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August 30, 2012

When the MAC wasn't WACK

"Tough as nails" Butch Box sets up Georgia's lone
touchdown of the '74 Tangerine Bowl with this
fumble return.
In two days, the Bulldogs will open the season by facing only their fifth opponent ever belonging to the Mid-American Conference, or the MAC.  As of this morning, Georgia is an overwhelming 37.5-point favorite to defeat Buffalo, assuredly guaranteeing a third blowout against competition from the second-rate conference.

Notably, since the introduction of the modern-day point spread, the Bulldogs' 37.5-point spread against the Bulls is tied for their sixth largest in history, and Georgia's third-highest spread versus a Division I-A/FBS opponent: 

-45 Idaho State (2010)
-42 Tennessee Tech (2009)
-39' Cal State Fullerton (1992)
-39 Louisiana Monroe (2005)
-39 Coastal Carolina (2011)
-37' Georgia Southern (2008)
-37' Buffalo (2012)
-35 Arkansas State (1997)
-35 Kent State (1998)
-35 Arkansas State (2001)
Only point spreads beginning in 1973 are considered.  Until 2008, not all games were assigned a point spread, including most against Division I-AA/FCS competition and even when Georgia faced a couple of Division I-A opponents (Cincinnati in 1976, Temple in 1981).
Entering this Saturday, the last time the Bulldogs faced a MAC member was in 2008 when visiting Central Michigan was routed, 56-17.  Four years prior, Georgia had struggled a bit with Marshall; however, the 13-3 victory over the Thundering Herd followed a 56-3 trouncing of lowly Kent State six years earlier in the '98 season opener.

And then there was the other meeting versus a Mid-American foe the very first game against the conference.  It is a contest, and a bowl game no less, hardly mentioned in the annals of Georgia football.  It was the Bulldogs' lone television appearance for a period of nearly two entire years (December '73 to November '75), yet there appears to be no existing footage from the game.  One has to really dig to even discover photographs taken from the bowl, as evident by the two grainy, low-quality photos posted here.

It was the 1974 Tangerine Bowl a 21-10 loss to the MAC's Miami (and it's of Ohio, not of Floridaand a game seemingly forgotten in time by the Bulldog faithful, and rightfully so.

In a day when there was less than one-third the number of bowl games as today, the Bulldogs went bowling in 1974 with a 6-5 record when they instead should have stayed home.  I recently asked a member of that Georgia team what he remembered most about the Tangerine Bowl loss in Orlando on that December 21st night and he interestingly answered, "the sand.  The field was in such bad shape, they had to replace a lot of the grass with sand and dirt."  He recalled walking on the field the day before the game during the team's walk through and observing the stadium ground crew spraying the sand with green paint to resemble grass.  "I knew right then we shouldn't have gone on that bowl trip," he joked.

Maybe it was the green sand's doing, but the Bulldogs got off on the wrong foot when quarterback Matt Robinson lost a fumble on the first snap of the game.  Miami scored a touchdown six plays later, and would tack on two more nearly by the end of the first quarter.  In the end, Georgia was embarrassed 21-10 by the Redskins of the disregarded Mid-American Conference.  Robinson passed for 190 yards, while his backup, Ray Goff, scored the Bulldogs' lone touchdown, Richard Appleby totaled over 100 yards receiving, while Georgia actually outgained its opponent in total yardage (274-267); nevertheless, two costly lost fumbles inside the Bulldogs' own 25-yard line ultimately led to their downfall.
Matt Robinson passed for 190 yards in the '74 Tangerine
Bowl, but lost this key fumble on the game's initial play
I pointed out to the former Bulldog that Georgia's "upset" loss to Miami is actually somewhat excusable.  The Redskins had the nation's longest unbeaten streak at 22 games, and not only had they defeated Florida the year before in the same bowl game but would follow up the postseason victory over Georgia with a win over South Carolina in the 1975 Tangerine Bowl.  In addition, the Bulldogs were missing three key senior starters All-American offensive lineman Craig Hertwig and defensive standouts Dan Spivey and Steve Taylor each of whom was ruled academically ineligible less than a week prior to the bowl.

