Before I begin tackling the task at hand, there are a couple of housekeeping details to which to attend.
Moreover, although I have yet to find an appropriate compartment in my head into which to place this datum, the following fact is a fact: Vanderbilt football has a weblogger. Will wonders never cease?
As the entire college football blogosphere surely is aware by now, I have encouraged all Georgia and Michigan fans to write letters to their athletic directors and encourage them to schedule a home and home series between the Bulldogs and the Wolverines. (More on that anon.)
I thought that was a bit ambitious . . . until I learned that BlogPoll voter Joey had called upon his fellow Maize and Blue fans to write letters to God.
For my part, I have been writing about Michigan so much lately that an Ohio State fan recently (and rather coarsely, so be forewarned) mistook me for a Wolverine fan myself. As I have noted before, I generally am neutral where U.M. is concerned but I believe the Maize and Blue would make a suitable non-conference opponent for the Red and Black, given Michigan's impressive tradition and the strong reputations of its football program and its academics.
I freely admit that the Maize and Blue would pose a daunting challenge for the Bulldogs, even in a year such as 2005, in which much went right for Georgia and much went wrong for Michigan. The Wolverines' schedule in the season just completed was a rugged one, to put it mildly, and we still are talking about a program that won at least 10 games in five of the eight seasons between 1997 and 2004. (U.M. won nine games in two of the other three of those seasons.)
Fortunately, Georgia is no slouch in the tradition department, either. Excluding Penn State (which was not a member of the Big Ten at the time the Bulldogs faced the Nittany Lions in the 1983 Sugar Bowl), the Red and Black are 7-1 all-time against Big Ten teams, including a 6-0 mark against the league in postseason play. Michigan is the only Big Ten team the 'Dawgs have faced during the regular season, which is part of why there is such symmetry to the notion of scheduling a Georgia-Michigan series today.
Now that Mark Richt has restored the Bulldogs to national prominence and Damon Evans has brought Georgia into line with the overall S.E.C. trend by upgrading the team's out-of-conference scheduling, it is time for the 'Dawgs to take their non-league slate to the next level. Forthcoming treks to Boulder, Cincinnati, and Tempe to play the Buffaloes, the Bearcats, and the Sun Devils represent great strides in this regard and a trip to Ann Arbor would put the exclamation point on Georgia's return to national scheduling.
My use of the word "return" may have raised a few eyebrows; it is well known---and the subject of much just criticism---that, in the 40 seasons from 1966 to 2005, the Bulldogs did not play a single regular season game outside of the South. However, the tendency to schedule regionally rather than nationally during recent decades represents a break with a much older tradition that played a large role in Georgia's initial rise to national prominence.
Consider this fact, which, while not widely known, nevertheless is true: in the 50 years from 1916 to 1965, the Red and Black played 36 regular season contests in areas of the country outside the South. (For purposes of this discussion, I am treating games played in Texas and in Virginia as being inside the region and considering games played in Maryland and in Oklahoma to have taken place outside the region. Reasonable people may disagree over that definition of Southern geographic boundaries, but, to this great-great-grandson of a Confederate veteran, drawing the lines in that fashion seems appropriate.)
During the half-century culminating with the most recent Georgia-Michigan game in Vince Dooley's second season on the Sanford Stadium sideline, the Bulldogs faced Navy at Annapolis (in 1916), Harvard at Cambridge (in 1921), Chicago at Chicago (in 1922), Yale at New Haven (in 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1933, and 1934), N.Y.U. at New York City (in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1939), Southern Cal at Los Angeles (in 1931, 1933, and 1960), Fordham at New York City (in 1936), Holy Cross at Boston (in 1937) and at Worcester (in 1938), Columbia at New York City (in 1940 and 1941), Cincinnati at Cincinnati (in 1942), Temple at Philadelphia (in 1946), Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) at Stillwater (in 1947), St. Mary's at San Francisco (in 1950), Boston College at Boston (in 1950), Penn at Philadelphia (in 1952), Villanova at Philadelphia (in 1953), Maryland at College Park (in 1953), and Michigan at Ann Arbor (in 1957 and 1965).
