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January 30, 2010

An Auspicious Beginning

Sitting in their dorm windows, UGA students watch a baseball game played at Herty Field in 1899. (Photo: GeorgiaInfo) 

On this day 118 years ago, the University of Georgia competed in the very first of its 1,178 football games played through this past season.

The birth of one of college football’s most prominent programs began when 24-year-old Dr. Charles Herty decided to bring the sport to his alma mater after first witnessing it in Baltimore while earning his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins.

At the initial practice, Herty, considered more of a “trainer” than a coach, walked onto the field carrying a Walter Camp rule book. To start practice, he simply tossed a football in the air and then watched as a group of college boys fought for it.

George Shackelford, one of those boys, said in a 1946 interview with the Atlanta Journal: “[Herty] selected the strongest looking specimens for the first team. Luckily I was the one who recovered the ball and thus I was assigned a position.”

The “strong specimens” in Georgia’s starting lineup versus Mercer averaged 156 pounds and 5-foot, 10 inches in height, nearly 100 pounds lighter and a half foot shorter than the Bulldogs’ starting eleven on offense in the season opener of 2009.

On January 30, 1892, 1,500 spectators gathered at Alumni Athletic Field on the school’s campus to witness the first intercollegiate football game in the Deep South. A few years later, the field would be renamed “Herty Field” in honor of UGA football's founding father.

School records indicate Georgia’s mascot made its initial appearance at the Red and Black’s second game—a meeting with Auburn in Atlanta three weeks following the first contest. On the contrary, according to the Athens Banner, “the university goat was driven across the field by the boys and raised quite a ripple of laughter,” just prior to the 3:00 PM kickoff with Mercer.

Soon after the introduction of Georgia’s goat, the Red and Black student section hollered, “rah, rah, rah, ta Georgia!” This was answered by the Mercer fans with a “rah, rah, rah, U-ni-v-sis-boom ah Var-sity Mercer!”

At the time, football resembled more of a rugby scrum than the sport we know of today. The rules were considerably different: no passing, five yards were needed for a first down, a kicked field goal was actually worth more than a touchdown, and because of a loophole in the game’s rules, a team kicking off could easily gain possession by nudging the ball forward, recovering it, and promptly go on the offensive.

Mercer practiced this type of onside kick from yesteryear to begin the game and started with the ball around midfield.

On the first play in Georgia football history, a Mercer ball carrier was thrown for a three-yard loss. This was followed with a play for no gain and then a lost fumble recovered by Shackelford.

On the Red and Black’s first offensive play, Frank “Si” Herty, cousin of Dr. Herty, got the ball, made an “extraordinary” run, and scored a touchdown, giving Georgia an early 4-0 advantage.

Later in the contest, Georgia increased its lead to 16-0 when Shackelford made the play of the game by scoring a two-point safety in a most unusual fashion. “I picked up the ball-carrier,” said Shackelford, “and slung him over one shoulder, carrying him [along with the football] twenty yards across his own goal-line.”

The game ended with Georgia prevailing 50-0 over the visitors. “Si” Herty led the Red and Black by scoring six touchdowns, including Georgia’s final points where he somehow scored a touchdown together with fullback Henry Brown.

Reportedly, the final score should have been 60-0 but the official scorer made two trips to the Broad Street Dispensary during the game for some “refreshments” and missed two touchdowns and a successful kick-after by Georgia.

The Atlanta Constitution reported spectators’ hats were tossed into the air after the game and Georgia players were hoisted onto the shoulders of patrons in celebration as “the red and crimson of the University of Georgia waves triumphantly, and a score of fifty to nothing shows the university boys know how to play football.”

Exactly 118 years later, much has changed in the sport of college football, especially in its rules. However, some things do remain the same, in particular, the “university boys” still know how to play football, and play it well.

Senior Bowl

"Explosive and unstoppable."

With all the buzz around Tim Tebow and two Bulldogs featured, I'm actually looking forward to watching today's Senior Bowl.  Geno Atkins apparently turned heads in earlier practice sessions.  According to SI.com, Atkins "disappointed scouts with his play in 2009 but...was explosive and unstoppable...[and] constantly getting penetration behind the line of scrimmage and regularly beating bigger, stronger opponents."  I haven't heard much regarding Jeff Owens.

In case you're interested, here's a preview of the game I was asked to write for Covers.

January 26, 2010

Are Recruiting Rankings Meaningful?

Stafford, one of the top high school prospects a few years ago, was instrumental in Georgia's consecutive finishes of 23rd, 2nd, and 13th in the AP Poll from 2006-2008.

To finalize college football’s approaching National Signing Day, as is the case every year, a dozen or more recruiting services will promptly unveil the second-most prominent set of final rankings in the sport, trailing only the actual polls released the day after the national title game.

Is there significance in team recruiting rankings for college football?

Is there any correlation between these rankings compared to the final poll results?

If certain teams, on average, rank high (or low) in regard to their incoming recruiting class, is it safe to speculate the majority of the same teams usually rank high (or low) at the end of the season based on their on-field performances?

There are many adversaries of recruiting rankings—whether team or individual prospects—considering them to be nonsense and/or marketing ploys by the aforementioned services.