And, perhaps above all, the upset loss was truly no upset at all, as the undefeated and 15th-ranked Redskins entered the game actually favored by two points.  Not wanting to hear any excuses, the ex-player concluded, "That year, we had little cohesion, and in that bowl game, we had none..."

Nearly 40 years later, the Bulldogs are certainly in no jeopardy of suffering their second defeat all time to the Mid-American Conference.  The real question come Saturday will be if Georgia can cover the lofty 37.5-point number against Buffalo.  Still, the 1974 Tangerine Bowl can teach a lesson to any Bulldog team, particularly one lacking "cohesion."

Although forgotten by most, the bowl game is evidence that even against the most obscure competition, a team which doesn't play as one can certainly be defeated by one that does... even if it is a member of the MAC.

August 28, 2012

Has It Really Been THAT Long?!?

In promoting my new book, I was interviewed yesterday and asked a series of Outdoor Cocktail Party-related questions, including when was the last time Georgia had defeated Florida in back-to-back football seasons: 1989, or 23 years ago... 23 long years ago, was my response. 
Yes, it's hard to believe, but the Bulldogs haven't beaten the Gators in consecutive years since the days of Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al, the SEC was televised on TBS, and the ladies sported teased and permed hairdos, men had mullets, and both genders donned jean shorts.  Well, Gator Nation might still look and dress the same as back then, but as evident in the video, 1989 was indeed a long, long time ago...

Georgia's 17-10 victory in 1989 over Florida, who entered as a slight favorite and ranked 20th in the nation, was somewhat of a historic moment in the annals of Bulldog football for a number of reasons.  Not only was the win one of head coach Ray Goff's few resulting against the ranked, or as an underdog, but the victory was the last by Georgia which ended its long-standing dominance in the rivalry.
The Bulldogs' win in the '89 Cocktail Party was the team's 13th of its last 16 games in the series, 10th victory of the previous 12 meetings, and the last time Georgia won consecutive games over Florida... and the final contest in the rivalry before Steve Spurrier returned to Gator Town. 
Against Florida in '89, standout defender Ben Smith
was responsible for 3 of the Gators' 4 turnovers,
including "one of the best interceptions you'll see."
I won't mention how the series has transpired since 1990 with the arrival of the Evil Genius.  Nevertheless, in watching the '89 game, I did notice how the Bulldogs ironically defeated the Gators in a similar manner to some of Florida's victories in Jacksonville over the last two decades.
The Gators appeared to be the better team and outgained the Bulldogs in total yardage by a decisive 438 to 275 advantage.  Regardless, Georgia forced four turnovers while committing just one, stopped Florida on two fourth-down attempts, and above all, seemed to have the "it" factor  simply put, on that afternoon, there was no way the Bulldogs were going to lose to one of their chief rivals, especially to Florida in Jacksonville. 
As Georgia begins another football season in a mere four days, my hopes for the 2012 campaign begin with the Bulldogs recapturing the "it" factor.  It's been at least five seasons since the Georgia football team possessed such a valuable element.  And, if the Bulldogs can regain it, they likely can capture another desire the program has been long craving for, one that has eluded it for nearly a quarter-century  a second straight win over the despised Gators.
I just said, nearly a quarter-century... Has it really been that long?

August 20, 2012

Can Young Backs Reach the Rabbit, Ware, or Even Be Like Bob?

Against Buffalo on 9/1, Gurley, Marshall, or
even both freshmen could join a select group.
Whether Georgia starts Todd Gurley or fellow true freshman, and North Carolinian, Keith Marshall at tailback against Buffalo is "merely trivia," as indicated by assistant Bryan McClendon; however, if just one of the two young backs total a nice chunk of rushing yardage versus the Bulls, the feat would be rather historic.

