshman in 1973, Mike O’Cain’s guidance of a 68-yard march for the winning touchdown in 1974 (on a drive that featured a third-down completion for 17 yards to Rickey Bustle, who will be coaching the visiting team on Saturday), Clemson’s 7-6 upset of Georgia in Sanford Stadium in 1977, Georgia’s 12-0 upset of Clemson in Sanford Stadium in 1978, Scott Woerner’s game-winning returns to preserve an undefeated season in 1980, the 13-7 classic between the hedges and under the lights on Labor Day night in 1982, the 16-16 tie in 1983, Kevin Butler’s famous kick in 1984, Jeff Treadwell’s infamous kicks in 1986 and 1987, and the Bulldogs’ Eric Zeier-led upset of the eventual ACC champion Tigers in 1991. Surely an athletic director who was around for all that would see the virtue in scheduling the Country Gentlemen more often.
If our athletic director and our head coach are disinclined to change time zones when playing away games, the simplest solution would be to go back to scheduling Clemson on a regular basis. (Playing a two-year exchange of home games every six years should suffice.) How much more jazzed would you be about Saturday’s opener if the Tigers were coming to the Classic City?
The Red and Black have begun their season with an outing against the Orange and Purple eight times in their history, starting with the first three series meetings from 1897 to 1899. Georgia began undefeated regular-season runs against Clemson in 1946 and in 1982, while Coach Richt led the Bulldogs to victory over the Country Gentlemen to open the 2002 and 2003 campaigns. Those were the first two of Coach Richt’s four successful seasons to have begun with a tough customer in the opener, last year’s debacle in Stillwater notwithstanding.
Coach Richt wants to avoid long plane rides back from Pac-10 country? No problem; Clemson is just a short bus ride up I-85. McGarity wants the ‘Dawgs in the hunt? An opening outing opposing the Tigers would garner attention . . . and kicking off the campaign against the Orange and Purple worked out well enough in 1946, 1982, and 2002, didn’t it? In fact, if Georgia scheduled the opener in the Georgia Dome, the Red and Black could play the Jungaleers there and perhaps use that game to springboard a stellar season, much as the Alabama Crimson Tide have done by starting their last two campaigns there.
I understand Mark Richt’s desire to keep the schedule from becoming unmanageable (particularly after last year), and I recognize that Greg McGarity learned some valuable lessons in Gainesville that will serve him well in Athens. Because the two men are likely to be on the same page when it comes to scheduling tough games in other regions, I believe a happy medium (in an age in which the price of patsies is on the rise) is to have the Tigers rotate back onto the slate more often to keep the rivalry alive, the Bulldogs in the headlines, and the team fresh from a reasonable degree of wear and tear from their road trips.