I have been urging the Michigan fans in the college football blogosphere to write to U.M.'s athletic director, but this wasn't exactly what I had in mind.
Somewhat closer to home, Bulldog webloggers like The Drizzle have answered the call and offered their thoughts on my proposal, for which I am most appreciative.
At my request, The Drizzle broke radio silence, confessing that he "could no longer feel like an upright and contributing member of the UGA blogger community without weighing in" upon the topic under discussion.
Graciously crediting "the Mayor himself" with being "the originator of . . . this grass roots campaign," The Drizzle was kind enough to remark that, "as always," I had "approached this idea with the vim and vigor we've come to expect," compiling "enough anecdotes, stats, team by team comparisons, and historical models to keep you busy for an hour."
The Drizzle acknowledges that Georgia's "out of conference scheduling is due for an upgrade," as is that of "everyone else in the SEC." While generally believing "that most years, the argument that playing 8 SEC games is punishment enough and proof enough of a team's worth will continue to be true," The Drizzle recognizes "that true or not, that argument will not hold water if other BCS conferences continue to schedule out of conference, intersectional series." The Drizzle correctly notes that "the issue is already being addressed on some level," thanks to Damon Evans's aggressive scheduling moves.
In many ways echoing the sentiments expressed by Benny, The Drizzle takes the reasonable position that the 'Dawgs could prove their worthiness, vel non, by facing a 12-game regular season schedule consisting of eight S.E.C. opponents (with a possible league championship game to follow), Georgia Tech, a pair of "functional bye weeks" against "Level 2" opponents like U.A.B. and Boise State or against "Level 3" opponents like Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe, and a "Level 1B" opponent like Colorado or Louisville.
"So," asks The Drizzle, "what's a Level 1A game?" A Level 1A game, he asserts, is "exactly the kind that's being bandied about with a Michigan matchup. It's going out and getting a Texas or an Oklahoma or a Michigan or an Ohio State or a Miami or a Virginia Tech."
During the Ray Goff and Jim Donnan eras, The Drizzle's reaction to Level 1A out-of-conference scheduling by the Bulldogs would have been exactly the same as yours or mine: "Damnation dude, biting off a bit more than we can chew aren't we, we begging for a loss?" That, though, was before the arrival of Mark Richt, under whose direction the Red and Black "can compete with and beat those teams in any given year."
However, The Drizzle remains at least somewhat skeptical. "Just because you can win games like that," he wonders (with emphasis added, by me), "do you, on average, improve your season by trying to do it?"
At the end of the day, The Drizzle decides that he "can't disagree with trying to at least periodically schedule games like this," even though he doesn't "really think games of this caliber are a necessity in proving the mettle of your team." While pragmatically "not a good move" from a dollars-and-cents standpoint, the addition of Michigan to Georgia's slate for a two-game series would provide "boosts in national credibility of varying levels" for scheduling the game, for losing a competitive contest, or (especially) for winning it.
Despite the reduction in the number of home games and "the possibility of a season derailing loss," The Drizzle concludes that, "[i]n the purest sense, it's simply a great test for your team." The possibility of a season-derailing loss seems remote under Georgia's current head coach---during the Mark Richt era, the Red and Black have followed up one loss with another loss just twice and the 'Dawgs never have had a three-game losing streak with Coach Richt at the helm---but The Drizzle's point is a reasonable one.
As always, The Drizzle brings a great deal of pragmatic realism and common sense to the table and, although I agree with him that the positives outweigh the negatives, I cannot dispute the existence of the potential downsides he highlights, many of which will have to be confronted head-on when I address L.D.'s analysis of these questions.
The Drizzle rightly identifies several possible pitfalls and I will not demean the quality of his commentary by replying (as Guildenstern did to Rosencrantz in Tom Stoppard's play "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead"), "Pragmatism?!---is that all you have to offer?" I will, however, repeat the following exchange from later in the second act of that same drama:
Guildenstern: "We're still finding our feet."
Player: "I should concentrate on not losing your heads."
Guildenstern: "Do you speak from knowledge?"
Guildenstern: "You've been here before."
Player: "And I know which way the wind is blowing."
We, too, know which way the wind is blowing and, given the precedents which were set by Auburn in 2004 and by Texas in 2005, we, too, should be less concerned with finding our feet than with not losing our heads.
As noted by Doug Gillett, the Plainsmen went 13-0 two years ago yet did not play in the national championship game, due in part to the fact that the Tigers' non-conference scheduling was atrocious, while the Longhorns went 13-0 last season and won the national title, due in part to the fact that the 'Horns beat Ohio State at the Horseshoe.
