ATHENS — Last year, there was all kinds of anticipation heading into the G-Day Game. This year, not so much.
Not that it won’t be an entertaining and fun-filled afternoon. Always is. Or, at least, it has been under Kirby Smart.
Like no Georgia coach before him, Smart has done more to make this annual spring scrimmage into a must-attend event for fans. The Bulldogs on Saturday are expected to draw the largest spring-game crowd in the SEC this year. That would, of course, place it among the biggest turnouts in the country. To date, Nebraska has had the greatest turnout with 86,000 for its spring game. Alabama claimed 62,000 for the A Game this past weekend.
For those keeping count — and apparently a lot of Georgia’s rivals are — if the Bulldogs are top draw in the SEC again this year, that’d be 4-for-4 under Kirby. That’s starting to get under some folks’ skin.
Last year, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt chastised Vols’ fans when “only” 65,000 showed up after he implored them to pack out 102,000-seat Neyland Stadium. Fewer than 52,000 came out this year.
Alabama announced its crowd this past Saturday as a highly-skepticized 62,000. That total was conveniently a thousand more than Ohio State and Penn State and 2,000 more than Clemson. So the Tide currently sits second nationally.
Then Florida thought it’d be cute to make up a number for its sparsely-attended game this past Saturday. According to the SEC Network, the 39,476 figure they came up with is intended to be a dig at Georgia (which hasn’t won a national championship in 39 years, a span of 476 games).
Florida's reported spring game attendance: 39,476
39 – years since Georgia's last national title
476 – games Georgia has played since its last national title
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 16, 2019
Hasn’t Dan — 0 vs. Kirby — Mullen learned anything yet?
Smart will laugh all the way through the turnstiles about that one. Based on our previous G-Day experiences under the Bulldogs’ coach, they should run down most of those marks pretty easily. Average G-Day attendance his three springs has been 80,439 (which doesn’t include however many extra thousands were in Sanford in 2016).
Initially, Smart drummed up interest in G-Day through marketing and promotion. But then he leveraged 2016’s “93K Day” with on-field results and recruiting successes in 2017. So now Smart can simply state that G-Day is important to him and so it should be to everybody else. That’s what he did this year.
But there are some obstacles to overcome this year. The game falls on Easter Weekend, which may keep away some fans from farther reaches. And from the standpoint of sheer intrigue, there is simply not as much to anticipate this year as we’ve seen previously.
For the first time in Smart’s tenure, there is not the overriding subplot of a quarterback competition such as there was with Jacob Eason vs. Greyson Lambert, Eason vs. Jake Fromm, and then Fromm vs. Justin Fields. There aren’t lot of anticipated lineup shakeups otherwise, either. Heir apparents abound.
There certainly will be the resident battle for reps, as always. That will be the case at wideout, D-line and in the secondary. But there remains some skepticism about how much Saturday’s proceedings will move the needle one way or another at those positions. More likely, the rotations we’ve seen most of the spring will be the ones that are employed in the fall, with the possible exception of a few late arrivals.
Meanwhile, there’s not even any shiny new digs to behold this time. Last year, you had the excitement of the new locker room and scoreboard additions from the West End renovation. I’ve been told there are absolutely no changes to Sanford Stadium since we last visited her. There has been some power washing and water-proofing of some bleacher sections, though.
The greatest anticipation I sense for Saturday simply is to see the previously unseen. That’s in regard to all those high-caliber early enrollees. Eleven of the 14 are expected to play. There has been buzz aplenty about linebackers Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith. Seeing what that fuss is all about is exciting to consider.
Then there’s the recruiting aspect. DawgNation’s Jeff Sentell predicts another star-studded cast of undecided prospects to be between the hedges Saturday. That’s been the biggest draw for fans lately, simply showing up so Georgia can show out for the finest recruits.
That formula has been paying dividends for Smart. But will it be enough to lure 63,000 the Sanford Stadium this Saturday? Could 70K be possible on an Easter weekend? Surely, the Bulldogs can’t trump Nebraksa’s 86K this year. Can they?
It’s worth showing up just to find out.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) April 16, 2019