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August 27, 2013

Top Dawg Dynasties

Psst, hey Aaron, where do you think my
last six teams rank all time at UGA?
I recently received an email from a reader, asking my opinion of where Georgia's "run" starting in 2007 to the present ranked amongst the greatest eras in UGA football history ("Would the 2007 to 2012 seasons even rank in Georgia's top 10 eras?" the emailer asked).  That inquiry, plus an article I recalled from Athlon Sports back in June of college football's top 25 dynasties of the AP era prompted me to rank the ten greatest Georgia football eras of all time.
 
As apparently Athlon determined, I too decided a "dynasty," or an era, needed to consist of at least four seasons.  I also agree with Athlon that "dynasty is a word that gets tossed around all too liberally" on the whole; however, at Georgia, perhaps not so much, or at least it shouldn't be.  You see, the Bulldogs might be the ultimate example in college football of a steady, quality program over nearly all of its many years, where you won't find persistent losing, but good luck discovering a period besides the obvious from 1980 to 1983 when Georgia was consistently and completely dominant.
 
Still, I made an effort to rank Georgia football's greatest eras.  Now, how many of them are actually "dynasty" worthy is up for debate...  
 
1.  1980-83: 43-4-1
The crème de la crème of eras in UGA football history.  Herschel Walker leads three consecutive teams to SEC titles and a shot for the national championship entering each year's Sugar Bowl.  Without Herschel in '83, a bunch of seniors mostly overshadowed during their careers continue where 1982 left off, losing just one game and upsetting 2nd-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl.  Georgia's string of #1, #6, #4, and #4 finishes in the AP Poll is matched by few programs in history, while the four losses during the dynasty were to teams that would eventually finish #1, #4, #1, and #3 in their respective final AP Poll.

2.  1941-48: 69-17-2
A consensus national championship (1942) and another season when the Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 by an NCAA-recognized poll (1946), winning three SEC titles in a seven-year span after capturing just two conference championships during the first 50 seasons of the program, and six bowl games in eight years—the most in college football during the same period—highlight the era.  In the two seasons Georgia didn't go bowling—1943 and 1944—the team was totally depleted by the WWII draft and nearly quit playing for 1-2 seasons (like most of the rest of the SEC), but instead fielded teams primarily comprised of 17 year olds, and still somehow managed to win 13 of 20 games.  Georgia's .795 winning percentage during the era is better than three of Athlon's "dynasties" (Ohio State 1954-70, Clemson 1981-91, and Virginia Tech 1999-2011).

3.  2002-05: 44-9
After one year at the helm, Coach Richt guides the Bulldogs to their first SEC championship in 20 years and a school-record 13 victories.  Three years later, Georgia had won a second conference title in four years while finishing ranked in the AP's top ten four consecutive seasons for only the second time in school history (1980-1983 the other).  Following each of the four seasons, a combined seven different Bulldogs are recognized as first-team All-Americans, while five players would be NFL first-round selections.  The 2005 senior class, which consisted of 11 players lettering in each of the four seasons, including standouts Greg Blue, D.J. Shockley, DeMario Minter, Tim Jennings, and Max Jean-Gilles, remains the winningest class in UGA football history.

4.  1910-13: 25-6-3
This was the era that put Georgia football on the map, so to speak.  As I've mentioned here before, including last May when I argued the program should retire Bob McWhorter's jersey, to fully understand how football at Georgia drastically changed in 1910, you first have to be somewhat aware of the state of UGA football prior to 1910.  From 1899 through 1909, the Red and Black won only about one-third of their games, averaging just 7.2 points per contest.  With head coach Alex Cunningham and All-American halfback McWhorter in Athens from 1910 to 1913, Georgia was considered one of the best teams in the South, never suffering more than two setbacks annually, while averaging 24.2 points per game.

5.  1964-68: 38-13-3
Similarly to the 1910-1913 era, I believe what makes the initial years of the Vince Dooley regime so remarkable was the state the UGA football program was in when the young head coach arrived in Athens.  For the previous 15 campaigns entering 1964, the Bulldogs had only achieved five winning seasons, made two bowl appearances, and captured just one SEC title, while defeating only two teams in their previous 29 games against AP-ranked opposition.

Georgia opened Dooley's first year with a loss to No. 6 Alabama and the Bulldogs fell to No. 10 Florida State a month later to drop its record to 2-2-1.  However, as he recalled for my latest book, it was at the end of the 17-14 narrow loss to the Seminoles that quarterback Kirby Moore, reacting to the Sanford Stadium's crowd cheering a losing but admirable effort, turned to another redshirt player in the stands and said, "It's turned—the Georgia football program has turned around today.  The Bulldogs are no longer a team not to be thought of."  It did turn.  Georgia won nine of its next 10 games into the '65 season, captured SEC championships in 1966 and 1968, and did not lose a single game in 10 tries against AP-ranked opponents through the '68 regular season.

ERAS 6 through 10:
6.  1920-27: 50-22-4; 7.  1975-78: 33-13-1; 8. 2007-12: 57-23; 9.  1997-00: 35-13; 10. 1930-34: 32-14-3

Therefore, in answering the emailer, yes, in my opinion, Georgia's last six seasons entering the upcoming campaign do rank as one of the top 10 "eras" in Bulldog football history.  Granted, there have been no championships and there was the stinker of a season in 2010, but Georgia almost played for a national title last year and perhaps should have in the era's first season.  More so, a banner year in 2013 would propel the current era into the school's top five, although we should continue refraining from tossing around the word "dynasty."

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