For example in one particular article, Recruiting Rankings Don’t Translate Into Wins, begins with “Putting stock in recruiting rankings is like investing with Bernard Madoff. It might be fun in the short-term, but you're going to get burned in the end.”

Noticing particular deficiencies in a number of these articles with an “anti-recruiting rankings” stance, I decided to find out myself if there was any connection between the two types of rankings.

I compared team recruiting rankings from 2002-2007 with actual, final rankings from 2004-2009. I decided a six-year span was an adequate amount of time to evaluate—not too short nor too long. I staggered the rankings two years apart since I determined it takes more than a season for the majority of recruiting classes to make considerable impact but not as many as three seasons.

I figured each team’s actual, final ranking (AR) by averaging its yearly finishes in the AP Poll, including “others receiving votes” beyond the Top 25.

If a team did not receive any AP votes, which occurred more often than not, I used its ranking from Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings.

I prefer Sagarin’s ratings because they are used in the BCS rankings, viewed by many as highly credible, and rank each and every Division I team—all 245 of them this past season.

At times, a team did not appear in the AP Poll (including “others receiving votes”) but its Sagarin ranking was higher than the number of teams receiving AP votes. In this case, to be fair to those schools receiving votes, the assigned ranking was the next number in the pecking order following the number of AP vote-getters.

For example, Tennessee did not receive any votes in the AP Poll last season but finished 36th in Sagarin’s rankings. Since 40 teams received AP votes, Tennessee was ranked 41st for 2009.

I calculated each team’s recruiting ranking (RR) by averaging its yearly ranking in the Top 75 “Frosh Recruiting Ratings” (freshmen and JUCOs) located in Phil Steele’s college football preview magazine. If a team did not appear in Steele’s top 75, I used its recruiting ranking from Rivals.com.

I favor Steele’s rankings because he compiles information “based on the many different recruiting services across the country,” including Rivals.com, Parade, Tom Lemming, PrepStar, and ESPN.

Similar to the Tennessee example, if a team did not appear in Steele’s top 75 but was in Rivals.com's top 75, the team was given a ranking of 76th.

For example, Utah did not appear in Steele’s top 75 in 2007 but was 71st in Rivals.com’s recruiting rankings. To be fair to those schools ranked by Steele, Utah was ranked 76th in recruiting for that season.

Below is the 2004-2009 AR top 25 (first set of rankings) and the 2002-2007 RR top 25 (second). Each team is listed with its average ranking over the six-year period, followed by its alternative ranking in parentheses (RR in first rankings, AR in second).

*For teams with the same AR average, like USC and Texas, the total number of AP Poll votes from 2004-2009 determined the ranking order.

1. USC, 5.8* (1)
2. Texas, 5.8* (2)
3. Ohio State, 7.5 (5)
4. Florida, 9.3 (4)
5. Virginia Tech, 11.7 (23)
6. LSU, 11.8 (9)
7. Oklahoma, 12.5 (6)
8. Georgia, 14.7 (12)
9. Boise State, 16.0 (73)
10. West Virginia, 16.7 (47)
11. Texas Tech, 21.5 (42)
12. Auburn, 22.0 (15)
13. Penn State, 22.3 (13)
14. Utah, 23.3 (71)
15. Wisconsin, 23.3 (24)
16. Oregon, 23.7 (31)
17. Boston College, 24.3 (27)
18. California, 26.7 (24)
19. BYU, 27.2 (56)
20. Florida State, 27.8 (11)
21. Alabama, 28.2 (16)
22. Clemson, 30.5 (28)
23. TCU, 31.2 (61)
24. Oregon State, 31.2 (51)
25. Iowa, 32.7 (21)

1. USC, 2.0 (1)
2. Texas, 5.0 (2)
3. Michigan, 6.3 (33)
4. Florida, 7.0 (4)
5. Ohio State, 7.3 (3)
6. Oklahoma, 8.5 (7)
7. Tennessee, 8.8 (26)
8. Miami (Fla), 9.0 (28)
9. LSU, 9.5 (6)
10. Notre Dame, 10.0 (39)
11. Florida State, 10.8 (20)
12. Georgia, 11.3 (8)
13. Penn State, 15.3 (13)
14. Texas A&M, 16.8 (47)
15. Auburn, 20.0 (12)
16. Alabama, 22.0 (21) 
17. Nebraska, 22.3 (30)
18. Virginia, 22.8 (45)
19. UCLA, 23.0 (41)
20. South Carolina, 23.8 (35)
21. Iowa, 24.0 (25)
22. Maryland, 26.5 (49)
23. Virginia Tech, 26.7 (5)
24. California, 28.5 (18)
     Wisconsin, 28.5 (15)

What is first distinguishable about these rankings is USC and Texas are number one and two, respectively, in both the AR and RR and most of the top teams are the same in both sets of rankings; six of the top seven teams in the AR are in the RR’s top nine.

In the rankings’ Top 10 there are several noteworthy teams where there is little correlation between their recruiting and final rankings.

Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and especially Boise State, appear to have exceeded expectations while Michigan, Tennessee, Miami (Fla), and Notre Dame have not performed to their high level of recruiting.

Of all the FBS and FCS teams examined, below are the top 10 "overachievers" (first rankings) and "underachievers" (second), according to the difference in AR and RR. Each team is listed with its difference in the two rankings followed by its AR and RR in parentheses.

