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Georgia and Michigan to Host One Another in 2015 and 2016 Openers?

I continue to be grateful to the fellow webloggers who have offered their thoughts on my recent musings regarding ESPN. That list now includes Beyond the Box Score, Buffalo Rumblings, College Football Bible According to Mopper, and Conquest Chronicles, the latter of whom received a response from a particularly thoughtful commenter.

I am appreciative of all this linkage, which can do wonders not only for a fellow's ego but for a site's traffic, as evidenced by this snapshot from about 8:45 this evening:

What are we to do with all this increased attention? Well, for one thing, we can take advantage of it by addressing the question of how farfetched my hope of a Georgia-Michigan series in football is. Maybe not as much as you might think:
Michigan athletic director Bill Martin emphasized Tuesday that the Wolverines won't settle for just any substitute [for Notre Dame] on the schedule.

Michigan will play a national power from a major conference, most likely in a home-and-home series.

"There are a lot of teams Michigan would like to play and who would like to play Michigan," Martin said by telephone.

While the athletic director declined to name names, he said he has been approached by several schools who would be happy to pick up when the Fighting Irish are left off. . . .

Although Martin said that "nothing is set in stone yet" when it comes to the Notre Dame series post-2011, he did note that both schools might benefit from short breaks in the rivalry.

It isn't unprecedented. Since resuming the series in 1978 after 35 years off, Michigan and Notre Dame have taken three two-year respites from each other, most recently in 2000 and 2001.

"That would make sure to give both us and Notre Dame time to move around the country," Martin said. "A lot of alumni and fans ask us to play in various stadiums."

We know Damon Evans has contacted Bill Martin in the past and Bill Martin has indicated that the contract with Notre Dame was the principal impediment to his receptiveness to those overtures.

As I have written before, a season without a Michigan-Notre Dame game is like a season without a Georgia-Clemson game . . . unthinkable at one time, but capable of becoming commonplace. While I don't believe either school is ducking the other, neither seems to be in a particularly big hurry to renew the series on an annual basis and both appear to recognize the benefits of periodic cessations of hostilities.

My SportsBlogs Nation colleague from the Notre Dame weblog Rakes of Mallow offered this observation in a recent interview:

Southern California is our main rival since the 30's and will always be our biggest rival. We've played USC 78 times since 1926 (currently own a 42-31-5 record against them) versus only 34 times against Michigan (we won't speak of records for this one). We've played Michigan State, Purdue, and Navy more times than we've played Michigan. It's more of a recent rivalry even though the first game between the two schools was played in 1897.

For their part, the Wolverine faithful appear similarly enthusiastic about the possibilities presented by the lapsing of the current contract in 2011, as evidenced by two recent message board comment threads in which S.E.C. teams generally, and Georgia particularly, appeared prominently.

Did The M Zone design a cool helmet graphic for some other school? No? Case closed, then.

How feasible is this prospect? Evidently, 2015 is one of the years in which Oklahoma will replace Michigan on Notre Dame's schedule. As Paul Westerdawg has noted, Georgia's tentative 2015 slate includes dates against Arkansas and Mississippi State, as well as a game against the Ducks at Eugene on September 19.

The Red and Black currently have slots available for the August 29 season opener and a September 12 non-conference game sandwiched in between South Carolina and Oregon. Obviously, Georgia isn't going to play back-to-back games against B.C.S. league opponents as part of its out-of-conference slate. How 'bout kicking off the campaign against the Maize and Blue between the hedges on the last Saturday in August, though?

The Red and Black recently have been willing to accept legitimate challenges straight out of the gate, facing Boise State in the first game of the 2005 campaign and arranging to open this autumn against Oklahoma State. A Labor Day weekend showdown between Georgia and Michigan would be sure to attract a national television audience, meaning the game would be played at night, thereby neutralizing any objection about the heat and humidity of the Classic City.

The odd-numbered year would be the perfect time for the Bulldogs to host the Wolverines, as the inclusion of the Maize and Blue at the start of the 2015 slate would give the Red and Black a marquee non-conference home game in a season in which Georgia played Oregon and Georgia Tech on the road and the Wolverines faced Ohio State at home.

