ATHENS — There’s only one thing that Georgia should agree to do with the Auburn football series going forward. That’s for the Tigers to come to Athens two years in a row.
Period. End of story.
I certainly understand why the Plainsman are complaining. Who would want to play their two greatest rivals on the road in back-to-back games?
Here’s the thing, though: THEY DON’T!
They haven’t for years. Even though Auburn does now in the same year play both Alabama and Georgia on the road (and conversely at home, every other year), they never play them back-to-back, as the narrative that’s floating out there would have one believe. There’s always a non-conference home game in between the contests. Or sometimes even a bye.
I bring that up this morning because the latest buzz surrounding the Deep’s South Oldest Rivalry — which is what the world has come to call the 127-year-old Georgia-Auburn series — is that the SEC is apparently considering moving the annual game up to October from its long-occupied spot in the second week of November. Though the move comes at the behest of Auburn, the league is apparently considering it in an attempt to fix what it screwed up in 2012 when it brought in Missouri and Texas A&M (not that those two teams shouldn’t be in the conference, which another story for another day).
As I think we all know, that landmark move required several teams across the conference to make adjustments to their existing schedules in order to expand to 14 teams and make an eight-game, 5-2-1 schedule work out. Georgia and Auburn were among the teams asked (read: strongly suggested) to switch their home-and-away rotations. Part of the eight-game formula includes teams playing four of those games at home and four on the road. In order to make all that work, the Bulldogs needed to go to Columbia, Mo., that first year and Texas A&M needed to come to the Plains.
Georgia agreed. The problem was, that meant the Bulldogs would need to go back to The Plains in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013 to work it all out. They did, and Georgia fans were warned right away by the football gods this was not a good idea. That year gave us “the Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” a play that featured a Georgia player that would end up at Auburn (Tray Matthews) misplaying a pass thrown by an Auburn quarterback that previously played cornerback for the Bulldogs (Nick Marshall).
Sorry to bring up a bad memory.
Back to playing in the Tigers in October, which reportedly could happen as early as 2020. First off, for Georgia to play Auburn in any month other than November would just plain be weird. Of the 123 times these teams have met in football, only five of them have been in any month other than November (excluding the SEC Championship contest of 2017). One of them was the first meeting, which occurred in February of 1892. The other four all were in October.
But before we get into why that might make sense now, let’s review a little history with regard to the storied rivalry that is Georgia-Auburn.
The Bulldogs have long been bending over backward to accommodate their neighbors to the west. Did you realize that, out of the 123 times that these teams have met on the gridiron, only 33 of them have been in Athens? That’s right — 33. Thirty-one times they’ve met at Sanford Stadium and two on Herty Field.
The other meetings have either come on The Plains or at neutral sites. For 42 years they played the game in Columbus. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of our fair state, Columbus, Ga., is located about 36 miles from Auburn, Ala., and 180 from Athens.
They also played the game for a short time in Macon, which was certainly more equitable from a distance standpoint (133 miles from Auburn, 93 from Athens). There were also two times that they played it in Montgomery, which is of course on the other side of Auburn. They also played twice in Savannah, which is a considerable distance from both Auburn (281 miles) and Athens (220).
Nearly half the time these two teams have played, the games have been on neutral sites, 60 in all. Eleven times that has been in Atlanta. One of those times was for the SEC Championship.
All that’s just fun food for thought. The real point of all this is, in the age of high-stakes competition and championship pursuits that is modern SEC football, Georgia doesn’t need to agree to anything that will further enhance their oldest rivals’ competitive position.
It appears that Georgia coach Kirby Smart might not be averse to moving the game to October, though we’re left to guess because apparently he talks to the press now only in bi-monthly increments during the offseason. My understanding is he might prefer seeing the Tigers earlier in the year.
But the fact is, the Bulldogs have the same “dilemma” that Auburn does with the schedule in its current configuration. That is, Georgia has to play its archrival, Georgia Tech, on the road in the same seasons it plays Auburn. But like the Tigers, the Bulldogs usually have a home game sandwiched in between. Sometimes that’s a conference opponent such as Kentucky. More often, it’s a non-conference foe such as Georgia Southern or Louisiana-LaFayette.
Also, Georgia has a scheduling dilemma of its own in the month of October. Every other year there’s a dearth of good games in that month. The Bulldogs have been playing Tennessee and Vanderbilt annually in October, but always on the road or at home in the same years.
My point is only this: For the Bulldogs, this needs to be a no-action situation unless the SEC can figure out a way to correct the home-and-away setup going forward. Georgia played Auburn at home in the second weekend of November in odd-numbered years for my entire lifetime until the SEC saw it fit to mess with things in 2012. How else am I supposed to remember my daughter’s birthday? (Just kidding, honey).
Then there’s this: I’ve argued since the year of the conference’s last expansion that they needed to bring Auburn into the Eastern Division anyway. Put Missouri in the West where it belongs. Another argument for another day, I guess.
I know it’s not that simple. In fact, I’m sure its incredibly complicated from a logistics standpoint. I just don’t think Georgia needs to do anything else to remedy a situation that wasn’t of its own making from the outset. It has already done enough to accommodate Auburn and the SEC.
What we can be sure of is it will all change again in a few years anyway.