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August 28, 2009

Opening Against the Ranked

The last time Georgia was not victorious in a season opener versus a ranked opponent--a 17-17 tie at #9 Tennessee in 1968.

The Bulldogs begin the 2009 season ranked 13th in both the AP and Coaches preseason polls. Admittedly, these rankings come as a surprise to me as I thought Georgia would be ranked anywhere between 18th-20th in the major rankings. The Bulldogs finished last season #13 in the AP, lose Stafford and Moreno, and are ranked just as high in the 2009 preseason? Go figure.

Georgia opens this season at Oklahoma State--the ninth-ranked team in the AP, #11 in the Coaches. I did some delving and found that the Bulldogs have not began a season against a higher, AP-ranked opponent than OSU since hosting #5 Alabama to start the 1965 campaign. Impressively, Georgia has won five straight against the ranked in season openers. Of course, in all five games, the Bulldogs were favored to win.

The following is a listing of the 14 occasions Georgia began its season against a ranked opponent. Keep in mind, although the AP college football poll has been in existence since 1936, a preseason poll was not established until 1950. Until then, the first AP poll of the season was not released until early to mid-October. Under each game listed, Georgia's preseason ranking is noted (NR=not ranked), along with if the Bulldogs were the favorite or underdog and by how many points (for 1973 and later), and Georgia's result.

1950: #15 MARYLAND (Athens)

NR (Won 27-7)

1955: #15 OLE MISS (Atlanta)
NR (Lost 26-13)
1958: #11 TEXAS (Austin, TX)
NR (Lost 13-8)
1961: #3 ALABAMA (Athens)
NR (Lost 32-6)
1962: #3 ALABAMA (Birmingham)
NR (Lost 35-0)
1963: #3 ALABAMA (Athens)
NR (Lost 32-7)
1964: #6 ALABAMA (Tuscaloosa)
NR (Lost 31-3)
1965: #5 ALABAMA (Athens)
NR (Won 18-17)
1968: #9 TENNESSEE (Knoxville)
NR (Tie 17-17)
1976: #15 CALIFORNIA (Athens)
#16/3-point favorite (Won 36-24)
1982: #11 CLEMSON (Athens)
#7/0.5-point favorite (Won 13-7)
1983: #20 UCLA (Athens)
#15/2.5-point favorite (Won 19-8)
1988: #17 TENNESSEE (Athens)
#12/4.5-point favorite (Won 28-17)
2005: #18 BOISE STATE (Athens)
#13/7-point favorite (Won 48-13)

Georgia has a 7-6-1 record in the aforementioned games, including, as mentioned, a five-game winning streak and a seven-game undefeated streak. Let's hope this trend continues a week from this Saturday in Stillwater.

Here's a quick comment or two on each of the 14 games:

Georgia's shocking win over Maryland in 1950 would be its lone victory over a ranked opponent in 23 tries until November 1959 during a dismal decade for the Dogs.

Game against Ole Miss to open '55 season is part of a doubleheader with Georgia Tech, who played Miami (Fla) in the day affair, at Grant Field.

Bulldogs lose to Texas in 1958 season opener but find themselves a quarterback when newcomer Fran Tarkenton inserts himself into the game and soon passes for a touchdown and two-point conversion.

A disappointing coaching stint at Georgia for Johnny Griffith begins with a dispiriting start in 1961 when he has to be replaced by assistant John Gregory. Griffith is in an Athens hospital undergoing an emergency appendectomy.

The 1962 Georgia-Alabama game is known much more for the scandal it caused than the one-sided victory for 'Bama.

The 1963 season-opening game marked another blowout suffered by Griffith's Bulldogs in what would be the coach's final campaign at Georgia.

The night before the '64 Georgia-Alabama game, a group of people, including some Georgia assistants, were chatting while eating dinner. One man stated, "I came in from the airport with a one-armed taxi driver. He said he was taking the points and Georgia [to cover the spread]." Bulldog defensive coordinator Erk Russell responded, "That's how he lost his arm." Erk foretold what was to come as Coach Dooley is defeated by four touchdowns in his first game as a Bulldog.

Georgia gets its revenge against Alabama in 1965 following five consecutive defeats to the Crimson Tide by an average of nearly 26 points. The Moore-Hodgson-Taylor famed flea-flicker scores from 73 yards out and Moore connects with Hodgson for two points and the winning margin.

Down 17-9 in the 1968 opener, Tennessee scores a disputed touchdown in the final seconds and then passes for a tying two-point conversion. The game is played on Tennessee's controversial Tartan Turf and is the first college football contest held on artificial turf in the southeast.

Cal's Joe Roth throws for nearly 400 yards in Sanford Stadium; nevertheless, the Bulldogs outscore the Bears 24-3 in the second half and open the '76 season with a win.

The hometown hero, Charlie Dean, intercepts UCLA's Rick Neuheisel and returns the errant pass for a touchdown to seal a season-opening victory in 1983.

Georgia passes for only 20-something yards in the opening game of 1988; however, led by Tim Worley and Rodney Hampton, the Dogs rush for over 400 in a win over Tennessee.

Boise State's highly-touted offense is held in check and the upset-minded Broncos are devastated by the Bulldogs to begin the 2005 campaign. Georgia's 35-point scoring margin ranks as the second-highest in school history over an AP-ranked opponent.

The season-opening game against a ranked opponent I especially want to reflect upon is the Clemson game of 1982. What I remember most about the affair is not necessarily the game itself but the tremendous anticipation that led up to it. It was the first night game in Sanford Stadium in 31 years and to accommodate television, it did not kickoff until 9:11 on Labor Day night. It pitted the national champions from the two previous seasons--Georgia in 1980 and its hated rival Clemson from '81.

Seemingly, everyone in Athens, unless you were a Clemson fan, despised the Tigers with a passion. Former Bulldog All-American Craig Hertwig, better known as "Sky" around town said the week of the game, "[Clemson and the rest of the ACC] play imitation football. I even hear they're going to put up imitation grass in the stadium up there [at Clemson] so the homecoming queen won't graze on it."

At only seven-years old, I remember distinctly walking with my parents to the stadium and trying to read all the anti-Clemson banners hanging from RVs and buildings. I was puzzled by one, in particular, directed at the Tigers: "You might be Number One but you smell like Number Two." My mother had a hard time explaining to me the meaning behind that one.

Herschel's broken thumb and just 20 yards on 11 carries were non-factors as Georgia prevailed, 13-7.

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