Georgia football: The case for (and against) keeping Georgia Tech on the schedule

Georgia-Tech rivalry-Clemson-nonconference schedule
Would the University of Georgia ever even consider dropping its annual football game against Georgia Tech?

Word this week that Georgia likely will schedule Clemson in football again brought two predictable responses from fans.

Mostly, there were cheers that the Dawgs once again will meet an old rival they used to play every year, though a few worried that “scheduling tough” might make it more difficult for Georgia to succeed.

But, as often happens whenever matters of scheduling are discussed, there also were grumbles from some fans that UGA could schedule the Tigers even more frequently, if only they’d drop the annual game with Georgia Tech.

The last time Georgia and Clemson met in football, Sony Michel had a solid day. (Ted Mayer/UGA)

The “drop Tech, add Clemson” meme is a perennial among a contingent of UGA supporters, who long for the days of one of the annual Georgia-Clemson games, one of college football’s most storied rivalries. I quite often get emails from such fans suggesting the Dawgs no longer need the Yellow Jackets on the schedule every year.

Shortly after the Blawg published last week, discussing which Power 5 teams fans would like to see the Dawgs play (where I suggested Clemson as a favorite), I heard from UGA alum Stephen Segrest, who asked, “When would be the earliest that we could replace Tech with Clemson annually?”

Then, I heard from my old Athens/UGA classmate Dan Pelletier, noting sarcastically, “I get that we have no room on the schedule for Climpson,” despite the fact that Georgia now plays a 12-game schedule, while it used to play just 10 or 11 games when the Tigers were an annual opponent.

To make more room on the schedule for another Power 5 team, Dan repeated a slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion I’ve heard from him before: UGA should rotate Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State as the end-of-season in-state opponent. 

My response to him: Never gonna happen.

But, just for the sake of discussion, I asked Dan, who happens to be a judge, to make a case for not playing Tech every year in football.

Dan’s response: “It’s hard to argue we should drop Tech, when we fill our nonconference schedule with Sobbing Sisters of the Poor and other patsies, but, here goes: Tech benefits way more from the game than we do. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose. No one expects them to win, and, if they do, it is a boon to their program.

“Drop Tech, and add Clemson or FSU, and the schedule improves dramatically. Drop Tech, add Clemson or FSU, drop one of the patsies, and rotate between Georgia Southern and Georgia State, and we still play an in-state team. The benefit of Clemson or FSU is adding a power team without adding taxing travel.”

The in-state rivalry between the Dawgs and Jackets is big with the players, too. (Rich Addicks/AJC)

Dan has a point about there being more upside in the game for Tech than there is for Georgia. And, most years, playing a team like Clemson or FSU would do much more for the Dawgs’ College Football Playoff résumé, although I frankly don’t see Georgia ever playing Florida State regularly, aside from bowl games and maybe a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Still, there’s something to be said for keeping “traditional” rivalries, especially in an era when college football too often seems to be viewed mainly as interchangeable programming for the ESPN family of channels.

And, that’s especially true of a rivalry like Georgia-Georgia Tech, which accurately has been dubbed “Clean Old Fashioned Hate.”

Any win over the Insects, no matter the sport, is a big deal for Georgia fans, because we hate them and they hate us. Is hate too strong a word? Maybe it was, back in my Dad’s era, when a lot of UGA fans considered Tech the second state school, and would root for them except when they played the Bulldogs. But, in my lifetime, the rivalry sharpened to the point where most fans for each school take great delight in any misfortune that befalls the other.

The combination of a Georgia win and a Tech loss (preferably a blowout) makes for the finest kind of fall Saturday.

Of course, Tech is not Georgia’s biggest or most important rival, especially in football. That hasn’t been the case since the Jackets bolted from the SEC. 

But, the most hated rival? Easily. Someone once said a rivalry game isn’t necessarily the one you most want to win, it’s the one you least want to lose. And that definitely is how the Bulldog Nation views the Tech game. Just ask Jim Donnan, whose departure from UGA was hastened by his losing streak to Tech.

For many fans, the Georgia-Florida series in Jacksonville, Fla., is the biggest rivalry. Hatred figures into that one, too.

And, a case definitely can be made that Georgia-Auburn, a series that has its own name, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, ranks right up there, too, though it might not pass the hatred test for all fans. Still, winning an SEC championship over them is pretty sweet.