1. Boise State, +64 (9/73)
2. Navy, +57 (37/94)
    Utah, +57 (14/71)
4. Cincinnati, +49 (34/83)
5. TCU, +38 (23/61)
6. BYU, +37 (19/56) 
   West Virginia, +37 (10/47)
8. Air Force, +35 (57/92)
9. Connecticut, +31 (46/77)

    Texas Tech, +31 (11/42)

1. Illinois, -39 (75/36)
2. Miss. State, -36 (73/37)
3. Washington, -35 (74/39)
4. Texas A&M, -33 (47/14)
5. Ole Miss, -32 (61/29)
6. Michigan, -30 (33/3)
7. Notre Dame, -29 (39/10)
8. Duke, -27 (87/60)
    Maryland, -27 (49/22)
    Virginia, -27 (45/18)

Most of the overachievers are non-BCS teams recognized as having excellent head coaches; these schools, because of a variety of reasons, have become more able-bodied over time to compete with the BCS squads. Also, a number of overachievers run a particular offensive system; they sign players who may not be highly recruited but fit and later excel within the team’s system.

All of the top 10 underachievers are from BCS conferences. Nine of the 10 have fired at least one head coach since the end of the 2004 season, and rightfully so, based on the significant difference between recruiting and on-field performance.

Notwithstanding, there seems to be some correlation between recruiting and actual rankings for most of the teams evaluated.

Nearly two-thirds (16 of 25) of the teams in the AR top 25 and 56 percent (14 of 25) of the RR top 25 have a difference in rank of only 10 or less. Of all the teams evaluated, more than 57 percent have a difference of only 15 spots or less while just 23 percent have a difference of 25 or more.

Scott Kennedy, Director of Scouting for Scout.com, said, “Team recruiting rankings are a compilation of individuals. Games are won by TEAMS. It's not always the best collection of individuals that makes up the best teams.”

I totally agree with Kennedy: the best recruiting classes do not always translate into the best teams. However, more often than not, there appears to be at least somewhat of a parallel between recruiting rankings for college football programs and their final rankings; this especially holds true for most of the highest-ranking, whether recruiting or performance-based, traditional powers, like Georgia.

January 21, 2010

By the Numbers

Although he played in just three seasons, Curran (No. 35) finished his career at Georgia in the school's top 16 in tackles, tackles for loss, and quarterback hurries.  (Photo: Getty)

In early December, I posted team and individual (offense/kickers and defense/special teams) statistical milestones that were obtainable in the upcoming Independence Bowl.

Now that the 2009 campaign has completely ended and we look ahead to next season, presented is where the '09 Bulldogs, whether current or departing players, rank in the school's career record book.

Joe Cox: 14th in passing yards (3,016)
9th in touchdown passes (29)
4th in passing efficiency (137.54)

*Of all Bulldogs who completed at least 10 passes in their careers, only three have a higher passing rating than Cox:
1. D.J. Shockley, 142.85
2. Charley Trippi, 138.38
3. David Greene, 138.26
4. JOE COX, 137.54
5. Mike Bobo, 137.14
6. Eric Zeier, 137.09
7. Ray Goff, 136.55
8. Matthew Stafford, 133.30
9. John Rauch, 132.49
10. Jon England, 132.34

Michael Moore: Tied for 31st in receptions (59)
42nd in receiving yards (764)
Tied for 20th in touchdown receptions (8)

Prince Miller: 1st in punt return average (14.93) among those with at least 20 career returns; 4th of those with at least 10 returns

Rennie Curran: 16th in tackles (298)
15th in tackles for loss (17.5)
Tied for 22nd in total tackles for loss—includes sacks (24)
Tied for 16th in QB hurries (31)

Geno Atkins: 3rd in QB hurries (95) 
Tied for 9th in total tackles for loss (33)
Tied for 5th in tackles for loss (22)

Roderick Battle: Tied for 9th in forced fumbles (5)
Tied for 21st in QB hurries (28)

Rashad Jones: Tied for 11th in interceptions (11)

Jeff Owens: 4th in QB hurries (66)

Kade Weston: Tied for 6th in QB hurries (54)

Caleb King: 52nd in rushing yards (841); Ronnie Stewart (843) is ranked at 51st just ahead of King

A.J. Green: 12th in receptions (109); Charlie Whittemore (114) is 11th
11th in receiving yards (1,771); Hason Graham (1,834) is 10th
7th in touchdown receptions (14); Juan Daniels, Hason Graham, and Mohamed Massaquoi each had 16 TD receptions and are tied for 4th

Blair Walsh: 14th in points (197), 10th among kickers; Allan Leavitt (209) is 13th

Drew Butler: 1st in punting average (47.42) 

Brandon Boykin: 5th in kick return yardage (988)  
1st in kick returns for touchdowns (3) 
1st in kick return average (26.0) for those with at least 15 career returns; 4th of those with at least 10 career returns 

Zach Renner: Tied for 6th in blocked kicks (3)

Justin Houston: 13th in QB hurries (35)

Demarcus Dobbs: 24th in QB hurries (26)

It should be noted the 2009 Bulldogs averaged 4.68 yards per rush and allowed only 0.92 sacks per game—both team bests in 15 seasons since 1994 when Georgia averaged 4.84 and 0.55, respectively.

