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October 29, 2009

You're Number One!

There was no stopping #1 Pitt's Tony Dorsett in the '77 Sugar Bowl (Sports Illustrated).

This Saturday, Georgia tackles, or will attempt to, the Florida Gators--the number one ranked team in most polls, including the BCS, Coaches, and AP.  I met with Claude Felton last week and he commented on how the Bulldogs, although having a 1-2 record against AP-ranked number ones in history, have never defeated a number one ranked team in the Coaches Poll.  When Georgia defeated Florida in 1985, the Gators were ranked #1 in the AP Poll but unranked in the Coaches.  Florida had been placed on probation the year before and were not allowed to be ranked by polled coaches in their UPI rankings.

I remember the 24-3 monumental victory over Florida from nearly a quarter-century ago like it was yesterday.  I was 10-years old and my father and I hovered over a radio, hanging on every word uttered by Larry Munson, since the Gators' probation kept the game from being televised.  I go into detail about the game in my "Great but Obscure" series.  The thing I remember the most is how both teams moved up and down the field the entire contest; Georgia used a powerful running game, breaking off several long runs, while Florida utilized the arm of its quarterback, Kerwin Bell.  The difference was the Bulldogs were able to get into the end zone, the Gators, despite 400+ yards passing, could not.

Georgia's first meeting against an AP #1 came in the 1977 Sugar Bowl against Pittsburgh and its Heisman-winning running back, Tony Dorsett.  Leading up to the game, reportedly, Bulldog defensive coordinator Erk Russell had devised a scheme for the defense to specifically slow Dorsett.  Unfortunately for Russell and his "Junkyard Dogs," Pitt quarterback Matt Cavanaugh unexpectedly came out throwing (VIDEO from Mark Bolding's "Exhaustive Site of Bowl History").  After passing for less than 100 yards per game during the regular season, Cavanaugh, who would be named the bowl's MVP, threw for 185 yards in the first half as the Panther's held a commanding 21-0 halftime lead over the fourth-ranked Bulldogs.  Pitt would eventually turn to Dorsett, who rushed for a Sugar Bowl-record 202 yards, and Georgia and its slim national title hopes were crushed, 27-3.  The game was actually more lopsided than the score indicated as the Dogs were outgained by nearly 300 yards (480-181), threw more interceptions than completed passes (4-3), and also lost two fumbles.

Georgia's third and last meeting against a top-ranked AP team was against Florida in 1996.  Following a two-year hiatus because of the Gator Bowl's renovation, the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" returned to Jacksonville.  The Gators jumped out to a 34-0 halftime lead behind four touchdown passes by Danny Wuerffel, the eventual Heisman recipient.  Florida won easily 47-7 and even covered the whopping 35-point spread.  The Gators eventually won the national championship while the Bulldogs, guided by first-year coach Jim Donnan, finished with a 5-6 mark--Georgia's last losing campaign, to date.

An unfamiliar meeting against a number one ranked team for Georgia occurred in its season finale of 1942.  Georgia Tech entered with a perfect 9-0 record and, although ranked #2 in the AP, sat atop the Williamson System--a power rating system recognized by the NCAA from 1932-1963 chosen by Paul Williamson and printed in newspapers nationwide.  Led by Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi, the fifth-ranked Bulldogs trounced the Yellow Jackets, 34-0.  Sinkwich, who would receive the Heisman Trophy 10 days later, rushed for 72 yards and passed for another 107.  The sensational sophomore Trippi rushed for 114 yards, including 87 on one of the most memorable runs in Georgia football history, and threw two touchdown passes.  Georgia Tech freshman All-American Clint Castleberry,  who had been averaging more than seven yards per rush, was held to 8 yards on 6 carries.

Alternatively, playing as the top-ranked team in the AP Poll, Georgia has also lost just two games, winning eight, and appearing a total of 15 times as the poll's #1.  The Bulldogs were first ranked atop the AP following a victory over #2 Alabama on Halloween of 1942.  Georgia's 15th and last number-one appearance was in the preseason poll of only a year ago.

The 15 occasions Georgia has been ranked #1 by the AP ranks fifth all time of current SEC teams.  The following is a ranking of the SEC's #1 appearances along with some other teams of interest: 
 1) Alabama- 37
 2) Florida- 36
 3) LSU- 19
 4) Tennessee- 18
 5) Georgia- 15
 6) Auburn- 7
 7) Ole Miss- 5
 8) Arkansas- 1
 9) Kentucky, Miss. State, S. Carolina, Vanderbilt- 0

Clemson- 2
Florida State- 60
Georgia Tech- 0
Miami (Fla)- 68

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