I researched and discovered the few occasions in UGA football history that a true freshman rushed for 50+ yards in a season-opening contest, or the very first game one could possibly play as a member of the Bulldogs.   Keep in mind, for roughly 50 years until the early '70s, true freshmen hardly played varsity football at Georgia.  Nevertheless, led by Danny Ware, highlighted by Herschel, and as recently as a year ago, the true freshman 50-yard rushing feat in a first game has been achieved officially seven times:   

135 yds- DANNY WARE
(18 carries, 7.5 avg., 3 TD vs. '04 Georgia Southern)
(5 carries, 17.4 avg., 1 TD vs. '43 Presbyterian)
(24 carries, 3.5 avg., 2 TD vs. '80 Tennessee)
(6 carries, 11.7 avg., 1 TD vs. '87 Virginia)
(15 carries, 4.0 avg., 0 TD vs. '10 Boise State)
  58 yds- MUSA SMITH
(9 carries, 6.4 avg., 1 TD vs. '00 Georgia Southern)
(17 carries, 3.3 avg., 0 TD vs. '90 LSU)
    ? yds- BOB McWHORTER
(vs. 1910 Locust Grove)

After finding the results above, the first thing that caught my eye was that six of Georgia's top seven opening-game rushers would eventually leave school early, while the lone one not to do so Rabbit Smith – would soon be relegated upon the return of Charley Trippi from World War II to second or third string.  Notably, Crowell had to depart school early, while Ware really had no choice but to leave UGA for the 2007 NFL Draft (with the emergence of Knowshon Moreno in a backfield which already featured Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown).

In the '43 season opener, 17-year-old Rabbit
Smith (with ball) rushed for 87 yards, had 44
receiving, and 52 on interception returns.
Speaking of WWII and the Rabbit, granted, it wasn't nearly as difficult then as it would be later for a true freshman to rush for 50+ yards in his first game.  The personnel demand of the War left Georgia with just 38 players on its 1943 roster, 31 of which were only 16 or 17 years old, including wingback-tailback Charles "Rabbit" Smith.  Regardless, Smith tallied the season's first touchdown in a 25-7 upset victory over Presbyterian on a 32-yard reception, and scored a second time in the final quarter on a 39-yard rush.  Smith not only rushed for 87 yards, but also added two catches for 44 yards while intercepting two passes.

Also of note, of the seven rushing performances, all but two Crowell vs. Boise State last year and Hearst vs. LSU in 1990 added a rushing touchdown to go along with their somewhat lofty yardage total and resulted in Georgia victories.  In addition, all but two led the Bulldogs in rushing for their respective game: Musa Smith finished just behind junior Jasper Sanks (64 yards) by six yards for the team high against GSU in 2000, while 13 years beforehand, freshman Hampton was way behind teammate Lar Tate's 218 rushing yards against Virginia in 1987. 

And then there's Bob McWhorter, whose performance against Locust Grove in the 1910 season opener is an unofficial addition by me.  Now, in Georgia's 101-0 victory that day, little was reported from the game; no yardage statistics of any type and especially no individual rushing yards for the freshman McWhorter, who would become UGA's first All-American a little over three years later.  One of the few things that is clear from the Red and Black's resounding victory is that McWhorter scored a team-high five touchdowns and, in playing his first game at Georgia, most assuredly rushed for 50+ yards in the blowout.    

A week later in a 79-0 win over Gordon, McWhorter added seven more touchdowns and for the second time in as many games as a member of the Red and Black, the freshman phenom most certainly had fine back-to-back rushing outings.

A week from this Saturday against Buffalo, Gurley or Marshall reaching the status of Rabbit Smith or Danny Ware's first games at Georgia will be a difficult task for either of the true freshmen, while matching McWhorter's scoring performance will be downright impossible.  However, I fully expect at least one of the two newcomers to join the aforementioned list. 

Nearly 70 years ago, true freshman fullback Edgar Bratton was second on the Georgia team behind the Rabbit with 33 yards on eight carries against Presbyterian in 1943.  Therefore, if both Gurley and Marshall were to each rush for 50+ yards against the Bulls for what it's worth the first-game duo would accomplish a first in Bulldog football history.  

August 14, 2012

Those "Nasty Winds"

Georgia's next placekicker – Marshall  Morgan the
next Bulldog to endure the windy St. Johns River?
Continuing with a Georgia-Florida theme...  This year's Cocktail Party will mark the 40th anniversary of Kim Braswell's 37-yard game-winning field goal with less than a minute remaining to defeat Florida by a 10-to-7 score the only time of Georgia's 48 victories in the series that a field goal defeated the hated Gators.

