The 2012 Georgia Bulldogs have a chance to finish with twelve wins, but they will not win either a conference crown or a national championship. Nevertheless, this is a special season and 2012 already has been a success, so the question must be asked: “Where does this Bulldog squad rank among Georgia squads that did not win league or national championships?” Recently, we looked back a hundred years to 1912; now, we turn to Harry Mehre’s 1931 Red and Black club.
That year’s Bulldogs were led by “The Carnesville Plowboy,” Franklin County redhead Spurgeon “Spud” Chandler. Chandler passed on a scholarship offer from the Clemson Tigers for a chance to make the team at his state university in Athens, and he excelled not just as a three-year starter at left halfback in Coach Mehre’s Notre Dame box formation offense, but also as a baseball player. After college, Chandler pitched ten years with the New York Yankees, compiling a .717 career winning percentage in the major leagues (109-43) and earning MVP honors with a 20-4 ledger and a 1.64 ERA for the world champion Yankees in 1943.
As a sophomore in 1929, Chandler had thrown a touchdown pass in Georgia’s win over Yale in the dedicatory game for newly-opened Sanford Stadium. That aerial was brought in by end Vernon “Catfish” Smith, who would be one of two Bulldogs named to the All-Southern Conference team in 1931 and the only Athenian acknowledged as an All-American that season.
Though Coach Mehre’s fourth Georgia team would compile just the fourth-best record in a bloated 23-member Southern Conference that had only one year of life left in it before half its membership peeled away to form the SEC, the 1931 Bulldogs became the first Red and Black squad since the 1927 national championship team to win more than seven games.
Georgia opened the autumn with a 40-0 thumping of VPI in the Classic City before going on the road to New Haven, Conn., where the visiting Bulldogs beat the hometown Bulldogs, 26-7. Yale would not lose another game all season.
Following a 32-7 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, Georgia welcomed the Vanderbilt Commodores between the hedges. The Classic City Canines had not beaten the Music City Mariners since 1925, but the Red and Black posted a 9-0 victory over the ‘Dores that day. Next up for the Athenians were the Florida Gators, whom the Bulldogs would meet in Gainesville for the first time ever, and for the last time until 1994.
Georgia had not beaten the Sunshine State Saurians since 1927, and Coach Mehre’s club would be without the services of two injured stars, Chandler and all-conference quarterback Austin Downes. The Orange and Blue were confident---the home team’s captain handed the visiting captain a live baby alligator when the two met at midfield before the game---but the Bulldogs ruined the Gators’ homecoming game at Florida Field. The Orange and Blue offense was held scoreless on Halloween, as the Red and Black gave up its only points on a blocked punt in a 33-6 romp in what would one day be “The Swamp.”
Georgia’s ensuing outing was in the Bronx against the New York University Violets, who were in the final season of a successful seven-year run under John Francis “Chick” Meehan during which NYU went 49-15-4 on the gridiron. The game, played in the selfsame Yankee Stadium in which Chandler would pitch during his major league baseball career, featured the 5-0 Bulldogs squaring off against the 5-1 Violets, and the visiting Athenians prevailed, 7-6, when Georgia right halfback Norman “Buster” Mott returned the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards for the winning touchdown.
The Bulldogs then encountered a cresting Tulane Green Wave club in the third year of a 28-2 run. The Southern Conference champion Greenbacks would post eight shutouts in the course of an 11-0 regular season, but Georgia at least managed to score in a 20-7 setback. Following a 12-6 win over the Auburn Tigers at Columbus, the Bulldogs welcomed the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to Sanford Stadium as 18-point favorites over the Engineers.
The oddsmakers had given the Ramblin’ Wreck too much credit, as the Red and Black dominated the Golden Tornado in first downs (23-8), offensive yards (486-181), and points (35-6). One week later, when the Bulldogs departed by train from Atlanta for their season finale on the West Coast, the Georgia Tech band met the Athenians at Terminal Station and serenaded the Red and Black with “Glory, Glory to Old Georgia.”
Unfortunately, what awaited the Bulldogs in Los Angeles was what remains the worst whipping in the Classic City Canines’ history. The USC Trojans handed the Athenians at 60-0 setback following their long cross-country train trek. Southern California went on to cap off a 10-1 campaign by beating Tulane in the Rose Bowl, which was the only postseason contest played that year.
Though the Associated Press sportswriters’ poll was still five years away from becoming a fixture in college football, there was a system in place for ranking teams according to records and schedule strength. These rankings were devised by University of Illinois economics professor Frank G. Dickinson, and the NCAA-recognized Dickinson System rated the 8-2 Bulldogs as the country’s sixth-best team. Georgia’s two losses were to No. 1 Southern California and No. 2 Tulane, and the Red and Black had beaten No. 8 Yale. The Classic City Canines were the only twice-beaten team ranked in Professor Dickinson’s top ten, and deservedly so after the Bulldogs bested all three major rivals by a combined 80-18 margin and negotiated a national schedule that carried them to California, Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina to face three top ten teams away from Athens.