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January 2, 2012

An All-Time Favorite

Win, lose, or draw, the 1978 WONDERDOGS are one of the most favorite Bulldog teams of all time
Over the holidays, a friend of mine mentioned that the 2011 Bulldogs, even if they were to lose their bowl game today, were one of his most "favorite" Georgia football teams of all time; a squad with a coach on the supposed "hot seat" starts off 0-2, only to win 10 consecutive games and capture the SEC East.  What's there not to admire?

When asked of their "favorite" Georgia team, it has been my experience that often Bulldog fans, instead of mentioning the elite and championship teams of the past, will declare a group that more so overachieved and/or endured adversity to succeed.  Examples of such overachieving Bulldogs include the 1975 Junkyard Dogs, the season after Herschel in 1983, Operation Turnaround in 1991, and the 2005 SEC champs. 

In addition, there were the 1978 Wonderdogs - perhaps the best example in Georgia football history of underdogs turned topdogs.

Entering the 1978 season, the Bulldogs were actually forecasted to be even worse than the losing 5-6 team from the year before.  In the preseason, one media outlet predicted that Georgia's game with Vanderbilt would decide which school was the 9th and 10th-best squad in the 10-member SEC.  Reportedly, the only probable victory on the schedule was a meeting with the Virginia Military Institute - a Division I-AA opponent - in early November.

Nevertheless, Georgia achieved an unfathomable 9-1-1 regular-season record and came within an eyelash of capturing an SEC title.  Within the first five games of the year, the Bulldogs remarkably defeated three opponents - Baylor, Clemson, and LSU - as decided underdogs.  For the entire season, four of the nine victories by the Underdogs to Wonderdogs were by a scant one- or two-point margin.

Ranked 7th nationally in the UPI Poll, Georgia headed to the now-defunct Bluebonnet Bowl at the Astrodome in Houston.  The Wonderdogs were facing Stanford and Coach Bill Walsh's high-flying offense, and once again - this time by more than a touchdown - the Bulldogs were underdogs:

In the 1978 Bluebonnet Bowl, one truly had to wonder about the Wonderdogs.  During the regular season, Georgia had overcome deficits in the fourth quarter four times to rally for three victories and a tie at Auburn.  Included was a 29-28 win over Georgia Tech, where the Bulldogs trailed 20-0 at one point. 

After pulling off the biggest comeback victory in school history in its regular-season finale, Georgia suffered its biggest blown lead of all time the very next game, dropping a 25-22 decision to Stanford after the Bulldogs had led 22-0 in the third quarter.  

After averaging just 329 yards of total offense for the year, Georgia gained more than 500 on Stanford.  On the contrary, the Cardinals (and, yes, the nickname had an "s" back then, unlike today, but still referred to the color and not the bird), who entered with the fifth-highest ranked offense in the nation, was held to roughly 100 yards below their regular-season average.

Notably, after losing a school-record 35 fumbles during the 1977 season, Georgia decided to switch from the Veer offense to the I-formation.  The change was a success as the Bulldogs lost just 16 fumbles in '78.  However, in the Bluebonnet Bowl, the old epidemic emerged as Georgia lost five fumbles to the Cardinals - ALL of them in the second half.

Also sporadic was the performance of Rex Robinson.  During the year, the sophomore placekicker was nearly perfect, missing just two kicks (29 of 29 PAT, 15 of 17 field goals).  However, in the Astrodome against Stanford alone, Robinson missed four (1 of 3 PAT, 1 of 3 field goals).

As Robinson has mentioned before,  part of his problem that day 33 years ago, like many performances in bowl games, was being removed from a routine during the off period between the regular season and postseason.

It's little wonder college football bowl games were initially treated and regarded as merely exhibitions.

Anyway, despite resulting in a loss, I found some good clips - ALL of them in the game's first 35 minutes - of a band of overachieving Bulldogs that I mostly only knew of beforehand from my research.  Personally, and for what it's worth, the 1978 Wonderdogs are probably my "favorite" Georgia football team of all time - and similarly to the attitude of my aforementioned friend - even if they did lose their bowl game.


Anonymous said...

pyburn completed 75% of his passes and "Willey" McClendon? you can tell it's a Mizzlou production

Anonymous said...

Patrick- today's embarrassing loss to MSU was eerily similar to the '78 Bluebonnett defeat. Lose a big lead and hand a win to the opponent, the placekicker was terrible, and it puts a damper on what was a decent season. One difference was at least we were suppose to lose in '78. Today was awful! Your friend should rethink his opinion of the 2011 team after today's performance. - CrowDog

Patrick Garbin said...

Anon 10:39,
Funny... didn't catch that... I think it was more like 55 percent.

Patrick Garbin said...

Anon 6:28,
I certainly agree with you to a certain degree. Ironically, my friend had changed his tune a bit when I spoke with him yesterday, believing now that the MSU loss was one of the bigger collaspes he can remember... Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

I-A Wins 2011 Season FBS :

(01) 13-0 LSU
(02) 13-1 Houston
(03) 12-1 Oklahoma State
(04) 12-1 Boise State
(05) 12-2 Southern Miss
(06) 12-2 Oregon
(07) 11-1 Alabama
(08) 11-2 South Carolina
(09) 11-2 Stanford
(10) 11-2 Michigan
(11) 11-2 TCU
(12) 11-3 Michigan State
(13) 11-3 Virginia Tech
(14) 11-3 Wisconsin
(15) 10-2 Arkansas
(16) 10-2 Arkansas State
(17) 10-2 Kansas State
(18) 10-2 Southern California
(19) 10-3 Baylor
(20) 10-3 Northern Illinois
(21) 10-3 Clemson
(22) 10-3 Cincinnati
(23) 10-3 BYU
(24) 10-3 Oklahoma
(25) 10-3 West Virginia
(26) 10-4 Ohio
(26) 10-4 Georgia - CLEARLY NOT TOP 25