January 19, 2010

Dogs in Hog Index

Houston, Weston, and the rest of the Dogs' "Hogs" were the fifth-best defensive line in the SEC in '09, according to the Hog Index. (Photo: Manning of ABH)

I recently discovered online the defensive "Hog Index"—a statistical measurement of an NFL team's defensive line created by The Cold Hard Football Facts.  A couple weeks ago, The New York Times N.F.L. Blog did a feature on the index.

Figuring a team's placement in the defensive Hog Index is rather simple: calculate the team's yards per carry allowed, its percentage of "negative pass plays" (interceptions + sacks/opponents' pass plays), and the opposition's success rate on third down.  For each of the three factors, rank the team among the other squads, add up the three rankings for a total rank, and the team with the lowest number has the best defensive line statistically speaking, according to the index.

According to the creator's website and linked blog entry, the index has been "a huge indicator" of a team's overall success since it was introduced in 2007.  For instance, the NFL team with the better DHI (defensive Hog Index) during the 2007-2008 playoffs had a 20-2 record while the teams with the best DHI (2007- Giants, 2008- Steelers) each won the Super Bowl.

Green Bay, who had the best DHI in 2009, was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.  However, the Packers did at least make the postseason and had one of the league's best defenses.

Wondering if the index could also apply to college football, I figured the SEC's DHI for this past season.  I was especially interested in seeing where Georgia ranked among the 12 schools since the Bulldogs' defensive line was considered by most the best of Georgia's defensive units compared to its linebacking corps and secondary.

The SEC defensive Hog Index for 2009:

Note: Sacks are not figured into rushing statistics in the NFL but are at the collegiate level.  Since sacks are considered in the DHI's second factor, the negative pass play percentage (NPP%), I subtracted sacks and sack yardage from each team's defensive rushing totals.  In addition, for the NPP%, the number of passing plays was calculated by adding the number of opponents' pass attempts and the number of times they were sacked.

Ranked first and second, Alabama and Florida were head and shoulders above the rest of the 10 schools in the index.  This is certainly fitting since they were, by far, the two best teams in the SEC in 2009.  Ole Miss, who finished third in the index, was arguably the third-best team in the conference.

Ranking in the top half of all three categories, Mississippi State coming in at fourth was somewhat of a surprise.  While our Georgia Bulldogs, according to the DHI, had the fifth-best defensive line in the SEC, despite ranking third-worst in the conference in third-down defense.

Tennessee ranking next-to-last overall in the index was another surprise, especially since the Volunteers ranked in the upper half of the SEC in total defense (5th) and scoring defense (6th).  Of the index's three factors, Tennessee ranked last in the conference in two of them (yards per carry allowed and NPP%). 

Can someone tell me again how on earth Georgia's offense only scored a field goal against the Vols and could only penetrate as far as their 34-yard line?

As far as next season, I believe Georgia made a great hire in new DC Todd Grantham and I like the fact he'll be switching to a 3-4 scheme.  However, the loss of defensive tackles Jeff Owens, Geno Atkins, and Kade Weston is definitely a concern for the defensive line in 2010. 

Somehow, maybe the fiery and hard-nosed Grantham can actually help improve Georgia's defensive "Hogs" next year from their fifth-place finish in the DHI. 

Remember, "defense wins championships," especially, as the DHI has proved at the NFL and collegiate levels, the defensive line.

January 15, 2010

The Window of Opportunity is Wide Open

The opportunity is present for the Bulldogs to have a very good 2010 season.

Most Georgia football fans have already started to contemplate the 2010 season. For some, it began as early as Oct. 10, following the embarrassing 45-19 loss at Tennessee.

Personally, it starts every year when I observe the pre-preseason rankings that usually are released shortly after the conclusion of each season.

This year was no different for me. The only difference compared to years past was seeing the Bulldogs’ placement, or lack thereof, in a couple of these premature sets of rankings.

Of the two I observed, one ranked Georgia at No. 23 in the nation for next season, while the other did not even have the Dawgs in its top 25.

I’m wondering if these two sets of rankings did exactly what some of the others released closer to the start of the season are often guilty of—putting very little thought behind their positioning of teams.

Many online media outlets and preseason magazines, annuals, guides, etc., while unveiling their summertime rankings, have many other tasks to carry out, like write features and articles, sell advertisements, report on baseball, and get ready for the basketball season, leaving little time to invest into their preseason college football rankings.

They’ll look at a team like Georgia, for example, who recorded an 8-5 mark the previous season, returns 10 starters on offense, but loses its quarterback and seven starters on defense. They conclude the Bulldogs should be preseason ranked 20-something at the very best. Then they quickly move onto “analyzing” the next team.

Instead, if they would spend a little extra time examining teams for the upcoming football season, they’d likely realize on the contrary, Georgia could very well be a top-15 or better team in 2010.

Offensively, the Bulldogs return seven offensive linemen with starting experience who have combined to make 155 career starts—remarkable. The returning skill players include backs Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, tight end Orson Charles, and wide receiver A.J. Green, one of the best players in college football.

