As the Dawgs are finding out, one game can make a mighty big difference in how a college football season is perceived.
This time last year, the Georgia Bulldogs were ranked No. 3 in the country, preparing to meet a Big 12 opponent in one of the major New Year’s Day bowl games, and Bulldog Nation was about as jacked as I’ve ever seen it.
This year, the Dawgs are ranked only two spots below last year, No. 5 in the nation, and again are preparing to meet a Big 12 opponent in one of the major New Year’s Day bowl games.
The biggest difference between the two years? Thanks to a not-very-close midseason Georgia loss to LSU, this year’s New Year’s Day bowl and Big 12 opponent are not awaiting the Dawgs in the College Football Playoff.
Because they are carrying a second loss into the postseason after falling short again against Bama in Atlanta, this year’s Dawgs were left out of the playoff, despite everybody on ESPN and his brother loudly proclaiming after Georgia’s loss to Bama that the Dawgs definitely were one of the four best teams in the country.
And, the playoff is supposed to feature the four best teams, right? Maybe, maybe not. What they end up featuring is the four highest-ranked teams, and, because of that second loss, Georgia finished just outside that elite group in the minds of the committee members picking the playoff teams.
That’s why, instead of being sky-high like last year, Bulldogs fans seem to be struggling to work up enthusiasm for the upcoming Sugar Bowl game with Texas.
Oh, UGA says it has sold its allotment of 15,500 tickets, so, it’s not like Dawgs fans won’t be making the trip to New Orleans. However, even though there’s still an outside chance the Dawgs could finish the postseason in the same No. 2 spot they occupied last January (depending on the showing they give against Texas, and whether the playoff games end up being blowouts), there’s no denying that there isn’t the excitement buzzing in Bulldogs fandom over the upcoming game with the Longhorns that was generated by last year’s Rose Bowl meeting with Oklahoma.
True, the Rose is the granddaddy of bowl games, and the Dawgs had not appeared in it since World War II, so that was something truly special. But, the Sugar also is one of the old-line major bowls, and the Big Easy is a much easier (financially, at least) trip for fans. Plus, don’t forget, that’s where Georgia won the 1980 national championship, meaning many in Bulldogs fandom keep a soft spot in their hearts for N.O.
No, the lack of excitement over the Sugar berth is an example of the impact the playoff has had on college football and, more specifically, the bowls. Not even the so-called New Year’s Six, whose teams are picked by the playoff committee, have been immune. The six bowls rotate as hosts of the playoffs, and, during those years they don’t get a playoff game, well, the other four games are just this side of irrelevant in the minds of many fans.
Think about that for a second. Georgia is playing Texas (of “it’s still 10 to 9 in Dallas” fame), one of college football’s storied blueblood programs, on New Year’s Day in New Orleans, and, outside of the Lonestar State, it mostly will be an afterthought to the Bama-Oklahoma and Notre Dame-Clemson playoff games. That’s crazy.
A friend told me the other day that his 9-year-old son was crushed by Georgia being left out of the playoffs, and, from what I’ve seen, the same has been the case with many fans who are much older.
Maybe one of the reasons for the collective letdown in Bulldog Nation is that the Dawgs came so close to returning to the final four for a second year in a row. Frankly, ever since the SEC division titles had been decided, and we knew Georgia was playing Alabama in Atlanta, I had figured that the Dawgs’ only way into the playoff was a win over the Tide. I just didn’t see the SEC getting a second team into the playoff if it had two losses.
I have to admit, though, that I allowed Kirk Herbstreit and the other guys on the Worldwide Leader in Sports to get my hopes up briefly in the hours between the close loss in Atlanta and the announcement of the playoff teams.
I should have known better. The odds were extremely long that a two-loss team that didn’t win its conference was going to beat out two one-loss conference champions, no matter how impressive Georgia was in its heartbreaking loss to a Bama team that’s been billed as Nick Saban’s best ever.
Which brings us back to the fact that the New Year’s Day bowl game the Dawgs are to play in this year isn’t part of the College Football Playoff, so many fans see the season as a disappointment.
