What a tremendous season this has been for Georgia, and now the Bulldogs head to Miami for an Orange Bowl College Football semifinal showdown with the Michigan Wolverines, who have won more games than any team in the history of college football. For the record, Georgia has the 11th most wins all-time, and the Bulldogs are gaining on both Tennessee and Southern Cal for the top ten.
These are two of the most storied programs in the history of the sport. Both are coached by proud alumni. Jim Harbaugh took over at Michigan in 2015. Kirby Smart’s first season as Georgia’s head coach was 2016.
Both of these programs are hungry for national championships (isn’t every team), and the winner in Miami will play either Alabama or Cincinnati, who square off in the other semifinal in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl.
This is Michigan’s first appearance in the playoff, which began in 2014. It should be noted that Ohio State, the Wolverines’ arch nemesis won that first College Football Playoff national title. For the Wolverines, this is their biggest and most important game since beating Washington State, coached by Mike Price and quarterbacked by Ryan Leaf, in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day 1998 to wrap up a share of the 1997 national championship.
Michigan would remain amongst the elite of college football, but times changed when the rival Buckeyes hired Jim Tressel as their head coach in 2001. Michigan would beat Ohio State only twice in the years to follow, with Tressel, Urban Meyer and Ryan Day taking the Buckeyes to a much higher level. One of those wins came in 2011 when Ohio State was (interim) coached by Luke Fickell, who has gone on to become quite famous and successful at Cincinnati. From 2007-2020, Michigan finished ranked in the country’s top ten once, posting a No. 10 ranking in 2016, Harbaugh’s second season.
But now he has his alma mater in the Final Four and on the doorstep.
No school has come closer since its last national title of 1980 than Georgia. So many great Bulldog teams have come so close, beginning with the next year and no rematch with Clemson. There was the heartbreak of Dan Marino and Pitt then Todd Blackledge and Penn State. In 2002, there were two undefeated teams, and once-beaten SEC champion Georgia was left out of the title game. Georgia finished No. 2 in 2007. The 2012 season was the first of the three devastating heartbreaks against Alabama, which denied the Dogs a shot at the crown against Notre Dame.
This New Year’s Eve battle is Georgia’s most important game since the infamous date of 1/8/18, that night in Atlanta when the Bulldogs never trailed for but one play.
Smart has done an incredible job at Georgia. No matter what happens in the Orange Bowl, even if Michigan were to eclipse the 222-0 beating that Tech gave Cumberland over a century ago, these Bulldogs will finish in the top ten. It will be a fifth top ten finish in a row for Georgia, a feat never accomplished in Red and Black annals.
After Georgia went 11-2 and finished No. 2 in 2007, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in the 2008 preseason poll. But Georgia would lose three times. From 2008 through 2016, Smart’s first year as Georgia’s head coach, the Bulldogs lost at least three games eight times in nine seasons. The stellar 2012 team being the exception.
Smart is also accomplishing this while arguably the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport is taking place within the conference in a bordering state.
Dating back to Smart’s second season of 2017, when Georgia won the SEC title and the Rose Bowl national semifinal, the Bulldogs have enjoyed splendid success against the biggest of rivals.
En route to four SEC Championship Games over this five year period, Georgia has gone 4-1 against Florida, 5-0 against Tennessee and 5-1 versus Auburn. The Bulldogs are 4-0 against Tech, which had won two straight games in Sanford Stadium in 2014 and 2016, since 2017. The two didn’t play in 2020. The cumulative score of those toppings of the Yellow Jackets is 180-35, an average of 45.0 – 8.8 in Georgia’s favor. Over that stretch, the Bulldogs have also twice beaten Notre Dame and won three major bowl games.
In 2021, these Bulldogs have put up some staggering margins of victory. The regular season was bookended with victories over Clemson and Tech, with eight successive victories over SEC foes in between.
Combined with the 4-0 finish to the 2020 campaign, the Bulldogs won 16 consecutive games before it came to an end in Atlanta. That’s the second longest winning streak in the history of Georgia football. The last time Georgia had an undefeated regular season was 1982, the last time the Bulldogs were 12-0, it was, naturally done by the 1980 national champions.
Just a few weeks ago, the day after the league title tilt felt odd.
There was the disappointment of the loss, but the excitement of being one of the four teams with a chance to win the whole thing.
The focus for everyone in Red and Black shifted to and must be on what is to come next.
The foe is mighty, one the Bulldogs haven’t faced since springing a 15-7 upset at the Big House in 1965. The setting is fresh. Georgia last appeared in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day 1960.
The opportunity is enormous.