Granted, Georgia does lose its starting quarterback. However, in the Bulldogs’ three biggest wins in 2009 (Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Texas A&M), what did all three games have in common in regard to Georgia’s quarterback play? Little was asked from departing senior Joe Cox. In the three most significant victories, Cox averaged fewer than 20 pass attempts; in the other 10 games, Bulldog quarterbacks averaged nearly 30.

Whether it's Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, or Logan Gray under center for Georgia in 2010, as long as the offensive line and running game play consistently well (as should be expected), the quarterback should only need to manage the offense instead of attempting to lead the team to victory.

The Bulldogs had one of the best special teams units in the nation in 2009. In returning college football’s greatest punter, one of the best placekickers, and Brandon Boykin, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, much of the same can be expected this year.

Now, if Georgia could only learn how to cover and tackle on a kickoff...

Defensively, seven starters will be missed, and there is a concern at the tackle position. However, the Bulldogs had depth in ’09, and those backups should be able to fill in adequately.

For instance, in the defensive backfield, the only returning starter is cornerback Boykin. Notwithstanding, upon further inspection, one can see reserves Branden Smith, Bacarri Rambo, Quintin Banks, Makiri Pugh, Vance Cuff, and Sanders Commings all return. These returnees corralled 60 percent of Georgia’s interceptions last season.

Actually, the Bulldogs should improve on a pass defense that ranked in the bottom half of the FBS in 2009—although this is likely not the opinion of most of the aforementioned preseason rankings, merely considering just one starter returns to the secondary.

To be successful defensively in 2010, Georgia must reduce its number of penalties, cut down on allowing opponents favorable field position, and above all, force more turnovers. The Bulldogs have not accomplished these tasks the last two seasons, which is why their defense allowed more than 25 points but only 326 yards per game in 2008 and 2009 combined.

Simply put, Georgia allowed too many “easy” scores the last two seasons. In 2009, there were only three games where the Bulldogs had an advantage in turnovers over its opponent: the three significant wins I mentioned before—Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Texas A&M. In addition, there were just three games where Georgia was penalized for fewer than 40 yards. You guessed it—against the same three opponents.

Good news is these three victories came in Georgia’s final four games of the year. Equipped with a few new defensive coaches, the Bulldogs should be able to ride that momentum into the 2010 campaign.

As far as Georgia’s competition within its division, Tennessee loses most of its offense, safety Eric Berry to the NFL, plays in Athens, and doesn’t didn't even have a head coach at the present time until today.

Like most every season, Florida, despite the indecisiveness of its head coach, will be very good and probably hand us another defeat in Jacksonville. Keep in mind, though, the Gators are in a semi-rebuilding mode, losing five starters on offense and six on defense, and even more could decide to go early to the NFL. If there was ever a season in the foreseeable future for Georgia to beat Florida, it’s in 2010.

As far as South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, well, they’re just that—three schools that combined have yet to represent the SEC East in the 18 conference title games.

In looking over a favorable 2010 schedule, if any of the Bulldogs’ 12 games were played today, I see only two where Georgia would be underdogs (Florida and at Auburn). In 2009, the Bulldogs were underdogs in five of their games.

At this point in time, I believe the Dawgs in 2010 will finish at least one game and probably two better than they were a year ago, and I tend to be rather pessimistic.

As far as winning the SEC East and/or finishing amongst the nation’s top 15, or even top 10, the opportunity is certainly there and a good possibility for Georgia, despite what the pre-preseason rankings indicate.

January 13, 2010

West Bound and Down

Georgia will play at Colorado in 2010—the third consecutive season the Bulldogs will travel west outside the southeast for a regular-season game. (Photo: GeorgiaDogs.com)

Based on its title, did you think this post was going to be about Lane Kiffin scurrying off to USC?  Amongst all the latest talk about who's no longer at Tennessee and who's going to be the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator, there has been a little bit of buzz on the blogs recently regarding Georgia's trip to Boulder this October.

The Colorado Dawgs have set up a blog about the Bulldogs coming to Boulder—the game, the area, where to stay, etc.  From what I hear, unless you want to pay $300+ a night or stay far from Folsom Field and campus, you better act on getting a room with the quickness.

The Bulldogs' latest travels outside the southeast are rather intriguing to most fans because, until recently, they simply did not happen.

For 40 consecutive seasons, from 1968 through 2007, Georgia did not play a single regular-season game outside the southeast and only twice (Tulane in 1970 and 1972) faced a school on the road who was NOT a member of the SEC, Georgia Tech, Clemson, or South Carolina (joined SEC in 1992).

By the 1968 season, the Bulldogs had recently established home-and-home rivalries with Clemson and South Carolina on a yearly basis (for the most part) while Georgia Tech had been an annual opponent for quite some time.  It was also established, whether five or more home games for a 10-game regular-season schedule (until 1971) or six or more home games for an 11-game schedule (1971-2001), the Bulldogs must host a certain number of opponents each year.

From 1968 to 1987, the combination of having to play six or more conference games, five then six or more home games, Florida in neutral Jacksonville, and non-conference foes Clemson, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech every year, left little to no room to play a home-and-home series with a non-conference opponent other than the aforementioned three.

Instead, it resulted in Georgia having two home games each season to play a Division I-AA squad or the likes of Virginia, Oregon State, Baylor, or teams that did not require the Bulldogs to reciprocate and later travel to the opposition's place.

