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L.A. Story: Why Georgia Should Schedule a Series With U.C.L.A.

I mentioned recently that, once it truly is the offseason (which, to some extent, it already is, of course), Bruins Nation and Dawg Sports will be teaming up in an effort to get Georgia and U.C.L.A. to schedule a home-and-home football series. "Why U.C.L.A.?" you may ask. Here are a handful of reasons why a transcontinental gridiron battle with the Bruins would be a wise idea.

As Tennessee figured out a while ago, it makes sense for a Southeastern Conference team to play games on the West Coast in this era of national recruiting. The Golden State is fertile recruiting ground, so a home-and-home series with the Bruins which carried the 'Dawgs to the City of Angels could pay dividends on national signing day.

Just as long as we steer clear of those Clausen clowns.

Rick Neuheisel certainly realizes the potential recruiting benefits to playing a game in Athens, as the U.C.L.A. coach already is going head-to-head with the Bulldogs and the Gators for a Sunshine State prospect:

Tampa (Fla.) Plant High star Aaron Murray, who is expected to enter the fall as the No. 2 quarterback prospect in the nation by, was on an unofficial visit and watched most of practice.

Murray has narrowed his choices to Georgia, Florida and UCLA and could announce a decision by the end of this month. He threw for 4,012 yards, 51 touchdowns and seven interceptions last year, his first as a starter.

U.C.L.A., however, is not unique in affording Georgia such an opportunity. Were the Red and Black to tangle with California, Southern California, or even (albeit to a considerably lesser extent) Fresno State on the left-hand side of the continent, these same benefits might be derived, and there certainly is something to be said for going up against the Trojans, whom the Bulldogs have faced thrice in Los Angeles and with whom the Classic City Canines narrowly missed meeting up in the postseason in 2002 and in 2007.

Why U.C.L.A. specifically? Well, for one thing, our respective athletic administrations already have discussed the subject:

Georgia already has added future football series against Arizona State and Colorado. Now, the Bulldogs are talking to Pac-10 member UCLA about setting up a possible home-and-home series either in 2011 and 2012 or 2011 and 2015.

"We're talking to them," associate athletic director Arthur Johnson said on Monday. "We have got to get it worked out."

Moreover, although the 'Dawgs have history with U.S.C., the Red and Black's most recent encounter with the Trojans came in 1960. That was Wally Butts's last year as Georgia's coach, the year John Kennedy was elected president, and the year Mark Richt was born.

By contrast, barely a quarter-century has elapsed since the Bulldogs opened their 1983 season against U.C.L.A. in a game featuring Bruin quarterback Rick Neuheisel. It would be nicely symmetrical to welcome Coach Neuheisel back to the Classic City to face Coach Richt, a contemporary of his whose playing career at Miami (Florida) partly overlapped with the U.C.L.A. skipper's tenure under center in Westwood. I also would be willing to bet that the fact that Coach Richt was a 'Cane as a collegian would give the Bruin faithful a little extra interest in scheduling such a contest.

While such Pac-10 programs as Cal and Southern California certainly cannot be accused of being unwilling to schedule dates with S.E.C. teams, the Bruins have been among the most eager to trade transcontinental trips with Southeastern squads. Not only will U.C.L.A. open its 2008 campaign by hosting Tennessee on Labor Day, but, in the 50 seasons from 1958 to 2007, the Blue and Gold played 18 regular-season games against Alabama (in 2000 and 2001), Florida (in 1958), Georgia (in 1983), Tennessee (in 1965, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1985, 1989, 1991, 1994, 1996, and 1997), and Vanderbilt (in 1961), with several of those games taking place in Athens, Knoxville, Memphis, and Tuscaloosa.

Of course, it ought to be noted that, following the formation of the Southeastern Conference in 1933, the Bruins' first encounter with an S.E.C. opponent came in U.C.L.A.'s first Rose Bowl appearance, a 9-0 loss to Georgia on New Year's Day 1943.

