Though we all were disappointed at the outcome of the SEC Championship Game, chuckdawg was right that this season has been a special one and NCT was correct when he called 2012 a successful campaign already. Obviously, we will have to await the outcome of the Capital One Bowl---which could make this year’s Georgia Bulldogs just the third twelve-win team in school history---to determine where this autumn falls all-time, but, for now, we’re going to take a stab at identifying the best football seasons in which the Red and Black won neither a conference nor a national championship, as 2012 assuredly is one such season, and we wish to see how this campaign compares to similar seasons.
We begin a century ago. The 1912 Athenians were the third team fielded by W.A. Cunningham, making him the first Georgia football coach to last more than two seasons in the Classic City. The Red and Black were led to a 6-1-1 record by halfback Bob McWhorter and quarterback Dave Paddock, who would, in the ensuing two seasons, become the school’s first two All-Americans.
Despite starting the season shorthanded after six players were dismissed for being caught smoking, Georgia began the autumn by delivering back-to-back 33-0 thrashings to Chattanooga and The Citadel. Evidently, the Athenians had not been hampered by the new rules implemented that fall, which increased the value of a touchdown from five points to six and reduced the length of the playing field from 110 yards to 100.
At Ponce de Leon Park in the season’s third game, Georgia fumbled a pair of kickoffs and saw an errant pass intercepted and returned 65 yards for a score in the Red and Black’s only loss of the year. Dan McGugin’s mighty Vanderbilt Commodores, who had sustained just a dozen losses in their previous 100 outings, dealt the Peach State squad a 46-0 setback en route to the Music City Mariners’ twelfth straight winning season.
Depressed over the result in Atlanta and divided over the reinstatement of the punished players, the Athenians needed a spark, and Coach Cunningham had one at the ready when Georgia crossed paths with the Alabama Crimson Tide in Columbus. When the game began, Coach Cunningham sent ten men onto the field wearing football gear, while an eleventh, quarterback Alonzo Awtrey, stood just inside the right sideline clad in white overalls and carrying a bucket. Alabama kicked off, Georgia returned the ball 15 yards on a sweep to the left, and Awtrey edged upfield to the line of scrimmage. Once halfback Timon Bowden took the snap and faded back to pass, Awtrey dropped both the bucket and the pretense, speeding along the boundary to bring in the reception at the 50 yard line and continue racing for 35 yards. The play caused an uproar---arrests were made following the ensuing melee, in which the Alabama athletic director assaulted the Georgia professor who was present in place of Steadman Sanford---but the officials ruled that the trickery was legal. The Red and Black went on to win, 13-9.
McWhorter scored touchdowns covering 50 and 60 yards, respectively, in a 13-13 tie with Sewanee, then Georgia prevailed against the Clemson Tigers, 27-6, in the border rivals’ sixth straight series meeting at the Augusta fairgrounds. Back to Ponce de Leon Park the Red and Black went, this time to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Paddock picked up 57 yards on a fake punt to set up the first of McWhorter’s two touchdown runs against the Engineers, ultimately resulting in a 20-0 Georgia victory. Afterward, Paddock was congratulated by Ty Cobb, who was in the stands for the contest.
The Red and Black closed out the campaign at home on Sanford Field, which was blanketed by a heavy snowfall. On Thanksgiving Day, the Athenians welcomed the Auburn Tigers to the Classic City for the first time in their history. The Plainsmen came in undefeated, having been tied only by the Vanderbilt team that obliterated Georgia, but McWhorter scored two touchdowns on fourth downs---one rushing and one passing---to pace a 12-6 Red and Black victory in what was believed to be the first football game in the South to be filmed with a movie camera.
The Athenians’ victory over Auburn preserved the possibility that Georgia would capture a share of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship, but Vanderbilt outlasted Sewanee in the season-ender to claim the SIAA league title all to itself. Nevertheless, the 1912 Red and Black team earned the right to be considered one of the finest uncrowned outfits in University of Georgia history by posting a once-beaten season and becoming the first Classic City crew to defeat Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, and Georgia Tech in a single autumn. That feat has been replicated just four times since, in the SEC championship seasons of 1946, 1976, and 2002, and in the SEC East championship season of 2003.