| |I recently expressed my hope that the drive to schedule a home and home series between Georgia and Michigan was beginning to pick up steam.
In particular, L.D. noted that some teams' options are more restricted than others'. For instance, Auburn now plays Alabama in Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare Stadiums rather than at Legion Field and Tennessee plays a great many games in its home state and seldom loses to its local rival (Vanderbilt), so the Plainsmen and the Volunteers have been able to schedule out-of-conference teams from other regions more freely than Georgia and Florida.
The Bulldogs and the Gators, of course, are limited by their neutral site series with one another in Jacksonville and by the fact that both Georgia and Florida play season-ending home and home series against tough in-state rivals in non-conference contests. Since major college teams have to play six home games per year for budgetary reasons, the Red and Black have difficulty scheduling non-conference road games in odd-numbered years (when the 'Dawgs play Georgia Tech in Atlanta) and the Orange and Blue have trouble scheduling non-conference road games in even-numbered years (when the Gators play Florida State in Tallahassee).
As L.D. acknowledges, these problems are ameliorated somewhat by the advent of the 12-game regular season schedule. When a twelfth regular season game was added on a temporary basis in 2002 and 2003, Georgia and Florida each used the extra contest to renew a dormant regional rivalry. Now that the twelfth game is being made permanent, though, options exist for branching out periodically.
Florida's scheduling restrictions closely approximate Georgia's. Texas's circumstances mirror Georgia's in one important respect---the Longhorns play an annual neutral site game against Oklahoma in Dallas---but U.T.'s season-ending in-state rivalry with Texas A&M is not only a conference game, it's within the division. Likewise, South Carolina's situation somewhat parallels Georgia's, insofar as the Gamecocks end their season with an in-state rivalry game against an out-of-conference opponent (Clemson), but the Palmetto State Poultry do not play any regularly scheduled neutral site contests.
Since the Gators and the Bulldogs find themselves in similar situations, a look at Florida's out-of-conference scheduling might prove useful, as it gives us some idea of what a team with virtually the same limitations has been able to do where its non-conference slate is concerned. I will begin this analysis with the year 1965, for three reasons.
First of all, 1965 was the year Georgia played its last regular season road game against an opponent from outside the South, so a look at Florida's non-conference scheduling from 1965 to the present day will give us an idea of what the Gators have been doing during the period in which the 'Dawgs have been playing exclusively within the region.
Secondly, 1965 was the season after Georgia Tech's first season as a football independent. The Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets were members of the same league from 1921 until 1963---first in the Southern Conference, then in the Southeastern Conference---but the Ramblin' Wreck left the S.E.C. starting in 1964.
1965 was the first season in which certain non-conference games had to be designated as S.E.C. contests in order to make up for the Golden Tornado's departure. It was at that point that Georgia's and Florida's situations truly became analogous, inasmuch as it was not until then that the Red and Black had to contend both with an annual neutral site contest and with an in-state rivalry game against a non-conference opponent.
Finally, 1965 arguably is the year that the Florida-Florida State series truly took on the intensity of a battle for local bragging rights. F.S.U.'s student body was all-female until 1947 and the Gator faithful never let the 'Noles forget it.
The two schools did not meet on the gridiron until 1958 and the first six series meetings all took place in Gainesville. The Gators were 5-0-1 in those contests. Small wonder, then, that Florida fans considered their major Sunshine State rival to be the Hurricanes, who were the Gators' season-ending opponent every year from 1953 to 1962.
It was not until 1964 that the Florida-Florida State game came to Tallahassee . . . and it was not until that year that the Seminoles beat the Orange and Blue, who (as chronicled by Cale Conley in his book Sunshine Hate) took the field against F.S.U. wearing jerseys with the words "Go For Seven" embroidered across the front. After that, the previously one-sided series took on a whole new intensity.
Accordingly, 1965 seems like a good starting point for comparing apples to apples where Georgia's and Florida's out-of-conference scheduling is concerned . . . and, straight out of the gate, we find support for my position that it is possible for an S.E.C. team in the Bulldogs' situation to take on a Big Ten team on the road.
On September 18, 1965, the Gators opened their season against Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats returned the game on September 17, 1966, when Northwestern lost to the Orange and Blue in Gainesville in the opening game of Steve Spurrier's Heisman Trophy-winning senior season.
Despite that auspicious beginning, the Gators have not followed through by regularly scheduling non-conference road games against teams from outside the South. Nevertheless, Florida has done a better job of this than Georgia has done. In addition to the home and home series with Northwestern in 1965 and 1966, the Big Lizards exchanged games with Southern Cal, playing at Gainesville in 1982 and at Los Angeles in 1983, and with Rutgers, playing at Gainesville in 1985 and at East Rutherford in 1986.
