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January 4, 2013

Best Bulldogs' Team of All Time?


Despite two losses, the '81 Bulldogs rank as one
of the best UGA football teams of all time...
What is the best Georgia football team of all time?  It's a question thrown my way every so often, and one that's always rather difficult for me to answer.  In fact, for all the times I've been asked the question, the answer I've likely given the most is one of uncertainty. 

Unlike for some football programs, the answer to what is the greatest Bulldog football team in history, for various reasons, is not so cut and dry.
 
I received an email from a reader yesterday, mentioning that it appears the Bulldogs will finish this season ranked in the final AP Poll's top five for the 10th time in the program's history.  So, with that being said, the reader asked, "is this year's Bulldogs' team one of UGA football's top ten best of all time" in my opinion?
 
There was little hesitation in my response No.  For one, Georgia played football for about 40 years and had several outstanding teams before the first AP rankings of 1934.  Nevertheless, after a fine 12-2 season, the question can be asked regarding if the 2012 Bulldogs rank among the best teams ever at the school.  And, above all, what season's football team is the best in school history?
 
For what it's worth, this morning I compiled my opinion of the top UGA football teams of all time.  Notably, it's obviously difficult to compare teams of the modern era to ones from yesteryear; Georgia's best Red and Black squads from long ago would likely lose to most single-A high school teams of today.  Therefore, all Georgia teams were evaluated based on their accomplishments in relation to their respective eras.
 
With this season's Georgia team coming in at No. 20, my top 20 Bulldogs' football teams of all time (including one when  Georgia was yet to be known as the "Bulldogs"), along with each season's record and an explanation as to why each is ranked higher, or lower than one might think:
 
# 1- 1946 (11-0)
The Bulldogs' first of only two perfect teams, which faced more than four opponents, not only outscored the opposition by nearly four touchdowns per game, but was really never threatened.  Georgia's smallest margin of victory was 10 points against UNC in the Sugar Bowl.
    
# 2- 1981 (10-2)
I've always argued that the best of Georgia's four great teams from 1980 to 1983 was the one with the worst record.  Statistically, the '81 Dawgs were by far the best of the four.  I recently asked a member of the 1980 and 1981 teams which of the two was the best (and, even though only a year separated them, the two teams were very much different as just six of 24 starters from the '80 team would be considered starters in '81).  "I'll put it this way," the player told me,  "if the 1980 and 1981 teams played one another 10 times, the '81 team would win 11 of them."
    
# 3- 1942 (11-1)
Some old-timers contend that the '42 team one which earned the first of Georgia's two consensus national championships perhaps is the best ever at the school, and likely even better than the '46 squad.  However, it's hard to look past a one-point win in the season opener against a Kentucky team that would finish with a 3-6-1 record and a two-touchdown upset loss to a 6-4-1 Auburn squad.
 
# 4- 1968 (8-1-2)
Despite winning just eight of 11 games, the Bulldogs were acknowledged as the top team in the country by the NCAA-recognized Litkenhous rankings a computer rating-based poll.  In addition, the erroneous tie against Tennessee should have actually been a Georgia victory, while the Bulldogs clearly didn't give their all in a 14-point loss to Arkansas in New Orleans. 
 
# 5- 1927 (9-1)
Dominant for first nine games of season, Georgia handed Yale its only loss of the year while outscoring the other eight foes by an average score of 29 to 2.  The '27 team was headed for a Rose Bowl and likely the distinction of being one of the best teams in the history of college football before an inferior Tech squad pulled the upset of all upsets with a 12-0 win.

However, in my opinion, no Georgia team can quite
compare to Charley Trippi and the rest of the '46 Dogs.
# 6- 1920 (8-0-1)
Only a 0-0 draw with a much-acclaimed Virginia team kept the 1920 Wildcats-turned-Bulldogs from being perfect.  Besides the tie, Georgia did escape with three victories of seven points or less; however, those three wins came against teams (Furman, Auburn, Alabama) which had a combined record of 26-1 against opponents other than Georgia.
 
# 7- 1980 (12-0)
How can Georgia's undefeated, untied, and "undisputed," as Coach Dooley likes to put it, national championship team of 1980 be only the 7th best in school history?  Easy.  Take a look at that team's schedule and the fact that no regular-season opponent finished ranked in the AP Poll or with a record of better than 8-4.  And, against the weak slate, half of the Bulldogs' 12 victories were by a touchdown or less.  More telling, because of the low scoring margin against such an easy schedule, the final New York Times computer poll ranked the "undisputed" Bulldogs a lowly seventh in the nation, including behind even a couple of 10-2 teams.
 