In 1988, an additional SEC game was added to the schedule (Clemson was dropped on a yearly basis).  Four years later, Georgia was playing eight conference games.  From 1992-1993 and 1996-2001, excluding when Florida was played home-and-home in 1994 and 1995, the Bulldogs' schedule was rather basic: eight conference games and Georgia Tech—four of these nine opponents at home, four on the road, and Florida in Jacksonville—and two perceived home victories (Whoops!).

By 1992, the only practical way the Bulldogs could play away from home against a team other than Georgia Tech or one not belonging to the SEC was if a 12th game was ever added to the schedule or hope Jacksonville's Gator Bowl needed more renovations.

The NCAA allowed Division I-A schools to schedule a 12th regular-season game in the 2002 and 2003 seasons and then permanently, for now, in 2006.  This allowed Georgia to schedule several home-and-home series with challenging, non-conference opponents the Bulldogs did not traditionally face.

Georgia played Clemson in 2002 and 2003, followed by Colorado (2006, 2010), Oklahoma State (2007, 2009), and Arizona State (2008, 2009).  The Bulldogs are scheduled to play Louisville in 2011 and 2012, followed by Clemson (2013, 2014) and Oregon in Eugene in 2015 and Athens in 2016.

Playing a regular-season contest outside the southeast was once a regular occurrence for Georgia football, first traveling to Navy in Annapolis in 1916—a 27-3 victory for the host Midshipmen.  The Red and Black’s only score was a field goal by Bill Donnelly drop-kicked from Navy’s 25-yard line.  Apparently, the highlight of the trip was the team’s visit to a burlesque show the night before the game where a “big time” was had until a 9:30 PM curfew.

From then until 1968, Georgia played 39 regular-season games outside the southeastern United States, at least one every season from 1921 to 1942, and faced three of these "intersectional" opponents during both the 1931 (at Yale, New York U., and Southern California) and 1953 (at Villanova, Texas A&M, and Maryland) seasons.

Georgia recorded just a 15-22-2 mark in these 39 games but was 13-7-2 from 1930 to the 1953 game against Villanova in Philadelphia.  Along with that particular contest, here are details regarding a few other noteworthy Georgia games played far beyond familiar territory:

October 8, 1927: Georgia 14, Yale 10
Many Georgia fans are accustomed with the 1929 game against Yale—a 15-0 UGA win where Catfish Smith scored all the points in the first game at Sanford Stadium.  However, the win over Yale two years earlier was perhaps more significant; it was the Bulldogs' first win over the Eli in five tries, resulting in the championship season of the acclaimed "Dream and Wonder Team."

Playing in the famous Yale Bowl, Georgia was considered a 14-point underdog while there were even odds the Bulldogs would not even score. Within the first five minutes of the game, Georgia beat those odds when H.F. Johnson threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to “Chick” Shiver.

In the second quarter with the score tied at 7-7,  Yale’s Duncan Cox kicked a field goal from Georgia’s 22-yard line.  In the closing minutes of the first half, Georgia's Frank McCrary scored on a two-yard run.  Johnson’s successful PAT was a result of his kick first hitting a Yale defender and somehow sailing over the crossbar (1927 was the first season of goalposts being located behind the end zone instead of on the goal line in college football).  Georgia led 14-10 at halftime.

Late in the game, Yale’s Stewart Scott caught a pass in the end zone on fourth down but was ruled out of bounds, giving Georgia the ball on its own 20-yard line. The Bulldogs ran two plays and time expired for a monumental win.

November 21, 1936: Georgia 7, Fordham 7
The Bulldogs' win at Fordham was their first game against an AP-ranked opponent.  It would be four more attempts and nearly five years before they would have another non-losing performance against a ranked team.  Read details about Georgia's "winning" tie in my "Great but Obscure" game series.

September 19, 1953: Georgia 32, Villanova 19
Villanova normally played its home games at its on-campus Villanova Stadium but on occasion, to draw bigger crowds, would host a non-eastern-region team, like Georgia in 1953, at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium.  A crowd of nearly 100,000 (official records note 97,803 spectators, newspapers reported 97,802—curiously, a difference of one spectator) witnessed the Wildcats, led by '52 All-American Gene Filipski, jump out to an early 12-0 lead only to see the Bulldogs score 26 consecutive points.

Georgia limited Filipski, who rushed for nearly 100 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry the season before, to 38 yards on nine carries.  Bulldog quarterback Zeke Bratkowski completed 10 of 18 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns and fullback Bob Clemens rushed for 118 yards on 13 carries in a 32-19 Georgia victory.

So, why would so many people show up to a football game against two below-average teams?  (Villanova finished the year with a 4-6 record.  Georgia, following a 2-0 start and No. 18 national ranking, ended its '53 season with a 3-8 mark, to date, the most losses for the Bulldogs in a single year and their worst campaign since going 1-5 in 1905.)

The Acme food chain bought 60,000 of the tickets and distributed them free to grocery store customers in the Philadelphia area.  The attendance of the "Supermarket Bowl," at the time, the largest crowd for a season-opening college football game and a record Eastern football crowd excluding Army-Navy meetings, would be the largest crowd for a Georgia football game for more than 44 years until it played in front of 106,656 at Tennessee in 1997.