Don't laugh about Florida's series with the Scarlet Knights; in 1985, the Gators went 9-1-1. U.F.'s lone loss was to Georgia . . . and the tie was with Rutgers, which halted the Orange and Blue's 10-game winning streak. Florida, after hosting Syracuse in The Swamp in 1984, also traveled to the Carrier Dome in 1991; the Gators' loss to the Orangemen on the road was the only blemish on U.F.'s regular season record in what was to be the Big Lizards' first official S.E.C. championship season.
While Florida has made few trips outside the South since Steve Spurrier's playing days in Gainesville, the Gators have journeyed to California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York while facing scheduling challenges virtually identical to the Bulldogs' . . . and the Orange and Blue have done so despite being located 339 miles to the south of Athens.
I noted previously that I believed Michigan would be willing to schedule Georgia because Ohio State had scheduled Texas and I could not imagine that the Wolverines would allow themselves to be outdone by the Buckeyes. By the same token, it is inconceivable to me that any self-respecting Bulldog fan would be willing to permit the Gators to get a leg up on the Red and Black by playing a superior schedule.
Doubtless there will be those who are quick to point out that Georgia's and Florida's circumstances are not quite as similar as I have suggested. While it is true that both the Bulldogs and the Gators have to contend with an annual neutral site game and a season-ending in-state showdown against a non-conference rival, the Red and Black have faced two significant perennial foes from outside the S.E.C.: Georgia Tech and Clemson.
This point is a fair one. In addition to closing out the regular season against the Yellow Jackets each autumn, the 'Dawgs also routinely faced the Tigers during the period being described. From 1965 to 1987, Georgia and Clemson met 21 times in 23 seasons. However, the Gators were in much the same boat during that span; U.F. took on the 'Canes every year from 1938 to 1987. In 2002 and 2003, when the Bulldogs renewed their series with the Tigers, the Big Lizards renewed their series with Miami.
Between 1965 and 2005, there were 27 Georgia-Clemson games and 27 Florida-Miami games. Between 1965 and 2005, Georgia played Georgia Tech every year and Florida played Florida State every year. Between 1965 and 2005, Georgia and Florida faced one another in Athens once, in Gainesville once, and in Jacksonville 39 times. The situations aren't analogous; they're absolutely identical.
Florida faced exactly the same scheduling challenges as Georgia, yet, despite having even farther to travel to play road games outside the region, the Gators managed four cross-sectional home and home series during a four-decade span. Meanwhile, the 'Dawgs haven't traveled outside the South for a regular season game in 40 years, three months, and 29 days . . . and counting. If the Orange and Blue can do it, why can't the Red and Black?
If you're still not convinced, though, consider the possibility that (as Billy Joel put it in quite a different context), sooner or later, it comes down to fate. Might it be that a Georgia-Michigan series simply is meant to be? My former "Dawg Show" co-host, Travis Rice, claims this is the case.
Trav very well may be the only college football fan in America who likes the Big & Rich "College GameDay" theme song, "Comin' to Your City." Recently, Trav sent me an e-mail in which he asserted that Big & Rich had foretold a Georgia-Michigan series "in a manner similar to a Roman Oracle."
Trav quotes the opening stanza of the song as follows (with, as we say in the legal profession, emphasis added): "Well, we flew through Oklahoma, Alabama, and through Georgia trying to get on down to Florida for the game. And then we loaded up our tailgate, joined a convoy on the freeway headed north to see them Buckeyes and Notre Dame. Victory for U.S.C., Bulldogs barking at the Wolverines. Hook 'em, 'Horns, and gimme that Rocky Top Tennessee. . . ."
I can't say that I know much about Big & Rich, but I'd be willing to bet that neither Big nor Rich is old enough to remember the last time Georgia played Michigan, so why does the theme song of college football's most prominent and influential pregame show include the incongruous combination of the Georgia Bulldogs barking at the Michigan Wolverines?
Trav has an answer for that question, too. As he put it, "Not only do we want this game to happen, but Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy, E.S.P.N., the A.B.C. Capital Cities Network, the Walt Disney Corporation, Tinkerbell, Roy Disney, Mickey Mouse, all seven Dwarves, Lilo & Stich, the TomorrowLand Transit Authority, the cast members of Broadway's smash hit 'The Lion King,' the Miramax Division, the janitors at EuroDisney, and the pulse of consciousness that still emanates from Walt's frozen head . . . all want to see this game happen."
Without putting too fine a point on the matter, the college football blogosphere is not exactly swarming with aficionados of E.S.P.N.'s college football coverage. Nevertheless, when Travis Rice, with whom I co-hosted a show about Georgia Bulldog football on local cable access for six years, perceives the hand of Fate (or, at least, of the Worldwide Leader in Sports, which may be the same thing, whether we like it or not) in an idea of mine, I am not one to argue with him.
Destiny. History. Every Bulldog fan's deep-seated desire not to be outdone by the hated Gators. All of these are reasons for Georgia to schedule a home and home series with Michigan. If that isn't enough to convince you, then you simply are impervious to evidence.