Hi Gym Dog fans!
While my self-imposed football hiatus is still in force, I’m popping my head back out of the ground briefly to give y’all the latest in Georgia Gymnastics news.
The athletic department officially released the 2017 Gym Dogs schedule today, and... well, it’s a schedule. Yep. Sure is. From top to bottom. A real, honest-to-goodness schedule.
In case you haven’t sussed it out by my reaction, I’m not a huge fan, especially of our home slate. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First, here’s where and against whom the Georgia Gym Dogs will match up in 2017 (home dates in bold):
- Friday, 1/6: @ LSU (Baton Rouge)
- Friday, 1/13: @ Auburn (Auburn)
- Monday, 1/16: vs. NC State (Athens)
- Friday, 1/20: vs. Arkansas (Athens)
- Friday, 1/27: vs. Mizzou (Athens)
- Friday, 2/3: vs. Kentucky (Athens)
- Friday, 2/10: @ Florida (Gainesville)
- Friday, 2/17: @ GymQuarters Invitational: Oklahoma, LSU, Mizzou (St. Charles, MO)
- Friday, 2/24: @ Oklahoma (Norman)
- Friday, 3/3: vs. Alabama (Athens)
- Friday, 3/10: vs. Utah (Athens)
- Saturday, 3/18: SEC Championship Meet (Jacksonville, FL)
- Saturday, 4/1: NCAA Regionals (Location TBD, but a long way away)
- Saturday, 4/14-4/15: NCAA Nationals (St. Louis, MO)
As usual, the Gym Dogs have lined up an extremely strong and competitive schedule against some of the top teams in the country. And, honestly, I love that scheduling philosophy, which started in the Coach Yoculan era. In gymnastics, it’s your team score that counts towards your national ranking, not necessarily whether you win or lose any individual meet, so there’s no penalty for putting yourselves up, week in and week out, against the absolute best that the country has to offer. In fact, I think it helps your team boost their own game to see the best teams staring at them across the mat every week.
The thing that disappoints me this season, however, is the disappointing home schedule. Aside from our SEC-mandated dates against Arkansas, Mizzou, Kentucky, and Bama, we only have one national power coming to Athens: the Utah Red Rocks. We have a long history with the Red Rocks, so it’s exciting that we’re continuing this storied rivalry between the two most historically successful gymnastics programs in the country. (The Gym Dogs and the Red Rocks have a total of 19 NCAA team championships, more than everybody else combined.)
But the only other out-of-conference matchup we have at home is... NC State? Really? I mean, NC State is fine and all, but they’re not exactly a juggernaut. The last time they advanced out of a NCAA regional to the national meet was 1998, and they didn’t even qualify for the regional last year. But we do seem to have a history of scheduling the Wolfpack, last doing a home-and-home with them in 2012-2013. But that was before SEC expansion added another mandatory date against a perennial also-ran (Mizzou) to our already-tight calendar. In my opinion, we don’t have the schedule space to accommodate programs that aren’t even really middle-of-the-road like NC State, and we certainly shouldn’t be voluntarily striving to measure ourselves up against such lackluster competition on a regular basis.
To reiterate, this isn’t football, where W’s and L’s matter, and a home date against a cupcake can still be a huge windfall for the university and the community. This is a sport (and, to be quite honest, a fanbase) that rewards matchups between the titans of the game. Nobody wants to see us blow NC State out of the water, and if we play down to their level, that could actually hurt us in the rankings, not help us.
In the past, we’ve seen UCLA, Stanford, Cal, Oklahoma, and Michigan all come to the Steg with regularity, and we need to get back to that scheduling model. By my calculations, we only have 4 meets a year that are non-conference meets, so we simply don’t have room for the NC States. We need to be lining up the best. I mean, we’re the Gym Dogs, dammit.
But, that aside, the rest of the schedule actually is extremely challenging. Overall, we’ll be facing 4 of the other 5 teams that were in the Super Six last season (sorry, UCLA), and 6 of the other 11 teams that were in the NCAA semifinals. We’ll be starting off at a sprint, as well, by going to Baton Rouge to fast last year’s NCAA runner-up, LSU. I call that matchup the “Jay Clark Bowl,” since the former UGA assistant and head man is now the #2 guy at LSU behind future-hall-of-fame-coach D-D Breaux.
We’ll also be attending the GymQuarters Invitational in St. Charles, Missouri, on February 17, which promises to be group of elite talent (plus Mizzou). At that event, we’ll be facing Oklahoma and LSU (again), who were the top two national teams in 2016. And then, literally the next week, we’ll turn right back around and play Oklahoma again in Norman. So, in case you’re scoring at home, we’ll be facing last year’s #1 and #2, Oklahoma and LSU, twice in the regular season... but neither time will be anywhere close to Athens.
The most redeeming part of our home schedule is that we do get our biggest rivals, the Alabama Gym Tide, at home this year. So we have that going for us, and no doubt the Stegeman crowd will be rocking for that matchup on March 3, and the final home meet of the season the next week against Utah.
So, over the final 5 weeks of the season, we’ll be seeing Florida, Oklahoma & LSU, Oklahoma again, Alabama, and Utah. Now that is a murders’ row of national contenders!
And then... we go to Jacksonville for the SEC Championship meet. You know, I’m sure that will be great, because when has a UGA team ever fallen flat on our faces in Jacksonville with the SEC championship on the line?
Uh, yeah. Moving on.
The national championships are set to be in St. Louis this year, but the Gym Dogs’ road to get to St. Louis is likely to go through a locale that is very far, indeed, from the Classic City. That’s because the NCAA regional sites for 2017 are spread far and wide, and mostly avoid the southeast entirely. Those sites are: Gainesville, FL, Fayetteville, AR, Seattle, WA, Champaign, IL, Lincoln, NE, and Morgantown, WV. It’s highly likely that Florida will be the top-seeded team in Gainesville, so we won’t be heading there as long as we’re also ranked in the top 6 at the end of the year. So, we’ll be setting out across the country to qualify for nationals. Given how much top talent we’ll already have faced on the road this season, though, that hopefully won’t be an impediment to our chances.
So that’s the Gym Dogs’ 2017 schedule! It’s challenging, no doubt; but as the master Ric Flair said, if you want to be the best, you gotta beat the best. And we’ll have a chance to do that in 2017 (multiple times).
As gymnastics season gets closer in December, I’ll be back to preview our roster and our prospects for the coming year, but for now...