Since Braswell's game-winner in 1972, a dozen different Bulldogs have made a combined 43 field goals in the interstate rivalry, while it seems freshman Marshall Morgan could get a shot in the coming season to join this list of Georgia placekickers.  However, in becoming the team's kicker, poor Marshall must encounter what apparently has plagued Bulldog kickers for years while placekicking inside the Gator Bowl (and yes, like many of you, I continue to refer to the Jacksonville stadium as the Gator Bowl) those "nasty winds" off the St. Johns.

If I had a nickel for every time a local sports talk radio host has mentioned how the "winds blowing funny" off the St. Johns River is a reason why Georgia kickers have struggled in Jacksonville...  Unfortunately, some of us can recall the recent pivotal field-goal misses: Billy Bennett's combined three in 2002 and 2003 in close losses, Brandon Coutu's two misses in a four-point setback in 2005, and Blair Walsh's 1-for-3 efforts in both 2008 and 2011.

Honestly, I've always thought of the nasty-wind theory as merely an excuse another myth to add to the "Jacksonville Jinx" as why the Bulldogs have won just four of the last 22 games played in the rivalry.  However, I will give the belief a bit of credit; the excuse, err, argument is certainly nothing new.  For example, in an interview early in the 1975 season, UGA punter Bucky Dilts indicated that he hated kicking in the Gator Bowl because of the wind.

"The wind blows in circles there," said Dilts.  "You have to keep the ball lower than usual."

Ironically, against the Gators that season, Dilts was perhaps aided by a circling wind when a 52-yard punt of his mysteriously bounced sideways and out of bounds at Florida's 2-yard line, proving to be a critical play in a three-point Georgia victory.

I decided to put the gusty-winds-off-the-river theory to somewhat of a test.  Beginning in 1987, or as far back as I could readily find game-by-game field-goal results, I discovered that the Bulldogs made just 62.5 percent of their field goals in 23 games versus Florida in Jacksonville through 2011 (obviously excludes the home-and-home meetings in 1994 and 1995), including just half of their attempts (11 of 22) during the Mark Richt regime.  By comparison, against all other competition from 1987 to 1993 and 1996 to 2011, Georgia kickers were successful on 74.2 percent of their field-goal tries, or nearly 12 percent higher than when kicking against the Gators.

Whoa, those figures are telling, I thought; perhaps there is something to the belief of funny winds off the St. Johns affecting kickers in the Gator Bowl.  That is, at least Bulldog kickers in the Gator Bowl...

I did the the same calculations for Florida placekickers against Georgia, beginning in 1993, or as far back as I could readily find game-by-game field-goal results for the Gators. Florida made 74.2 percent of its field goals versus Georgia through 2011, compared to 72.7 percent of its attempts against other opponents. Therefore, within the windy confines of the Gator Bowl, the Gators have actually been more successful kicking field goals against the Bulldogs than they have been outside of Jacksonville.  Go figure...
Braswell is mobbed by teammates after defeating UF in
'72 with a game-winning field goal a kick apparently
not disrupted by the Gator Bowl's infamous winds.

Here's what I figure: either God must be a Gator, and He sends gusts of winds off the river when Georgia kickers try their field goals only to die the winds down a bit when Florida kicks, OR despite the fact of influential winds off the St. Johns, Gator kickers over time (but not Georgia's) have adapted to such gusts, OR there are indeed constant winds off the river, however,  they are likely not windy enough to greatly affect a team's placekicking prowess Georgia's drop in field-goal accuracy when facing Florida is purely circumstantial.

Personally, the theory I tend to lean towards when it comes to Georgia struggling to kick field goals against the Gators is one relating to, for example, why Walsh missed 14 field goals last year after missing only a combined five in 2009 and 2010, OR why the Bulldogs lost 12 combined turnovers versus Florida in three games from 2008 to 2010 while forcing just one, OR why a few good Bulldog teams had no business losing to the Gators during their miserable 4-of-22 stretch since 1990, but somehow managed to do so.

This theory can go by a number of different names, and most notably, it has absolutely nothing to do with winds blowing off a river.

August 12, 2012

On the Way

Yesterday, I received a large shipment of my new book on the Cocktail Party rivalry, I Love Georgia/I Hate FloridaSo, if you've already ordered the book from me, kind of like the football Robert Edwards carried against the Gators in '97 on a toss sweep, it's on the way...  You should be receiving a package from me by this time next week.