November 4, 1967: Houston 15, Georgia 14
Georgia’s first appearance on artificial turf and in a dome stadium ended in a heart-breaking defeat. The attendance for the '67 Georgia-Houston game at the newly constructed Astrodome was 53,356—the most at the site for a sporting event in the dome's more than two-year existence and second most for all events behind an earlier appearance by evangelist Billy Graham.

The Bulldogs entered the game with a 5-1 record and ranked No. 5 in the nation but were without the services of safety Jake Scott and two backups, who were suspended for curfew violations.  The loss of the great Scott was evident as the Cougars drove up and down the field the entire night but, through the first three quarters, had not scored a single point.  Seemingly, just as Houston would threaten to score, it would turn the ball over; the Cougars committed six turnovers for the game, including five fumbles.

Meanwhile, the Dogs led 14-0 heading into the final quarter on Kirby Moore and Kent Lawrence touchdown runs; the scores were set up by a Houston penalty and a 71-yard interception return by Terry Sellers.

In the fourth quarter, the Cougars scored two touchdowns, the second on a long, Dick Woodall touchdown pass with 4:29 remaining in the game.  Houston fullback Paul Gipson rushed for 229 yards (the fourth-most individual rushing yards against Georgia in a single game) and the game-winning two-point conversion around left end as the Cougars narrowly won, 15-14.

Note: (let's end this post on a "winning" note) The following season at home in Athens, Georgia would somewhat get its revenge with a fourth-quarter comeback of its own against the Cougars.  Despite 532 total yards by the end of the game, including 230 rushing by Gipson (third-highest ever against Georgia), Houston held only a 10-0 fourth-quarter lead.

Georgia sophomore quarterback Mike Cavan first tossed a seven-yard scoring pass to Brad Johnson and later, in under two minutes, led the offense on a nine-play, 69-yard drive to Houston's 22-yard line.

With only seconds left, Jim McCullough kicked a 38-yard field goal and the Bulldogs were lucky to escape with a 10-10 draw.

Along with Clemson in 1983, the 10-10 tie with Houston ranks at the top of my list of Georgia's "we should have gotten beat but somehow we tied" games of the modern era. 

January 12, 2010

2010 Nat'l Title Contenders

Can Boise State with the national championship next season?  Absolutely.

The confetti has barely settled in Tuscaloosa and odds are already out for next year’s BCS champion.  The Tide are faves to repeat but there are some hungry contenders on their heels.  FULL STORY

January 7, 2010

The Big One

Tonight's the big one.  Personally, I'm rooting for 'Bama because I usually do so for a fellow SEC member when facing a non-conference foe.  I think the Tide will win, and maybe, by as many as two touchdowns or more. 

I wrote an article for Covers debating why the Crimson Tide should handle the Longhorns.  Checkout the debate between me and another Covers writer. 

January 5, 2010

Even Herschel Had A Heisman Letdown

Shortly after he won this year's Heisman Trophy, I saw Alabama running back Mark Ingram on Good Morning America, Today, or one of those morning shows, and thought to myself, "Here we go again.  It has already started; another year, another month-long, whirlwind tour for the Heisman winner."

For a number of years now, the annual Heisman recipient experiences a ceremonial circuit for nearly the entire month of December leading up to his respective bowl game.  It's in the bowls where a long-standing trend has been the Heisman winners, particularly quarterbacks, and their teams do not perform particularly well.

Call it, if you will, a Heisman "letdown."  Some go as far as regarding the worst of these Heisman bowl performances as victims of a "Heisman Curse" or "Heisman Jinx."

Georgia's own Frank Sinkwich, who had set a major bowl record of 382 total offensive yards in the 1942 Orange Bowl and was averaging nearly 200 yards per game during his Heisman season of '42, was held to 33 rushing yards on 11 carries and 38 yards passing in the Rose Bowl against UCLA.

Sinkwich's letdown was partly explainable because he was suffering from two sprained ankles and saw only spot playing time the entire game.  Sophomore sensation Charley Trippi spelled the injured Sinkwich, rushing for 115 yards on 27 carries in Georgia's 9-0 victory.

Although Trippi was primarily responsible for the Bulldogs' success of moving the ball up and down the field, it was the Heisman-winning Sinkwich who scored the game's lone touchdown on a one-yard rush with approximately eight minutes remaining in the contest.

Whereas only three of the first 22 Heisman awardees (1935-1956), including Sinkwich, played in bowl games the year they won the trophy, all but one (Houston's Andre Ware in 1989--Houston was on probation and could not compete in the postseason) of the past 40 Heisman recipients since 1970 have gone bowling.

Teams of the Heisman beneficiaries have an overall record of only 22-27 in bowl games, including 10-18 since 1980; eleven of the 18 losses have cost the Heisman winner's team the national title.

One assumption why the trophy winners' teams have not fared well in bowls is the teams were simply not as good as the opposition.  This belief is not entirely accurate.  The bowl record is even worse when the point spread is considered: since 1974, the Heisman winners' teams won just 13 of 34 bowl games and are remarkably only 8-26 (less than 24%) against the spread.

Possible reasons why the trophy's recipient and his team are usually disappointing in a bowl include the winner of the trophy usually misses bowl practices, can get himself out of playing shape, and, perhaps above all, the Heisman can serve as somewhat of a distraction.