Also---and I don't mean to keep harping on this, but I know this sort of thing is part of, well, Doug's motivation, at least---there's their national championship-winning dance team. We are, after all, talking about the university of which Brooke Burke is an alumna. (I have to say, however, that, while Nestor's praise of the U.C.L.A. spirit squad's looks is legitimate, his positive comments concerning their intellectual abilities were not bolstered by the fact that, when asked to name her favorite book, a cheerleader from Sunnyvale, Calif., responded, "I don't really have one...but I love US Weekly!")

None of this, of course, answers the reasonable question why we care about out-of-conference scheduling at all. For one thing, with the Bulldogs now routinely posting double-digit win totals, we don't want to see the Red and Black place themselves in a position like the one in which Auburn found itself in 2004, when a weak non-conference slate doomed the unbeaten Tigers' chances of getting into the national title game over either an undefeated Trojan team that had beaten A.C.C. champion Virginia Tech or an undefeated Oklahoma team that had faced nine-win Bowling Green and B.C.S. conference opponent Oregon.

I hate Auburn.

Beyond that, when two otherwise compatible leagues regularly question one another's regional bias, and when legitimate concerns are raised regarding each other's preconceptions as they pertain to poll voting, regular face-offs on the gridiron can cause familiarity to breed respect. As noted by social psychologist Siri Carpenter in the latest issue of Scientific American Mind:

Self-interest often shores up implicit biases. To bolster our own status, we are predisposed to ascribe superior characteristics to the groups to which we belong, or in-groups, and to exaggerate differences between our own group and outsiders. . . .

This identification with a group occurs astoundingly quickly. In a 2002 study University of Washington psychologist Anthony G. Greenwald and his colleagues asked 156 people to read the names of four members of two hypothetical teams, Purple and Gold, then spend 45 seconds memorizing the names of the players on just one team. Next, the participants performed two tasks in which they quickly sorted the names of team members. In one task, they grouped members of one team under the concept "win" and those of the other team under "lose," and in the other they linked each team with either "self" or "other." The researchers found that the mere 45 seconds that a person spent thinking about a fictional team made them identify with that team (linking it with "self") and implicitly view its members as "winners." . . .

Researchers long believed that because implicit associations develop early in our lives, and because we are often unaware of their influence, they may be virtually impervious to change. But recent work suggests that we can reshape our implicit attitudes and beliefs---or at least curb their effects on our behavior.

As Chris Stevens pointed out to Maurice Minnifield on "Northern Exposure," one of the virtues of learned behavior is that you have the capacity to unlearn it. The door certainly is open to such a possibility---as Paul Westerdawg pointed out, the 'Dawgs already are getting some love in the City of Angels---so let's seize this opportunity to play better out-of-conference games and become better fans of the sport as a whole in the process.

Also among the findings from recent research studies, by the way, is the conclusion that weblogging will kill you.

Yes, some largely unproductive discussions will be had over whether the small sample size involved in the number of games played by S.E.C. squads within sight of the Pacific Ocean truly can give us a representative indication of how comparable teams from the Pac-10 and S.E.C. stack up against one another, but we just might learn a thing or two about our neighbors on the opposite coast in the process. (For instance, among the things we from Georgia have in common with our U.C.L.A. coevals is the fact that Bruin fans of Nestor's generation have "Juggler Dude" as a fitting counterpart to the fellow known to Georgia alumni of my generation as "The Bagpipe Guy.")

Those, in a nutshell, are my reasons for wanting to play U.C.L.A. specifically. Some of you may view it differently, although it appears that the premise that Georgia should play more Pac-10 teams has considerable support. When asked where Damon Evans should look for future non-conference opponents, 28 of the 80 of you who voted (35%) preferred the Pacific Coast B.C.S. league, ahead of the 23 of you (28.75%) who favored the Big Ten.

The other options all trailed by a wide margin, as the Big 12 received 13 votes (16.25%), the A.C.C. garnered eight (10%), the Big East drew five (6.25%), and Division I-AA shamefully earned three (3.75%). No one wanted to see teams from Conference USA, the Mountain West, the Sun Belt, or the Western Athletic Conference on the Bulldogs' slate.

Go 'Dawgs!