If you'd like to order a copy of the book, send me an email, expressing your interest.  The book retails for about $16 after tax; however, for just $14, I'll send you a copy signed, sealed, and shipped free of charge.  And, if you've already ordered a copy but would like another, or two, by all means, there are plenty to go around...  

Regardless, please visit the book's Facebook page (and "Like" the page!), where I'll continuously post updates regarding the book, signing dates, and Georgia-Florida photos and videos throughout the upcoming season.

Notably, when asked to write the book nearly a year ago in mid-September, one of the first possible "snags" my editor and I discussed was what if Coach Richt got the axe and was replaced by the manuscript's deadline.  After the 0-2 start, it certainly appeared like a possibility; how things quickly changed.  Nonetheless, something that did not change during last football season was the constant support from the readers of this blog.

When I asked back on September 28th for anti-Gator stories, tidbits, jokes, etc., that I could use in the book, I was hoping to receive two or three from readers.  Instead, from that day through the Christmas holidays, I was sent more than two dozen Gator-hating anecdotes from you guys, and I want to thank each of you again for your assistance in writing the book.

I tried to either directly use, or at least somehow incorporate, every single story/joke sent my way.  So, if you sent me an anti-Gator email, it is most likely included in some form within the book's 300+ pages.

Of my five books on UGA football, this one is honestly and undoubtedly my favorite.  I interviewed more former players and coaches than for my previous four books combined.  In addition, I tried to include as many never-before-published Bulldog football facts and stories, including a real entertaining account from Barbara Dooley on her experience and encounters while the Belue-to-Scott miracle of '80 transpired.

More importantly, and unlike my previous books, where the writing is primarily objective and reporting-like in nature, I made an attempt at being rather creative (and I stress attempt), tried to be irreverent towards all things Gator-related, while writing the book from one collective voice that of the Bulldog Nation's.  Thanks again!

August 9, 2012

One-Play Wonders

Against Ole Miss in '71, Pie Face scored from 39 yards
out on what was later dubbed the Pie Face Pitch. 
A fellow Bulldog history buff recently sent me video of Georgia's win over Arkansas in the 1987 Liberty Bowl.  Towards the end of the Bulldogs' thrilling 20-17 victory, I witnessed a Georgia football player I hadn't thought of in, well, 25 years, since the instant he made one of the biggest plays in Bulldog bowl history.

Those that remember the '87 Liberty Bowl usually recall freshman John Kasay's 39-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.  However, there was another first-year Dog that was just as responsible for the victory, but forgotten by most (and for good reason) cornerback Carver Russaw.

Roughly 2½ years ago, I posted my opinion of Georgia football's all-time one-hit wonders, or Bulldogs that made quite an impact in their one and only (more or less) season at the school.  Seeing the obscure Russaw's game-saving play, which would set up Kasay's winning field goal, prompted me to establish my One-Play Wonders, or those Bulldogs that played very little, but had a memorable Georgia career because of a single play.

Beginning with my honorable mention selection, a couple of my one-play wonders might be somewhat of a stretch, so to speak. Take John Jennings, for example, who was a starting offensive guard in 1970 and 1971, and obviously involved in many plays; however, he is best remembered for making one play, and only one, in particular. 

HM: JOHN JENNINGS (1971- Ole Miss)
Against Ole Miss in Jackson, Georgia tailback Ricky Lake broke off a first-quarter, 5-yard run from the Rebel 44-yard line, but was suddenly blindsided by a defender as he attempted to break a tackle.  The ball popped in the air and into the awaiting arms of Jennings, who was nicknamed "Pie Face" by animated teammate Bobby Poss (Aaron Bonding, where it's always springtime... I heard 'dat!).  In the modern era of UGA football, by my count, five offensive linemen have "rushed" for touchdowns, four of them by falling on a fumble in the end zone Mike Wilson vs. Kentucky in 1975, Peter Anderson vs. Clemson in 1985, Jon Stinchcomb vs. Auburn in 2002, and Nick Jones vs. Georgia Tech in 2003.  However, standing alone is Pie Face, who scored his touchdown by not falling on the ball, but by grabbing it in mid-air and rumbling for a 39-yard touchdown.