In the B.C.S. era, competition for championships requires aggressive scheduling and the Bulldogs, due to their conference affiliation, have a perception problem to overcome at the national level.
"S.E.C. teams schedule weak non-conference opponents" is one of those bits of college football conventional wisdom, like "Pac-10 teams don't play defense" or "Big Ten teams run plodding offenses," that has been repeated for so long that it is accepted as true, even if what once was a fair criticism has at least partly been overtaken by intervening events.
On September 2, 2006, the Arkansas Razorbacks will host the defending Pac-10 champion Southern California Trojans in Fayetteville, the Auburn Tigers will host the Washington State Cougars in Auburn, the Tennessee Volunteers will host the California Golden Bears in Knoxville, and the Vanderbilt Commodores will face the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
On September 9, 2006, the Ole Miss Rebels will face the Missouri Tigers in Columbia.
On September 23, 2006, the Georgia Bulldogs will host the defending Big 12 North champion Colorado Buffaloes in Athens.
On October 7, 2006, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will host the defending Big East champion West Virginia Mountaineers in Starkville.
In the meantime, the Louisiana State Fighting Tigers have finalized their 2006 schedule, which includes home dates with Arizona on September 9 and with Fresno State on October 21.
The reality is that, in 2006, the only S.E.C. teams to schedule embarrassingly weak out-of-conference opponents in non-rivalry games are Alabama (Hawaii, Louisiana-Monroe, Duke, and Florida International, all at Tuscaloosa), Florida (Southern Miss, Central Florida, and Western Carolina, all in Gainesville), Kentucky (Texas State, Central Michigan, and Louisiana-Monroe, all in Lexington), and South Carolina (Wofford, Florida Atlantic, and Middle Tennessee State, all in Columbia).
To be fair, though, the Gators, the Gamecocks, and the Wil_cats all get at least a partial pass, since U.F. must travel to Tallahassee to conclude the regular season against Florida State, the East Coast U.S.C. must travel to Clemson to conclude the season against the Tigers, and U.K. must travel to Louisville to open the season against the Cardinals.
In other words, 11 of the 12 Southeastern Conference squads face at least one significant non-conference opponent and two-thirds of the teams in the league will be taking on legitimate B.C.S. conference opposition in non-rivalry games against foes from outside our region. Until quite recently, soft S.E.C. scheduling was a shameful fact; now, it is a sin from the past which the conference has repented and the perpetuation of this common myth simply no longer reflects the reality of college football in 2006.
Compared to teams like Tennessee, Georgia arrived late to the party, but Damon Evans has wasted no time in bringing the Bulldogs' non-conference slate up to speed. 20 years from now, we very well may look back on the 2005 Texas-Ohio State game as a watershed moment for cross-sectional scheduling.
The 'Dawgs are moving in the right direction---to use The Drizzle's terminology, the Red and Black are upgrading their out-of-conference opponents from Level 3 to Level 2 to Level 1B---but a marquee matchup with a Level 1A opponent is the next step. As a conservative, I agree with Lord Falkland that, when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change, but, at this stage of the game, it unquestionably is necessary to change.
I believe this change is for the better, but, whether for good or for ill, the handwriting is on the wall and we must accept the way the wind is blowing. The days of second-rate S.E.C. scheduling are over; one look at the league's 2006 composite schedule will tell you that. The days of teams laying claim to national titles by beating weak opposition are over, as well; a quick comparison of B.Y.U. in 1984 and Georgia Tech in 1990 to Auburn in 2004 and Texas in 2005 will tell you that.
The times, they are a-changing. Georgia can keep up or be left in the dust. It would be a crying shame if the great strides made by Mark Richt and Damon Evans were to be squandered by a lack of fortitude or a lapse of will on the final leg of a lengthy and difficult journey. The 'Dawgs presently occupy much the same position as Harrison Ford shortly before the end of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," when guile and intellect had carried him as far as possible yet he was one step shy of his goal and he was called upon to take a leap of faith.
Where S.E.C. scheduling and national rankings are concerned, the facts are clear. Prestige and progress are on the line and, given the program's recent results in Sanford Stadium and current leadership in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, there never has been a better time for the 'Dawgs to show the confidence to act boldly.
This elevator is bound for the top and the next stop is Level 1A. If the Bulldogs want to do something they haven't done since 1980 (win a national championship), they first need to do something they haven't done since 1965 (play the Wolverines). If Vanderbilt has guts enough to travel to Ann Arbor, surely Georgia does, as well.
It is time to take that leap of faith. It is time to put Michigan back on the schedule. It's not just a good idea . . . it's a Drizzle good idea.