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(Bob Andres/AJC)
Georgia fans traveled in incredible numbers last year to Pasadena to see the Bulldogs play Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, just as they did to South Bend for Notre Dame.

Sanford Stadium deserves matchups like Georgia-Oregon

ATHENS – I think it’s great that Georgia is going to play Oregon in 2022. I’m not so pumped about the venue, or the fact that they’ll play just once, though.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And I love Chick-fil-A, both the sandwiches and the football games that company sponsors. I certainly don’t blame Gary Stokan, president of Peach Bowl, Inc., for wanting Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, nor Georgia coach Kirby Smart for wanting to play in it as often as possible.

It’s just that when the Bulldogs play this kind of opponent — a big daddy from another Power 5 conference — it’d be so much better on campus. And wouldn’t Oregon make an awesome home-and-home? Autzen Stadium remains unchecked on my bucket list.

But it’s not about that, really. I’m thinking about all those people who pay UGA exorbitant prices for season tickets every year. Don’t they deserve a game like this? Likewise, don’t Georgia fans deserve more trips like the one they got to South Bend last year?

The way the Dawg Nation migrated to the Great Midwest last year to see the Bulldogs play Notre Dame showed the world how hungry the fan base is for such games. Part II of that home-and-home agreement has the Fighting Irish coming to Sanford Stadium on Sept. 21 next year. That represents Georgia’s most anticipated non-conference home game in … well, a really, really long time.

Yes, the Bulldogs opened at home against Clemson just four short years ago. But the Tigers are semi-regular rival. UGA and Clemson played each other almost every single season from the 1960s through the 1980s. Located 90 minutes apart, now the two schools schedule a home-and-home every seven to 10 years or so. They last did in 2013-14, and all indications are they will again in 2021. That’s Georgia’s next opening for a major non-conference opponent now that Oregon has occupied this one.

Why shouldn’t Georgia, with all its clout and resources, be able to go out and schedule ever now and then an out-of-region powerhouse you otherwise wouldn’t see except for a bowl game? Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but as an alum and longtime observer of the UGA program, I can quickly think of some home-and-home matchups I’d love to see.

Like …

  • Michigan: I’ve always been fascinated with the Bulldogs’ trip to Ann Arbor in 1965. It was well before my time, but I’ve read how Georgia shocked the Wolverines 15-7 behind the play of quarterback Preston Ridlehuber. Now that coach Jim Harbaugh has taken to holding recruiting camps in downtown Atlanta, the least he can do is have the Dogs visit the Big House.
  • Texas: Longtime Bulldogs still use the “what time is it in Texas” joke. The punchline is, “still 10 to 9.” That was the final score of the Cotton Bowl won by Georgia on New Years Day of 1984. It knocked the heavily-favored Longhorns out of national championship contention. Surely, they’d love the opportunity to repay that indignity.
  • Ohio State: Urban Meyer showed up in Columbus and immediately erased the home-and-home that’d been scheduled with Georgia for 2020-21. Oh, Buckeyes will claim it was because of a Big Ten-Pac-12 scheduling pact, but no true Bulldogs buy that.
  • Penn State: I actually see this one probably coming online sometime soon. We’ll see if that happens, but a white-out at Beaver Stadium blotted up with Georgia red would be a really cool sight.
  • Southern Cal: Georgia’s 0-3 against the Trojans, with all three games being played in Los Angeles and none since 1960. It’s only fair that USC come this way for once. The tennis team can provide directions.
  • Yale: But not until 2029 season opener. That will be the 100th anniversary of the Sanford Stadium dedication game. Why not?

I was only kidding about that last one. But we all know who the big names are — Oklahoma, Nebraska, Washington, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Miami, Florida State.

Go get them! Why do you have to wait for some ESPN exec to put it together? The point here is Georgia needs to be taking care of its home slate, not the Chick-fil-A Kickoff’s.

I know it’s not easy. I hear that all the time from Georgia folks and people who are in the business of brokering these matchups. Television and conference agreements have to be considered and all that.

But how hard can it be? It seems like a lot of other programs are getting some good deals done.

Like Texas. Recently, the Longhorns have reached home-and-home agreements with LSU, Arkansas, Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State. Not sure why the Bulldogs had to be in the back of that line, but word on the street is there might be something in the works with Georgia as well.

For gosh sakes, let’s hope so. All Georgia’s season-ticket “donors” got for their hard-earned money this season was a non-conference slate that included Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State and UMass. Last year, it was App State and Samford and it was Nicholls and Louisiana-LaFayette before that.

Remember 2015, when the home schedule included Louisiana-Monroe, Southern University and Georgia Southern? I know, I’d forgotten, too.

I know if I was a Magill Society donor writing $25,000 checks to the football program, I’d be demanding Georgia put together some more titillating tilts for Sanford, and quick.

Thank goodness for Notre Dame next year because it saves a home schedule that already includes Murray State and Arkansas State. It also includes a “TBA.” I guess it could be Clemson or some team of that ilk, but something tells me that it’s about time again for Georgia Southern. The Eagles have been coming to town about every four years for a while now. We’ll see, I guess.

I get it. Having Georgia Tech as a non-conference rival and playing Florida at a neutral site every year complicates things. Hammer it out. Make it work. Be aggressive. There’s enough TV and donor money coming in nowadays that lost finances from one less home game are no excuse.

And saying a tough schedule gets in the way of a national title pursuit is a poor excuse. It was a different day and time, for sure, but the Bulldogs’ national champion team of 1980 played Texas A&M, Clemson, TCU, South Carolina and Georgia Tech out of conference that year. Georgia needs to reward the home crowd with more must-see football like that.

Sure, the Bulldogs will sell out Mercedes-Benz Stadium like nobody’s business for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. But that’s a completely different atmosphere than fans enjoy at Sanford Stadium or other campuses.

Knowing what we do about Kirby Smart, I’m sure his primary motivation for playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff is it means one less year in which Alabama — or any other SEC team — will not. But if Georgia competes like it’s should year in and year out, recruiting shouldn’t be negatively impacted by one game a year being  played in Atlanta.

The Benz is a great venue, for sure. But it’s my contention that it should be the Bulldogs’ goal to play there only for SEC and/or national titles. Should they come up short of that, then the Peach Bowl could be a nice, soft landing spot after a tough season.

No, now that Georgia has its fancy new locker room and much bigger scoreboard, the Bulldogs should focus on scheduling big for Sanford first and foremost. And that always means home-and-homes.

Which is fine. Dawg fans came through loud and clear on this subject last year.

“If you schedule it, we will go,” they said.