No. 5: ROY SMITH (1913- Clemson)
Freshman Roy Smith from
Georgia's 1913 team photo 
During his lone year at UGA, freshman John "Roy" Smith contributed little during the Red and Black's eight-game 1913 campaign until the Clemson contest at Augusta's Georgia-Carolina Fair.  With Georgia trailing 15-6 in the final quarter, the 150-pound end became more like a two-play wonder, catching first a 30-yard touchdown pass from Bob McWhorter and then later snaring a 45-yard game-winner from the All-American halfback.  Not long after scoring his two momentous touchdowns in Georgia's 18-15 comeback victory, by all accounts, Smith departed the school for reasons unknown.

No. 4: ADRIAN REESE (1995- New Mexico State)
After being one of the most highly-touted recruits in the state of Alabama, running back Adrian Reese rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown as a freshman at Auburn in 1992.  After that, he would not see the field again until transferring and walking on at Georgia three years later.  In three games for the Bulldogs in 1995, Reese rushed only 6 times for 23 yards with the bulk of his work coming in his first game a 40-13 win over New Mexico State.  Early in the third quarter against the Aggies, Reese scored on a short touchdown run; however, he would later join the rash of Bulldog injuries that season by pulling a hamstring.  To date, of the more than 400 different Georgia players to have scored a touchdown in the modern era (1940s to the present), Reese is the only one who did not earn a letter as a Bulldog.   

No. 3: BILLY CLOER (1965- North Carolina)
In one of Vince Dooley's biggest comebacks of his coaching career, the head coach's favorite one-play wonder resulted.  Trailing 35-21 in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs rallied to score 26 points at Chapel Hill to defeat North Carolina, 47-35.  The most decisive of these four unanswered touchdowns came with Georgia trailing 35-34 in the closing minutes.  Junior Bill Cloer was listed at 5-10 and 157 pounds measurements said to be slightly exaggerated and positioned at safety-man, although he really only saw playing time on special teams.  On an onside-kick attempt, Georgia's kick went directly to UNC tackle Chuck Alexander, who "was looking into the sun and didn't see the ball until it was on him," according to Tar Heel head coach Jim Hickey after the game.  Alexander fumbled the ball, and there was "Little Billy" for the Bulldog recovery.  Soon afterwards, Preston Ridlehuber scored on a 31-yard run, and Georgia took a lead it would not relinquish.

No. 2: CARVER RUSSAW (1987- Arkansas)

Despite what the announcer states, Russaw was not from Los Angeles, Louisiana, but the other, more well-known Los Angeles.  After attending California's Glendale Community College, Russaw transferred to UGA in 1986 and was redshirted.  In 1987, the junior third-string cornerback recorded only one tackle the entire regular season.  In the postseason against Arkansas, Russaw was inserted with less than a minute remaining of a tied game and with the Hogs looking to pass.  Georgia's "Cover 8" defense was designed to funnel all pass receivers into the middle of the field and force quarterback Greg Thomas to throw into traffic.  Russaw jammed receiver Tim Horton toward linebacker Terrie Webster, who tipped a Thomas pass towards the little-known defensive back.  Later declared academically ineligible prior to his senior season of 1988, Russaw set up the Bulldogs' winning score with a 14-yard interception return on what would turn out to be his final play at Georgia.

No. 1: DAVID ARCHER (1978- Georgia Tech)
For three football seasons from 1978 through 1980, defensive back David Archer hardly played on Georgia's varsity team before finally deciding to transfer out of the school.  However, of the handful of snaps he did appear in a Bulldog uniform, Archer would become UGA football's all-time one-hit wonder, resulting against arguably the team's biggest rival.  Overshadowed by Buck Belue's "game-winning" touchdown pass to Amp Arnold with more than two minutes remaining against Georgia Tech in 1978, and Arnold's two-point conversion to give the Bulldogs a one-point lead, freshman Archer was sent in the game to solely cover the Jackets' tight end on the ensuing possession.  Appearing in his first play of the contest in just his second game as a Bulldog, Archer's diving interception of a Mike Kelley pass clinched a 29-28 victory.  Like Russaw, Archer's interception would be his final play on Georgia's varsity before leading another school one in rather close proximity to a national championship.