Such fans need to get over themselves and get in touch with reality.
I’m sorry, but Georgia being ranked as the fifth-best team in the country during a “bridge” season in which the Dawgs had to replace a host of star players now plying their trade in the NFL — and, in the end, getting to play a bowl game on New Year’s day against the Texas Longhorns — is still pretty awesome. This season may not be quite as special as last year’s, but, let’s face it, few are. As I said a year ago, the story of the 2017 Dawgs was like something out of an old Hollywood movie.
Still, what the 2018 Bulldogs accomplished is no small achievement — and, in fact, you could make the case that the Georgia coaching staff earned its stellar pay more this year, than last.
As for the fans, it remains to be seen whether Bulldog Nation will manage to shake off its despondency over the fact that the Dawgs aren’t in the playoff and will continue its recent tendency of taking over venues away from Athens and turning them into something that feels like a “home” game for UGA.
Of more immediate concern is whether the Georgia players will be suffering any post-Bama hangover come New Year’s Day. Some, including ESPN analyst Tim Tebow, wonder whether Kirby Smart will be able to get his team motivated for a nonplayoff bowl a year after almost winning the national championship.
Actually, I have no doubt that Smart will be able get his team ready. Unlike during the Mark Richt years, his Georgia teams rarely look unmotivated. I imagine that, by the end of December, he’ll have those Dawgs snarling and snapping and ready to prove to the playoff committee, and any other doubters, that they really are one of the four best teams in the country.
The question is, what is it going to take to pump up the deflated fan base to carry us through the long offseason? Will a sound thrashing of the Longhorns be enough? Maybe. A more likely boost to Bulldog Nation’s psyche would be if Smart somehow manages to pull off a second straight nation’s best recruiting haul.
That might seem unlikely right now (most experts say Bama already has wrapped up the nation’s best recruiting class), but Georgia could steal a recruit or two from Saban (something Smart already has proved adept at doing) and change that scenario. Just this past week, as the Dec. 19-21 early signing period approaches, Smart got a commitment from the top-rated recruit out of the state of Alabama.
And, even if Bama’s class does finish No. 1, Georgia is considered the favorite to finish a strong No. 2 behind the Tide (which, yes, has a familiar ring to it).
That would be a Top 3 recruiting finish three consecutive years, which is just another indication that Smart is building a program that seems destined to keep Georgia in the national championship conversation most seasons. Keep that in mind next time you hear a Dawgs fan wallowing in the “misery” of only being No. 5 and playing Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
A yearly treat for Dawgs fans
One of the automatic entries on my holiday shopping list each year is the Vintage Georgia Bulldogs College Football Calendar from Asgard Press.
It’s a perfect gift for lifelong Dawgs fans, since each month features archival-quality images of vintage UGA game-day football program art, courtesy of UGA’s Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
The image for each month is perforated and easily removable to fit any standard 9×12 inch frame, for display in your Bulldog room or fan cave.
This year’s wire-bound wall calendar measures 9×13 inches, opening to 9×26 inches, which is smaller than in the past (when they measured 11×15 inches), but does make them a bit easier to use, as they don’t take up quite as much wall space and aren’t as heavy.
Among the program artwork featured in the 2019 calendar are the Sanford Stadium dedication game against Yale, the 1957 Texas-Georgia season-opener played at Atlanta’s Grant Field, and the cover from the 1974 Houston game that showed how the various positions aligned in the veer offense Georgia was using at the time. The only mild disappointment about this year’s calendar for me is that it doesn’t include any images from the 1960s programs that I sold outside Sanford Stadium as a kid, as some past calendars have done.
The calendars are $16.95, but Asgard Press is offering a 10 percent discount to Dawgnation readers through February if you use the code GA19CAL10 when ordering here.
It makes a great Christmas gift, and is a good way to spruce up your office or den for the new year.
Speaking of the holidays, I’ll be taking off for them, but the Blawg will return Jan. 2 with my thoughts on the Georgia-Texas game. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!