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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.

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