Such scheduling shows a sincere commitment to playing teams from around the nation. From 1921 to 1942, the 'Dawgs played at least one road game outside of the South in every autumn except one. The determination to travel outside the region at least once each fall is evident in the way Georgia scheduled the series with Yale. From 1923 to 1934, the Red and Black went to Connecticut in all but two seasons; in 1929, Yale traveled to Athens for the dedicatory game in Sanford Stadium and, in 1932, the two teams did not meet. In both 1929 and 1932, though, the 'Dawgs journeyed to New York City to face New York University.
In the space of 18 seasons, from 1936 to 1953, Georgia fans were able to see their team play a total of 10 games in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. By contrast, during the 18 seasons from 1988 to 2005, Georgia fans have been able to see their team play a total of nine games in such exotic locales as Baton Rouge, Fayetteville, and Starkville.
Nowadays, when we rightly disdain the practice of B.C.S. conference powers taking on Division I-AA opponents in rent-a-win payday games, it is easy to look down upon the Ivy League. In the 1920s and 1930s, though, it took more than a little gumption for an upstart Southern school to head north to tangle with the Eastern powers of the day.
At the time of Georgia's 1921 trip to Harvard, the Crimson had a 23-game unbeaten streak that included a win over Oregon in the 1920 Rose Bowl. The touchdown scored by the Bulldogs in their 10-7 loss at Cambridge represented the first points surrendered by Harvard in seven games. The Red and Black's 1936 tie with Fordham's "Seven Blocks of Granite" formed the foundation for Georgia's national reputation in football and it was a real accomplishment for the Bulldogs from Athens to post a 6-5 record against the Bulldogs from New Haven in 11 series meetings with Yale between 1923 and 1934; during that span, the Old Eli squad compiled a 60-25-11 ledger.
Since 1965, the Bulldogs have not traveled beyond what ceased to be a national boundary in 1865. That insular tendency is changing, thanks to the inspired coaching of Mark Richt and the enlightened scheduling of Damon Evans, but road games against Arizona State, Cincinnati, and Colorado will take the Red and Black only part of the way.
Georgia's rise to national prominence in the 20th century was aided by a willingness to take on teams like the University of Chicago in 1922, when the host squad in the Land of Lincoln assembled a 4-0-1 record in Big Ten play. (Chicago's conference wins were against Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Purdue and the tie came against Wisconsin.) Georgia's return to prominence in the 21st century likewise would benefit from a willingness to go back to the Midwest to take on a much more noteworthy Big Ten team.
I am, of course, familiar with all the old arguments about the difficulty of playing a Southeastern Conference schedule and an in-state rivalry game against Georgia Tech. I do not discount these claims entirely, but they fail to convince me. The Bulldogs have captured three of the last four S.E.C. East division crowns, the Red and Black have won all 12 of the Georgia-Georgia Tech games since 1990 that have not been vacated by the N.C.A.A., and no Mark Richt-coached team has ever lost an out-of-conference contest during the regular season. The 'Dawgs simply have enjoyed too much success during Coach Richt's tenure for me to believe they are not up to facing new challenges.
I noted previously that Michigan is willing to schedule more than one difficult non-conference game per season. Historically, the same has held true for the Red and Black. In 1957, when the Bulldogs faced the Wolverines for the first time, Georgia's non-conference slate also included the Texas Longhorns, who were Sugar Bowl-bound in Darrell Royal's first season in Austin. In 1965, when the Bulldogs faced the Wolverines for the second (though, hopefully, not last) time, Georgia also played regular season games against the Clemson Tigers, the Florida State Seminoles (who had won the Gator Bowl the previous year), and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
By agreeing to take on tougher opponents outside our own region during the regular season, the Georgia athletic administration heightens the Bulldogs' national profile, strengthens the Red and Black's schedule, provides the fan base with a more attractive slate of away games, and restores a longstanding tradition that has been allowed to lapse in my lifetime.
Michigan fans are not scared to schedule tough non-conference opponents. Bulldog fans should feel the same confidence in their team. Georgia has what historically has been and currently is again one of the nation's premiere football programs. After 40 years of talking the talk, it's time to go back to Ann Arbor and walk the walk.