| |My support for Damon Evans's efforts to upgrade the Bulldogs' out-of-conference schedule is well documented. My desire to see that trend continued and capped off with a home and home series between Georgia and Michigan has generated much discussion of late.
Nevertheless, one question remains unanswered: "Why Michigan?"
Michigan's status as an elite program with an established tradition and an impressive heritage cannot be gainsaid. However, there are other college football teams that would be suitable to serve our purposes; Georgia could accomplish much the same objective by scheduling a home and home series with Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Southern Cal, or Texas. Why, then, have I singled out Michigan specifically?
Part of it is historical symmetry, since the Wolverines were the Bulldogs' opponent the last time the Red and Black played a regular season road game outside the region. That alone does not account for my particular affinity for U.M. as the aspirational out-of-conference opponent of choice, though.
Recently, the answer to that question became apparent to me. In order to explain this fully, I must first provide a little background information.
I did not become involved in this discussion until the aforementioned Brian Cook was insulted.
As all of you are aware, Brian is a University of Michigan alumnus, a Wolverine weblogger, the founder and administrator of the BlogPoll, and an all-around good guy. I came to Brian's defense in what I thought was a civil manner, drawing a reasonable response from Brian but also a strong rebuke from the person to whom I had offered a retort and a bizarre accusation from an Ohio State fan who mistakenly believed I was a conspiracy theorist.
Michigan : Ohio State :: Georgia : Auburn
Even acknowledging the presence of the positive element of the Buckeye fan base, though, it is apparent to me that the above analogy works to an almost creepy degree of accuracy. All right, it's not in Kennedy-had-a-secretary-named-Lincoln/Lincoln-had-a-secretary-named-Kennedy territory, but it's pretty hard to deny the parallels, nevertheless.
Georgia and Michigan are large state universities with long institutional histories, both academically and athletically. (When Charles Knapp took over as president of the University of Georgia in 1987, he even cited the University of Michigan as one of the state universities he intended to use as a model of public higher education when upgrading Georgia's national stature as an academic institution.) Both Georgia and Michigan have run relatively clean football programs while getting hit hard for transgressions in their basketball programs.
Both Georgia and Michigan have in-state rivals (Georgia Tech and Michigan State) that play erratic football, suffer from a strong "little brother" complex, and consider the state university a bigger rival than the state university considers them. Georgia's and Michigan's most important rivalries are with teams from neighboring states---Florida and (particularly) Auburn for the 'Dawgs; Notre Dame and (particularly) Ohio State for the Wolverines---rather than from their own states.
The Georgia-Auburn and Michigan-Ohio State series both have long histories of being played in cities named "Columbus." Obviously, O.S.U.'s home games against U.M. are played in Columbus, Ohio, but, before Georgia and Auburn went to a home and home arrangement, the Bulldogs and the Plainsmen met at a neutral site in Columbus, Georgia, in all but one of the series meetings between 1916 and 1958.
From the 1960s to the late 1980s, Michigan was coached by Bo Schembechler. Coach Schembechler received a degree from Ohio State University in 1952 and served as an assistant coach for the Buckeyes under their greatest coach, Woody Hayes. From the 1960s to the late 1980s, Georgia was coached by Vince Dooley. Coach Dooley received a degree from Auburn University in 1954 and served as an assistant coach for the Tigers under their greatest coach, Shug Jordan.
Both Coach Dooley and Coach Schembechler stayed on at their respective schools as athletic director after retiring as head football coach. Coach Schembechler's first game at Michigan was a win over an annual Bulldog opponent, Vanderbilt. Coach Dooley's last game at Georgia was a win over an annual Wolverine opponent, Michigan State.
On the opposite side of the aisle, the lame defenses of flagrant cheating and crude lowbrow insults offered by Buckeye fans during the Every Day Should Be Saturday comment thread cited above sounded exactly like similar remarks I have heard from Auburn fans all my life. Likewise, Brian Cook's aforementioned tale of his visit to Columbus bears a disquieting resemblance to the experiences of many Georgia fans who have visited the Ugliest Village.
Tommy Tuberville and Jim Tressel exude equal amounts of smarminess. Each coach has been maddeningly successful at defeating his border rival and both men have a curious penchant for sweater-vests. The A.U. bumper stickers that tout Auburn as "the university of Alabama" even echo O.S.U.'s odd insistence upon being known as "the Ohio State University."
In light of all of the foregoing, it is apparent to me now why I was drawn specifically to Michigan as a suitable out-of-conference opponent for Georgia. For me, the most important contest of every autumn is the Georgia-Auburn game. For guys like Brian Cook, the most important contest of every autumn is the Michigan-Ohio State game.
Without fully apprehending the reasons why, I seem to have sensed intuitively that the University of Michigan is, in many ways, a Midwestern University of Georgia and that the Alabama Polytechnic Institute is, in almost every respect, the Ohio State University with a Southern accent. (Yost at The Michigan Zone seems to have realized this, as well, in light of his mockery of Auburn and the comments that followed.)
The Bulldogs and the Wolverines are cut from the same cloth, as are Auburn and Ohio State, so, before dealing with loathsome late season opponents like the Tigers and the Buckeyes, Georgia and Michigan should schedule one another in order to allow both the Red and Black and the Maize and Blue to take part in an early season cross-sectional showdown between honored opponents and kindred spirits.