August 7, 2012

Significance of "Returning Experience"

How significant is it that Georgia evidently
ranks in the top one-fourth in the SEC
and country in returning experience?
If you've been reading my blog for most any length of time, you're likely aware of my interest in, although some may consider it more like my infatuation with, Phil Steele's rankings, statistics, formulas, etc.  So, please excuse the following rambling regarding another college football formula of Phil's which recently caught my attention returning experience.

For several years, Steele has calculated each FBS team's "experience" entering the season.  With the Bulldogs returning 9 starters on defense and 7 on offense, one would believe Georgia is rather experienced; nevertheless, Steele's complicated formula considers much more than merely starters coming back.  His returning experience is calculated by a team's number of senior starters, seniors in the two deep, % of lettermen returning, % of offensive yards returning, % of tackles made returning, and the career starts returning in the offensive line.

For the Bulldogs, Steele determines that there are 10 senior starters, 1 other senior in the two deep, 73% of lettermen returning, 89% of offensive yards returning, 88% of tackles returning, and 31 career offensive line starts, yielding 68.4 total experience points for 2012 (don't ask how that total was actually calculated), ranking 3rd in the SEC and 30th in the nation.  

Entering the 2012 season, the conference rankings according to experience points:

Tennessee (78.8)
Ole Miss (70.3)
GEORGIA (68.4)
Missouri (65.1)
Vanderbilt (64.6)
Florida (63.6)
Arkansas (63.6)
South Carolina (59.4)
LSU (58.9)
Alabama (58.5)
Texas A&M (55.3)
Kentucky (54.1)
Auburn (53.7)
Miss. State (52.0)

On the determination of a team's returning experience, my initial thought was that it matters more what specific players are returning rather than what number of players are returning.  However, Steele seems to have this covered – to some degree – by factoring in returning yardage, tackles, and offensive line starts. 

Therefore, I decided to find out if the amount of team "experience," according to Steele, entering a season was indicative of the team's success by season's end.  In other words, based on past results, should Tennessee, whose 78.8 total experience points not only rank 1st in the SEC but also 1st in the entire FBS, expect to improve upon its 5-7 record from a year ago in 2012?  Likewise, will Miss. State's overall record likely worsen from 7-6 in 2011 because of its paltry 52 experience points?

Of the 36 different squads in the SEC from 2009 through 2011, the most experienced entering a season was Arkansas in 2010 with 80 points; the Hogs improved two games with a 10-3 overall record from 8-5 in 2009.  The least experienced team, by far, was Auburn entering last year (just 25 points), and sure enough, the Tigers were 5½ games worse at 8-5 from their 14-0 campaign in 2010.

In accordance to their specific range in experience points, below is what SEC teams averaged from 2009 to 2011 in terms of increase/decrease of overall record from the year before:   

72 and higher:  1.64-game increase
66 to 71:          1.07-game increase
60 to 65:          0.71-game increase
52 to 59:          0.25-game decrease
51 and lower:   2.36-game decrease

Makes sense...  the higher the experience points, the more likely an improved record will result from the year before.  While the lower the returning experience, SEC teams, on average, have a greater chance of enduring a decline in overall record.

There certainly have been exceptions.  In 2009, Alabama returned just 58 experience points from its 12-2 team from '08; however, the Crimson Tide would finish a perfect 14-0 and capture a national championship.  In 2010, Georgia's experience was 68 the same number of points as this year but instead of improving upon an 8-5 record from the year before, the Bulldogs' overall record actually decreased two games to 6-7.

Speaking of the 2010 Bulldogs, fourteen conference teams entered their seasons from 2009 to 2011 with 67 experience points or higher, and only TWO Miss. State last year and Georgia in 2010 actually had a decrease in overall record. 

Obviously there are many other factors besides returning experience which may determine if a team will improve its overall mark or have a decline in record, including schedule difficulty, emerging freshmen, injuries, while some teams like Alabama and LSU are seemingly always outstanding regardless of their experience.  However, based on the results over the last three seasons, there seems to be a correlation between a substantial amount of returning experience and an improved record by season's end, and vice versa.