Ohio State's Troy Smith, the 2006 Heisman winner, reportedly gained approximately 15 pounds after winning the award and leading up to the Buckeye's BCS title game against Florida. Smith completed just four of 14 passes for 35 yards and one interception and rushed 10 times for minus-29 yards and lost a fumble against the Gators--a total of a mere six offensive yards in 24 plays, no touchdowns and two turnovers. Ohio State, who was a seven-point favorite over Florida, was trounced, 41-14.

Herschel Walker, in becoming Georgia's second and last Heisman Trophy winner, rushed for 1,752 yards, averaged 5.2 yards per carry, and scored 17 touchdowns in 1982. However, in the Sugar Bowl against Penn State for the national championship, Walker was limited to 103 yards, a 3.7 average, and a single touchdown in the Bulldogs' 27-23 defeat.

In addition, Herschel was out-performed by two opposing players--an absolute rarity indeed.  Penn State's Todd Blackledge completed 13 of 23 passes for 228 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against a Georgia defense that intercepted 35 passes during the regular season.  Teammate Kurt Warner rushed for 117 yards, averaged 6.5 yards per rush, and scored two touchdowns.

"Herschel's a great running back, but I don't rate myself any lower than him," said Warner following the game.

For the first time all season, Walker was forced by an opposing defensive line to run gingerly.  In keeping him from getting his shoulders squared and headed up field, Penn State pressured Herschel to run towards the corners and sidelines.  There, the Heisman winner was shadowed by safety Mark Robinson, who made repeated tackles on Walker for short gains.

"I think that frustrated Georgia's offense when we stopped Herschel," said Robinson after the Sugar Bowl victory.  "I could see in his eyes that he was discouraged."

A rumor surfaced later that, besides Penn State's defensive scheme, the upstart United States Football League (USFL) may have also contributed in Herschel's Heisman letdown.

Although Walker had stated he would return to Georgia for his senior season of 1983, the USFL had apparently been in his ear leading up to the Sugar Bowl, attempting to get him to turn pro early.  This would have been a major distraction.  Nearly two months following the loss to Penn State, Herschel decided to retract his commitment to Georgia and turn professional.

Herschel's bowl performance after receiving the Heisman might have been disappointing but it doesn't even compare to some of recent winners' bowl failures.  One recent recipient, who remained anonymous, said he would have turned down the award if he had known the extent to which the trophy would ruin his life.

I'm not indicating Alabama's Ingram will have a Heisman letdown against Texas and certainly not a jinx nor curse.  In fact, most running backs who have won the award since the mid-1980s have performed quite well in bowl games.  However, if a Heisman letdown could happen to Herschel, my opinion, the greatest college football player in history, it could happen to anybody.

The five most disappointing Heisman bowl performances of all time in order along with an honorable mention:
  1. Troy Smith, Ohio State
  2. Billy Cannon, LSU (1960 Sugar Bowl vs. Ole Miss, 21-0 loss): Rushed for just eight yards on six carries.
  3. Jason White, Oklahoma (2004 Sugar Bowl vs. LSU, 21-14 loss): Completed only 13 of 37 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
  4. Desmond Howard, Michigan (1992 Rose Bowl vs. Washington, 34-14 loss): Limited to one catch for 35 yards and 15 yards rushing after averaging 159 all-purpose yards per game during the '91 season.
  5. Vinny Testaverde, Miami (1987 Fiesta Bowl vs. Penn State, 14-10 loss): Completed 26 of 50 passes for just 285 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions.  Also rushed for minus-10 yards.
  6. John Cappeletti, Penn State (1974 Orange Bowl vs. LSU, 16-9 win): Averaged less than two yards per rush, gaining only 50 yards on 26 carries.  He did score a touchdown and his team won.
The five best Heisman bowl performances and an honorable mention:
  1. Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State (1988 Holiday Bowl vs. Wyoming, 62-14 win): Rushed for 222 yards on 29 carries, caught two passes for 36 yards, and scored five touchdowns.
  2. Matt Leinart, USC (2005 Orange Bowl vs. Oklahoma, 55-19 win): Completed 18 of 35 passes for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
  3. Charles White, USC (1980 Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State, 17-16 win): Rushed for 247 yards on 39 carries and scored the game-winning touchdown; 71 of his yards came on winning drive.
  4. Danny Wuerffel, Florida (1997 Sugar Bowl vs. Florida State, 52-20 win): Completed 18 of 34 passes for 306 yards and was responsible for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing).
  5. Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska (1973 Orange Bowl vs. Notre Dame, 40-6 win): Rushed for 81 yards on 15 carries, caught three passes for 71 yards, and passed for a 52-yard touchdown.  In all, responsible for five touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving, one passing).
  6. Jim Plunkett, Stanford (1971 Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State, 27-17 win): Completed 20 of 30 passes for 265 yards, one touchdown, and also rushed for 26 yards.
An interesting Heisman fact:
  • Of the five Heisman winners who played in bowls from 1985-1990, three (1985- Bo Jackson, 1987- Tim Brown, 1990- Ty Detmer) faced Texas A&M in their respective bowl game.  The Aggies were underdogs in all three games but won each convincingly by an average scoring margin of 32 points, covering the spread by an average of nearly 36 points.