Han Vance on Georgia football: Camping north of here over the needed bye week, but before that, it is: Georgia at LSU on the Bayou 3:30 CBS. The game is epic. LSU holds a 2-to-1 series advantage in meaningful meetings in SEC championship games and emerged as an actual rival to UGA over the stretch that those games were played. The two were the top programs in the SEC in records over much of the long period of the Mark Richt era.
Then came Saban, into that period of time, the greatest coach in college football history propelled historic Alabama back to the top of the greatest college football league, winning a national championship at LSU before winning 5-of-9 of such at the fabled program. Now, the pecking order appears BAMA, Georgia, etc…but the time was not so distant when Bama was straight garbage, save an occasional big year with a good record. Probation from rampant cheating and slippage are what they had experienced most, for a good stretch of time over several coaches.
While LSU grew, getting another (disputed) national championship under the Mad Hatter Les Miles and battling UGA annually for the most players active in the pros. They appeared in another national championship and lost it, much like 2017 Georgia, winning the SEC then losing to a Tide who didn’t have the regular season qualifications to fairly deserve to be in the game.
Could this be the year? Could LSU break out with a win at Alabama? Doesn’t matter much to Georgia fans, at all. The University of Georgia is the defending SEC champions and this is the Dawgs’ league until proven otherwise on the football field. That needs to be the attitude. #1 Bama and #2 Georgia are on easily the biggest collision course in the country.
Meanwhile, let the gauntlet begin!
As I’ve said all along, night game aura at Death Valley is truly imposing, but the game was too big for nighttime TV, the Bayou Bengals getting back-to-back cross-divisional 3:30 CBS SEC biggest games of the week, starting at the Swamp. Let’s look at the programs comparatively through history: LSU has three national championships, UGA two. The Bulldogs have the 2nd-most SEC championships, tied with Tennessee at 12 apiece, while LSU has won the powerful league 11 times. LSU holds a current 16-13-1 record advantage over Georgia. Dawgs won both the last series meeting and the last meeting at LSU.
That game…Then that bye…Then J-ville. Bridges to everywhere…
Georgia simply can’t lose to Florida in the SEC East this season on 10/27. I will be down there profiling the major cultural implications of the (formerly called) World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party with my brother Johnny and his business lawyer Matt Mashburn. GO DAWGS! Only my fourth trip down to Jacksonville, this time I’m hoping for the best possible outcome, another Georgia win.
Aaron Murray chose Georgia from the Tampa area, down into the long peninsular state on its west coast. His West Coast-like good looks and earnest efforts, and even his athletic talent itself led him to be an all-time favorite of the Georgia faithful, as well as being the statistical passing leader in SEC history. Productive in spades from his first year playing on, he pushed the hated Gators to overtime as a starter as a redshirt freshman, and then beat them three straight in low-scoring close games that were not close to his best play. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell saved him and even made him shine in several of those important contests, permanently etching his name in Georgia lore, as well. With Murray’s three straight wins and Kirby’s total thumping 42-7 in year two of his regime, Georgia has won 4-of-7, still having lost 3-of-4 on three straight Georgia losses post-Murray. Richt had a good-to-great record against every program not called Flordia over his tenure and was fired around this series.
That Kirby has a chance to stay in front of Dan Mullen should be more of a story. First-year Gator coach Mullen coordinated as legendary quarterback Tim Tebow bested Georgia all-but-once, but the days of Florida athletic superiority seemed limited the day Smart was hired from Alabama (39-25-4 versus Georgia) where he coordinated the nation’s best defenses. Mullen is already nipping at Kirby’s heels; however, the Dawgs need this win more than any of this (and most every) college football season.
The neutral site in Jacksonville only adds to the importance of the game as the battle for the SEC East. Georgia can not defend its throne without getting back to Atlanta, and Florida can’t go where Dan Mullen wants to go without winning the division, which was won by Florida twice consecutively immediately before Georgia’s breakthrough. The huge state population of Florida – dwarfing all Southern states east of Texas – is a distinct, huge advantage over every other program in the league. This game matters! Georgia has a series advantage over Florida 51-43-2, dumb Gators claim 50-43-2.
Then, an anticipated trip to Bluegrass Country appears on the schedule, as the calendar flips to November. Benny Snell Jr. is possibly the single best player in the SEC this season, but Georgia holds a huge 57-12-2 advantage over Kentucky, in football. With much fairly-early season hype coming out of seemingly nowhere when they kept winning tough games, Georgia will not be looking past the Big Blue, which is what I feel would be ultimately necessary for a Wildcat win.
Georgia wins the East by beating (one-loss) Florida and (one-loss) Kentucky, regardless of what happens cross-divisional. There are four more SEC games on the full docket. Divisional games having more systemic value, real rivalries always, always, always matter. Rivals Florida and Auburn remain, in-conference, with (three-loss) Georgia Tech in Athens on 11/24, Thanksgiving weekend.
Lots to be thankful for right now. Georgia throws up forty and gives up under two touchdowns weekly and cruises on, week-after-week. Only explosive Mizzou has even really “scared” Georgia at all, being within easy striking distance of the mighty Dogs late in a game away from Athens. UT came close, too, while Georgia felt more in command of that game. Vandy posed no such threat Saturday night.
6-0 and wholly untested, the Kirby Smart era boasts a solid total record of 27-7. Much more impressive is the current 20-2 run under Smart, one of the best stretches of (long) Georgia football history.
While sweeping SEC West opponents would mark a huge improvement on Coach Smart’s 3-3 record against the other division, including 2-1 versus Auburn. Georgia has been blown out in both of Kirby’s at SEC West road trips so far in his head coaching career, visiting the Plains and lovely little Oxford, Miss.
Life on the road in the SEC is tough, this and every football season. A testament to the best fans in the nation, the word “fan” is short for “fanatic” and “fanatical” and it really does matter more down here. Home teams with spectacular fan support virtually always have a shot to win.
Of course, the gauntlet finally ends with the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, first played in Piedmont Park of Atlanta. After further consideration, ATTN: the ATHENS LEGACY Party (at a bar to-be-announced) will be the day of Georgia-Auburn (not Tech over a busy-with-family holiday). Auburn, who have two losses, always richly talented, they’ve had unusual trouble running the ball effectively this season, and Ol’ Georgia, coached by a former DB, can cover receivers and other pass catchers in space well.
Georgia has won the series 12-of-15 times, including the SEC championship last season. Glory, glory.
Georgia holds the overall series advantage too, 58-56-2, not having lost to AU-Barn in the Classic City since way back in 2007, in DJ Shockley’s only regular season loss as a starting quarterback, on his way to winning the SEC in his lone year as a UGA starter. This series was the closest in all of college football, at one point deadlocked in wins and nearly matching in total points ever, but the Georgia-Tennessee (all tied now) series has recently surpassed this classic, exciting series in that regard.
These four games are the season. These five weeks are much of the story of the Georgia football year.