Based on Georgia's relatively high experience of 68, should the Bulldog Nation expect an improvement from a 10-4 record a year ago? 

In my opinion, likely yes that is, if Georgia was like most programs in the conference.  However, over the last several years take 2010 for example the unpredictable Bulldogs have been like a box of chocolates, and we all know what Forrest Gump said about it... 

August 3, 2012

Flashback to UGA's "Four Horsemen"

Georgia's Four Horsemen: No. 33 Ellis, No. 38 
Worley, No. 30 Henderson, and No. 7 Hampton.
Tim Worley and I are trying to coordinate a book signing together for this fall.  For those of you who don't remember Worley, he was a first-team All-American in 1988, the 7th overall selection of the 1989 NFL Draft, and still remains one of the most talented tailbacks ever at Georgia, despite appearing in just 26 regular-season games. 

Tim was kind enough to write the foreword for my upcoming book on the Georgia-Florida rivalry.  In two games against the Gators, he rushed for 239 combined yards, averaged 8.2 yards per carry, and scored three touchdowns.  In 2007,  Worley's success against Florida in 1985 and 1988 propelled him into the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame.

Notably, Worley also belonged to another exclusive group as a Bulldog; one formed around this time 24 years ago and not quite as celebrated as Notre Dame's version from 64 years beforehand – UGA's Four Horsemen.

Despite the loss of the school's second leading all-time career rusher, Lars Tate, Georgia entered its 1988 season still very much loaded at its running back positions.  As mere freshmen the year before, tailback Rodney Hampton and fullback Alphonso Ellis had rushed for nearly a combined 1,200 yards.  Juniors fullback Keith Henderson and tailback Worley, who ranked first and second respectively on the team in rushing as freshmen in 1985, spent a year at an Oklahoma junior college following academic troubles at UGA.  The two returned to Georgia in 1988, and along with Hampton and Ellis, plus sophomore Brian Cleveland and freshman Larry Ware, the Bulldogs exhibited a stable of backs likely never showcased by a previous Georgia team.

With all of this depth in the backfield, some wondered how often Bulldog quarterbacks senior Wayne Johnson and freshman Greg Talley would need to pass the football during the '88 campaign, if at all. 

With the 2012 opening game looming, I thought it would be appropriate to mention when my friend, Tim, and his trio of teammates made their grand debut as Horsemen in a season opener on national TV against 18th-ranked Tennessee in Athens.  It was certainly a night to remember... (...and no, not only since it would be another 12 years before the Dogs would topple the Vols again).

In the 28-17 victory over Tennessee, the Bulldogs might have had a difficult time stopping the Vols' passing game, allowing quarterback Jeff Francis to throw for 354 yards.  However, Georgia more than made up for its defensive deficiency by gaining a whopping 414 yards on the ground, 400 of which were totaled by the Four Horsemen: 

HAMPTON:     23 carries, 196 yards, 2 TDs
WORLEY:       23 carries, 144 yards, 2 TDs
HENDERSON: 11 carries, 60 yards
ELLIS:            1 carry, 0 yards (but NINE knockdown blocks) 

"That [team rushing performance] let people know that we have the horses in the backfield (no pun intended?) and some horses on the line and that we're going to come at you," said Worley after game. "That's what we did tonight. The holes were wide open."

As for quarterbacks Johnson and Talley, they were indeed hardly needed, passing for a combined 25 yards.

For the season, with Worley carrying the bulk of the load, the Four Horsemen combined to rush for 2,453 yards (6.0 yards per rush!), gain 3,541 in all-purpose yardage, and were responsible for 32 touchdowns.  Individually, a Heisman Trophy campaign was started for Worley in early October while he was still a backup at tailback to Hampton; it was believed to be the first time ever a reserve was touted for the coveted trophy. 

At the conclusion of the 1988 season, Worley and Henderson turned pro a year early, while Ellis' role would greatly diminish over his final two years, leaving the Bulldogs with just one Horsemen, Hampton, in 1989. 

While for four years, Notre Dame's Four Horsemen "rode again...outlined against a blue-gray October sky," according to famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, Georgia's version rode away after just a single season.