UGA athletics director Greg McGarity is on record supporting Tech being an annual football opponent. (David Barnes/UGA)

But, as UGA athletics director Greg McGarity told 247 Sports in 2010, shortly after he was hired as UGA’s athletic director, “I have always felt like Georgia Tech was [the biggest rival] … just like at the University of Florida, the biggest rival without question, is FSU. So, I think your in-state game is your biggest rival.”

In 2012, he told an Atlanta sports radio station, “I don’t think there’s any question that the biggest rivalry for all Georgia fans is the Georgia Tech rivalry.”

And, back when there was a lot of talk about expanding the conference schedule to nine games — and some observers suggested that such a change might mean Georgia would have to consider dropping Tech from its schedule in order to schedule other major nonconference programs — UGA officials quickly shot down that idea.

Which was fine with me. As I said at the time, traditional in-state rivalries, even when the programs aren’t playing or recruiting on the same level, are one of the things that keeps college football from becoming just a development league for the NFL.

And, Georgia-Georgia Tech is a rivalry that still burns white-hot. Just check social media (or talk to any booster for either school) during the seven days before the game, known by both sides as “Hate Week.”

Also, despite the conference rivalries meaning more, and Georgia and Tech operating on different planes of the football world, the game against the Jackets is the one that the players least want to lose, too. The players on both sides generally know members of the other team personally, and, in some cases, have played high school ball with one another. The losing side hears about it for a year from all quarters in this state. Thus, it’s a game that tends to get “chippy,” players say.

This vintage cartoon shows the intensity of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. (University of Georgia)

That, in my book, pretty much defines a great rivalry. A win over Florida might be celebrated a lot more than a victory over Tech, but a loss to the Jackets is just plain unacceptable to Bulldogs fans and players.

Besides, based on what McGarity told the Athens Banner-Herald recently, years like the upcoming season, when the nonconference home schedule consists of three cupcakes and Tech, might become (thankfully) something of a rarity.

The Banner-Herald noted that, in 2021-2024, Georgia hasn’t yet announced a Power 5 nonconference opponent other than Tech. However, McGarity said that “in each one of those years we are working on other Power 5 opponents. We have a lot of discussions in the works now. That’s our goal, to have two Power 5 nonconference opponents every year.”

Here’s hoping McGarity reaches that goal. In addition to making a much more palatable home schedule for fans, it would insure there’s no need ever to consider ending Clean, Old Fashioned Hate.

Smart’s raise a sign of the times

Most college football observers expected Kirby Smart to get a big raise with a contract extension after leading the Dawgs to the National Championship Game in his second season as coach. However, the size of that raise — doubling Smart’s salary to about $7 million a year — raised a few eyebrows in the sports media.

Most fans feel Kirby Smart’s big pay raise is well-deserved. (David Weike/UGA)

Not so much with UGA fans, however. Most fans I heard from were on board with Georgia following the national trend in head coaches’ compensation, and feel Smart deserves to rank among the highest-paid coaches.

Yes, it’s kind of ridiculous that folks in any field get paid that much money, but, as my brother Tim put it: “It is a sign of the times with these giant contracts. If you want a winning program, it is a necessary evil.”

Plus, he added of Smart: “I think he is the man for the job at Georgia. I believe he will win multiple national and SEC championships.”

My own reaction to Smart’s big payday? That’s the nature of the game these days, and, if UGA is going to be a major player, it has to pony up.

And, yes, I hope that someday the players will be able to share in the wealth, but that’s not up to UGA; that’s an NCAA issue for the future.

Like my brother, I’m optimistic about Georgia’s future prospects under Smart. True, the sample is small so far: one mediocre season and one great one. But, two consecutive stellar recruiting classes do make me think Georgia will be in the national title conversation from now on — which is, of course, why they’re paying Smart $7 million a year.

Still, we should remember that, five years in, Mark Richt looked like the greatest coaching hire ever. He’d led the program to two SEC championships (and surely would have been in the playoff if it had existed at that time) and played for a third SEC title. From there, however, things definitely hit a plateau.

I just hope that Smart never gets complacent, like Richt apparently did. Somehow, though, I doubt that will happen to Smart. His temperament seems more akin to Nick Saban than to Richt.

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