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Why the Georgia Bulldogs Can and Should Play the Clemson Tigers in the Georgia Dome to Open the 2015 College Football Season

As I noted earlier, I recently was interviewed by SB Nation’s Clemson Tigers weblog, Shakin’ the Southland. When asked about the possibility of a neutral site meeting between the Classic City Canines and the Fort Hill Felines in the Georgia Dome, I had this to say:

Georgia’s new athletic director, who strongly supports keeping the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville and who arranged next year’s season-opener against Boise State in Atlanta, clearly has no reservations about scheduling games at neutral sites if the money is right. An Atlanta matchup between the programs from the Classic City and Fort Hill would be a natural, as long as the Clemson faithful won’t balk at the idea of playing the Bulldogs in a building called the Georgia Dome . . . and, hey, the Red and Black were willing to play a lot of games against Florida in Jacksonville at a stadium called the Gator Bowl. . . .

By canceling long road trips to face Louisville and Oregon, [Greg] McGarity has made it easier for the Bulldogs to stay close to home, which, in turn, makes it easier to renew nearby rivalries . . . and there is none nearer or bigger than Georgia’s rivalry with Clemson.

Shortly after that interview was published, I received a Facebook message from Mike Floyd. In 1991, while he was serving as a sportswriter for The Red and Black, Mike published a column in the Georgia student newspaper on the Tuesday prior to that year’s Georgia-Clemson clash. He asked, "What does Clemson have?" Finding the Country Gentlemen lacking in national tradition, Mike noted:

Take a look at the top 20 bowl teams of all time. No Clemson. Gaze at a list of the 40 winningest programs in the history of college football. Still no Clemson. How about a list of the 30 best teams in regards to winning percentage? Gee, there must be a mistake, because Clemson can't be found there either.

Although Mike’s column was scheduled to appear in the following Friday's weekly edition of the Clemson student newspaper, The Tiger, as part of a pregame exchange of unpleasantries, his critique got a head start on making the rounds in the Palmetto State when numerous radio stations in the Greenville and Spartanburg areas read his words on the air. Members of the Orange and Purple faithful called in to local drive-time radio shows to voice their displeasure with Mike’s sentiments; the more extreme elements of the Clemson fan base made threatening telephone calls to Mike’s father, John Floyd, a Spartanburg resident who was warned by one caller to "watch his house tonight."

In short, Mike knows from personal experience that Tony Barnhart was right when he called the Georgia-Clemson rivalry "even more intense" than war. Mike told me he was "more optimistic" regarding the prospects for renewing the border war than he had been in years. "At the very least," he wrote, "I'd like to see us play them home-and-home twice every six years. That seems very realistic to me. And a Georgia Dome game seems a no-brainer at some point, does it not?"

Indeed it does, and I would go one step farther in saying it seems like that point ought to be 2015. The Georgia Bulldogs are scheduled to visit Death Valley in 2013 and to host the Jungaleers in 2014. Presently, the only non-conference game on the Red and Black’s 2015 slate is the season-ender against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Grant Field.

Clemson opened the 2008 season in the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs will open the 2011 season at the Georgia Dome. While the teams are set for the 2014 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, the contestants for the 2015 game remain in doubt. Prior to the arrangement of Georgia’s forthcoming date with the Boise St. Broncos, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that organizers of the Atlanta event were "in discussions with Georgia Tech for 2011, ‘14 or ‘15. They also are in discussions with Georgia."

Regarding the series with the Jungaleers, Greg McGarity has made his position plain, saying, "Every now and then I think it’s important to play a rival, like Clemson. I think that’s a great series. But you don’t do that every year. I think you pick and choose. And every now and then you can get by with six home games. But that should really only be one time in a decade."

That "one time in a decade" line should give us pause, but McGarity’s subsequent actions made it clear that, if the money is right, he is willing to give up a home game for a date in the Dome. While remaining acutely conscious of the athletic association’s financial bottom line, McGarity also appreciates the benefits of playing a nationally televised game in Atlanta, in terms of exposure and recruiting. (While, obviously, the Bulldogs have pretty good inroads into Atlanta already, every season Georgia opens in the Dome is a season Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide don’t.) Since he cited Clemson specifically as a nearby rival with whom he wanted to renew hostilities, I think it is safe to say that a neutral site game with the Tigers in the City Too Busy to Hate would be an option McGarity would consider under certain circumstances.

In 2015, the circumstances are these: Georgia will be the "away" team in Jacksonville, so the Bulldogs will play four conference home games, against the South Carolina Gamecocks, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, and Kentucky Wildcats. Not only is September 5, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, free for the Red and Black, but Georgia also currently has no opponent scheduled for September 12, the Saturday before the Bulldogs host the Palmetto State Poultry between the hedges. The Classic City Canines could open the season against Clemson in Atlanta and still schedule a patsy---my preference would be Mercer---in Athens the following Saturday. For their part, the Tigers are available on September 5, as well.

Clemson’s 2011 baseball schedule features games against in-state rival South Carolina in Columbia on March 4, in Greenville on March 5, and in Clemson on March 6. Similarly, Georgia’s diamond slate includes dates with Georgia Tech at Foley Field on March 22, at Chandler Stadium on April 12, and at Turner Field on April 26. In other words, the Clemson and Georgia baseball teams both play their in-state rivals once at home, once on the road, and once at a neutral site.

Since both football programs now are in the business of scheduling season openers in the Georgia Dome, why not apply that same principle to the gridiron, just this once? Georgia and Clemson already have agreed to square off in Memorial Stadium in 2013 and in Sanford Stadium in 2014; why not add a third meeting in the Georgia Dome in 2015?

While lacking the history of Georgia’s series with Florida in Jacksonville and with Auburn in Columbus, the rivalry with Clemson has included its share of neutral site showdowns. During the two decades from 1897 to 1916, in which the only team Clemson faced every year was Georgia and the only team Georgia faced every year was Clemson, eight of the 20 series meetings occurred away from campus. For seven straight years from 1907 to 1913, the Red and Black met the Orange and Purple at the Georgia-Carolina Fairgrounds in Augusta as part of the fair hosted jointly by the neighboring states. The two teams also squared off at Anderson’s Cater Athletic Park in 1916.

For 100 years, we’ve had a habit of playing the Tigers at neutral sites in cities beginning with an "A" in years for which the tens digit is a "1," so we not only have our tradition, we have our "Sesame Street"-style sponsorship from a letter and a number. (Insert interchangeable jokes about the intellectual abilities of the opposing fan base here.)

Besides, Georgia is 6-1-1 against Clemson in neutral site games. Is there any tradition you’d rather see the Bulldogs get back to than winning? Yeah, that’s what I thought. By Lake Hartwell in 2013, between the hedges in 2014, and on Northside Drive in 2015. Mr. McGarity, make it so.

Go ‘Dawgs!