These days you can watch basically any game you want provided you download the right apps for your tablet or television or go to the right website on your computer. Sometimes there might be a small fee involved, but with few exceptions you can watch any FBS football game being played on Saturday’s for the cost of your cable bill. In the rare situation when you can’t, like last year’s Army-OU game that was only available on Pay Per View in the state of Oklahoma, some guy will stream it through his cellphone on Twitch. As that game unexpectedly went to overtime, 32,000 people tuned into a random man’s cell phone feed. At one point he said, ‘y’all wanna see my feet?’ And he pointed his phone at his feet. Then we all saw his pair of Converse tennis shoes. A strange moment, but we saw the end of the game nonetheless. However strangers with phone cameras weren’t always an option for the prospective football watcher.
Back in the 1990’s, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, my Dad used to pull our phone line out of the wall, stick it into his computer, fire up a thing called “RealPlayer” that cost real American dollars and would buffer for approximately 17 minutes prior to broadcasting Larry Munson’s voice through the speakers. That was how we “watched” games against cupcake teams, and that was how we followed along with the afternoon’s proceedings when Central Florida came to Athens and played Georgia on September 25, 1999.
The team, fans and media all took the 0-4 Knights lightly, which was fair. They were a 28-point underdog. However, Central Florida was game, and took a 17-14 lead in the second quarter. Hap Hines hit a 54-yard field-goal to end the half and tie the game. (I remember Hap Hines aka “Hapless/Hap Hazard” being the worst kicker of all-time, but apparently he actually hit a 54-yard field-goal once, I’m sorry Hap.) The Dawgs scored a touchdown to start the third quarter and UCF soon answered, but missed the extra point. That single point was the difference that day. The Golden Knights drove down to the Georgia 20 with less than a minute to go, but a couple of questionable penalties and a Richard Seymour/Marcus Stroud sack took them out of field-goal range. A last second Hail Mary came up short of the end zone and Georgia won 24-23.
Larry Munson had a habit of making wins feel like losses and leads feel like deficits, but we couldn’t accuse him of being overly negative that day. Georgia, with its vast resources and talent advantages, almost got beat by a nobody ass school (UCF in 1999 wasn’t UCF, claimer of fake national titles and holder of Disney parades, as we know them today.) I remember the nauseous horrified feeling when the Golden Knights were driving for the could-be winning score. It felt like the World was collapsing and all laws of logic would be reversed if Central Florida were to score and beat the Dawgs.
I had felt similarly the year before when Georgia barely beat Wyoming by a score of 16-9. I felt that way all over again when Georgia nearly blew the season, and possibly the Kirby Smart era, when Nichols St came to town and gave us that awful scare in 2016.
Ask a Missouri fan how they felt last Sunday morning after losing to Wyoming. Ask a Tennessee fan how they felt after watching a Georgia State program who has only played football since 2010 dance on the field of a six-time national champion after beating the Vols 38-30 on Saturday.
All off-season Missouri was pegged as a dark horse division title contender and a team that could possibly be undefeated when they roll into Athens. Barry Odom was thought of as a good young coach with the Tigers on the rise. Jeremy Pruitt, on the shoulders of recent recruiting momentum and last year’s upsets over Auburn and Kentucky, was seen as bringing stability and forward momentum to the UT program. This week, both coaches and programs are punchlines. Some Vol fans are even calling for Pruitt to be replaced by the same coach who just beat him. Pruitt and Odom will have to pull major upsets to turn public perception back around. While I find great humor in these types of upsets, especially when they involve a team like Tennessee, whose fans take their irrational confidence and requisite poor grammar and vehemently spew it all over Twitter every off-season, they should serve as a cautionary tale.
In short, the fastest way to kill the momentum of a Power 5 program is to lose to a FCS team or a low-level FBS school. There are examples all over college football. One could argue that Michigan still hasn’t recovered from their loss to Appalachian State 12 years ago. The game essentially forced the retirement of Lloyd Carr, a national title winning coach, and lead to the disastrous Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke eras. The loss shook the program so deeply at its core that a blue-blood school, who routinely turned out NFL lineman, hired a coach known for running a spread option attack. In essence the voluntarily surrendered the use of one of their biggest natural talent advantages, attempting to beat teams with speed, motion and fakes instead of strength and talent. Everyone has speed, good offensive lineman however are hard to come by. (Shout out PittGod) The Appalachian St game didn’t just end in an embarrassing loss, it created a spiritual crisis of sorts that the program is still trying to recover from. The Wolverines haven’t won a conference title since.
It is unknown what Kirby Smart’s tenure would look like to this point with a loss to Nichols State in 2016. Perhaps nothing would change, and the loss wouldn’t have cost Georgia the pledges of players like Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and Andrew Thomas, who helped the Dawgs to a national title birth in the 2017 season and have been cornerstones at their positions since. Perhaps it doesn’t effect the commitments of other players in that class who have contributed since. Maybe a loss to Nichols State wouldn’t have caused any players in the 2018 class, who were high-school Juniors at the time, to take their talents elsewhere. However it’s naive to believe that all of Georgia’s players choose to come to Athens just because they love Georgia. Recruits are attracted to culture, facilities, program trajectory, a chance to be developed into a potential NFL draft pick and many other things. Perception is often reality, and I believe that a loss that day in 2016 would have created a lot of talk about Kirby Smart being over his head. That’s a vastly different look for recruits of that time than the narrative of a Georgia program on the rise being built by a young up-and-coming coach looking to stockpile talent and take the throne of collegiate football from his former boss at Alabama.
So remember, when Murray State comes into Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon it’s not just a glorified scrimmage. It is a game that Georgia should win handily, but it is also a game that can hurt the program that Kirby Smart has built over the last four years in ways that a loss to an Alabama or a Florida never could. A loss would create a calamity of punchlines from people all over the country and irrevocably effect what recruits see in Athens. The Georgia Bulldogs would go from a team on the brink of a national title to a crumbled house of cards and a national laughing stock in an instant. Come to Sanford Stadium Saturday afternoon and be loud. Granted, other than a tally in the win column, there’s not much to be gained against Murray State. But there’s a hell of a lot to lose. That scenario is more than worthy of Dawg Nation’s hatred.
Have some bad memories from games against out of conference teams? Ever find yourself in a surprising situation where you ended up hating a random opponent you never thought you would? Tell me about it in the comments!