The 'Dawgs could make the return trip to Ann Arbor to kick off the 2016 campaign. Oregon and Georgia Tech are scheduled to come to Athens that fall and, with both Magnolia State schools included in the Western Division rotation, the S.E.C. gauntlet is not likely to be more strenuous than usual for the Red and Black.

Granted, such an arrangement would mean fewer home dates in the 2016 schedule, but surely the national exposure would be worth it. Ask a Texas fan whether he thinks traveling to the Horseshoe in 2005 was better than another home game against North Texas. Ask an Ohio State fan whether he thinks traveling to Austin in 2006 was better than another home game against a M.A.C. also-ran.

For the record, Georgia has played at Michigan Stadium twice before. In 1957, the Bulldogs' non-conference schedule consisted of dates against Texas in Atlanta to open the season, Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 5, and Navy at Norfolk on October 19. The Bulldogs played in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, and Virginia that year, and three of their five contests in the Peach State were played either in Atlanta or in Columbus.

In 1965, the Red and Black played an out-of-conference slate made up of Michigan in the Big House, Clemson between the hedges, Florida State in Tallahassee, North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and (because of their recent defection from the S.E.C. ranks) Georgia Tech at Grant Field. This was in a season in which the 'Dawgs also faced a Bear Bryant-coached Alabama team and a Steve Spurrier-led Florida team.

Despite the Red and Black's insular tendencies during the years Vince Dooley was drawing up the Bulldogs' schedules, Georgia historically has a long tradition of facing strong non-conference opponents. Why duck top-tier teams now that the 'Dawgs are back on top?

Things are looking good for the home team. Heck, even Orson thinks the Big Spoon will lead Georgia to a top 10 ranking!

What is to be gained by the Bulldogs' first trek to Ann Arbor since Coach Dooley's second season on the Sanford Stadium sideline? That question was answered by USA Today's Ben Brown in his account of Florida State's 1991 season, Saint Bobby and the Barbarians. Of the Seminoles' trip to the Big House, Brown wrote:

[T]he University of Michigan represented everything most state universities aspired to. It attracted bright students, big research bucks and talented athletes. And it was steeped in tradition, especially football tradition.

For over 100 years, the Wolverines had played big-time college football. They had won more games than anybody. Their fight song, "Hail to the Victors," was as familiar to most fans as "America the Beautiful." And their ballpark, Michigan Stadium, was the nation's largest. When Florida State came to visit on September 28, it would be filled with 100,000 or more fans for the 99th consecutive game.

So to play Michigan in Ann Arbor on national television was to be at the center of college football culture.

According to Brown's account, Bobby Bowden was so anxious about having his No. 1-ranked Seminoles play the Wolverines that he threw out one idea after another in the coaches' meetings. He wanted to run a fake field goal. He wanted to use freeze plays to draw the Michigan defenders offsides. He wanted to run double-quarterback passes from Casey Weldon to Charlie Ward and from Charlie Ward downfield. He tinkered with installing a no-huddle offense the week before the game.

Florida State's quarterbacks coach took a different approach:

While Bowden talked excitedly, the assistants around the conference table had been respectfully silent. They would do anything he wanted. But they wanted to make sure he settled on his priorities. If they scripted every idea, they would spread their time too thin and go into what might be the biggest game of the year without the confidence that comes only with focused repetitions on the practice field.

Mark Richt doodled in his notebook. He was committed to Bobby Bowden football. Still, his basic indoctrination in the sport came at Miami under Howard Schnellenberger. It boiled down to: Get the talent you need; train them in a simple system that exploits their gifts; then line up and play.

They had recruited right and planned right at Florida State, Richt liked to argue. Why not just play ball? Finally, he spoke up: "We don't want to give our guys the idea that we have to do a lot of fancy things to beat these guys."

Mark Richt has recruited right and planned right at Georgia. Lloyd Carr has recruited right and planned right at Michigan. Why not just play ball?

Go 'Dawgs!