# 8- 2002 (13-1)
One of fans' favorite Georgia teams in recent memory got off to a winning but rocky start with close victories over Clemson and South Carolina.  Nevertheless, by the end of the season, the Bulldogs were arguably the best team in the nation and very well could have defeated Ohio State or Miami for the national title.  However, because of an earlier upset loss to 5-3 and unranked Florida, Georgia didn't even get a shot at the championship.
 
# 9- 1992 (10-2)
Eerily similar to the '81 Bulldogs, the Georgia team 11 years later seemed absolutely dominant statistically and "on paper" despite losers of two close games.  Of nine regular-season victories, only one was by less than 10 points.  It's too bad the Bulldogs couldn't come out on top in just one of their two losses Tennessee by three points, Florida by four points.  If so, Georgia would have played in the first SEC title game and, in my opinion, would have probably defeated Alabama, sending the Dogs to the Sugar Bowl for a shot at a national championship.
 
#10- 1971 (11-1)
Outscoring the opposition by an average 34-to-6 score, the '71 Bulldogs are perhaps the program's best team through the first nine games of a season.  However, according to a player from that season, "entering the Auburn game, we were beginning to run out of gas."  In the much-anticipated battle of the undefeateds, three-point favorite Georgia lost to the Tigers by 15 at home!  And then followed it up with mere four-point victories over Tech and UNC (Gator Bowl) after the Bulldogs entered each contest as double-digit favorites.
 
#11- 1982 (11-1): Many close calls during perfect regular season; 11-0 could have just as easily been 7-4.
#12- 1931 (8-2): In late October was recognized by a Los Angeles newspaper as best team in all of college football...Two losses (Tulane, Southern Cal) were to the teams which eventually played in Rose Bowl for national championship.  
#13- 1976 (10-2): Perhaps my favorite Georgia team of all time was rather dominant in each of its victories; however, its two losses to a 5-6 Ole Miss squad and by 24 points to Pitt in the Sugar Bowl were bad losses. 
#14- 1966 (10-1): Lone loss to unranked Miami, while average scoring margin was a comparatively low 12.5 points per game.  
#15- 1945 (9-2): Charley Trippi returns from military service and Georgia is inexplicably embarrassed in consecutive games against LSU and Alabama by a combined 60-14 score.  However, Trippi and the Bulldogs rebound to outscore final five opponents by an average margin of 29 points.
#16- 1983 (10-1-1): Another fan favorite was behind or tied more often than not, but still found a way to lose only one game.  The one loss Auburn by 13-7 score at home was much more lopsided than result indicates, while proving there was no question who was the best team in the SEC in '83.  
#17- 1948 (9-2): Without a Frank Sinkwich or a Trippi, the '48 Bulldogs are the forgotten SEC title team of the '40s.  Lack of running game proves costly in setback to UNC (28 rush. yds) and in upset loss to Texas in Cotton Bowl (56 rush. yds).
#18- 2007 (11-2): Yes, a second-place finish in the final AP Poll; however, it comes following two losses, including one by three touchdowns in Knoxville.  And, instead of a win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, I've wondered before what would've been Georgia's bowl result if it rightfully faced USC in the Rose Bowl instead? 
#19- 1913 (6-2): Six victories, including over prominent Alabama and Georgia Tech teams, by an average winning margin of 35 points...Two losses to Virginia and Auburn, who combined to record 15-1 mark.
#202012 (12-2): Will be remembered for 12 victories for only the third time in school history, a top five finish, and being just a few yards from playing for a national championship...Will also be remembered for a Capital One Bowl postseason, an underachieving defense which allowed roughly 20 points and 360 yards per game, and a four-touchdown blowout loss in Columbia.
 
Just Missed Top 20: 1921 (7-2-1); 1941 (9-1-1); 1959 (10-1); 2003 (11-3)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

pat, if 2003 just missed top 20, surely 2004 and/or 2005 would be there??? Besides that, really like the rankings and especially your explanations. Totally agree with 1980/1981 comparison!--Ray Dawg

Anonymous said...

1997?

Anonymous said...

2004 lost to Tennessee in a game it had NO business losing, then was completely humbled by Auburn. You can't realistically put in a team that didn't win its division.

2005 lost to inferior Florida and Auburn teams, and that WV game was humiliating. Had we had focus against WVU and beaten them, you'd have to rank that SEC championship team. As it was, though, you can't rank that 3-loss team.