UGA vs. Notre Dame? Check. Now, bring on Texas!

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Gerogia Texas HelmetsWith the long-rumored Georgia-Notre Dame home-and-home football scheduling deal finally a reality this week, a lot of UGA supporters are already planning on trying to be among the 8,000 Bulldog fans who’ll get tickets to the Sept. 9, 2017, game in South Bend.

With the two schools only having played once before (and that resulting in a national championship for the Bulldogs), a regular season pairing of Georgia and Notre Dame is a dream matchup.

And while it’s true such big-time scheduling deals offer enough complications (mainly loss of one home game) that you’re not likely to see them on an every-season basis even if the SEC sticks with eight conference games, there’s no denying adding a storied name like Notre Dame to your schedule provides a bump to a program. It gets players and coaches excited. It gets fans and the media excited.

Wanna bet the Hartman Fund priority point cutoff score for season tickets gets goosed a bit in advance of the 2019 home schedule featuring the Fighting Irish Between the Hedges?

We’ve done the cupcake debate here before, noting the pluses and minuses — and, to a point, the necessity — of scheduling the likes of Charleston Southern and ULM in Athens, but Greg McGarity has said a couple of times recently that he “periodically” wants the Dogs to play a second tough elite-level out-of-conference opponent. And it’s worth noting that, despite all those cupcakes, in recent years Georgia still has played the SEC’s most challenging nonconference schedule.

Many of us would love to see that trend continue. There’s no doubt that opening with Clemson this season, like last, will be a challenge for the coaching staff and players — especially because Georgia’s strict disciplinary policies usually mean a few players are suspended for the first game or two — but with strength of schedule likely to be a big factor in determining how many SEC schools can crack the four-team College Football Playoff from here on, I’m hoping that the Notre Dame deal is just the first of some high-profile schedule additions we can look forward to.

Who should be next? Well, a few weeks back, after it had been confirmed that Georgia and Notre Dame were talking, I put that question to Blawg readers, asking what other big-name programs UGA should go after. And, by far, the marquee opponent that readers most would like to see added to Georgia’s schedule was Texas, named by nearly 1 out of 5 fans responding.

Others named included Southern Cal, Ohio State, Michigan and FSU, but a home-and-home deal with the Longhorns offers some of the same sort of special circumstances that make Georgia-Notre Dame such an enticing match. Georgia and Texas have only ever played four times in football, and the most recent time, in the Jan. 2, 1984, Cotton Bowl Classic, is one of those games that still resonates with both fan bases.

John Lastinger led Georgia to a victory over Texas the last time the two schools met in football. (Associated Press)

John Lastinger led Georgia to a victory over Texas the last time the two schools met in football. (Associated Press)

That year, minus Herschel Walker, the Dawgs weren’t really in contention for a national title, but the Longhorns were, as they entered the game undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country while UGA was No. 7. Given the fact that the No. 1 team, Nebraska, lost its bowl game, Texas could have clinched a national championship against Georgia — only it didn’t work out as planned, with a muffed punt by the Longhorns leading to Bulldogs QB John Lastinger’s 17-yard run for a touchdown and a 10-9 Georgia win.

It was an unexpected and sweet victory for Georgia, and, to this day, you’re likely to hear many variations on the joke about you not needing to check your watch in Texas, because it’s still 10 to 9 …

But the game also still is talked about by Texas fans, who can’t believe they lost. In 2005, the Dallas Morning News ran a lengthy piece looking at the life-altering impact of that play on Craig Curry, the Texas player who muffed the punt, which was recovered by Georgia’s Gary Moss at the Longhorns’ 23, giving Georgia its chance to win. In 1999, the story said, Curry’s drop topped the Austin American-Statesman’s list of 25 most heart-wrenching moments in a century of Texas sports, ahead of Houston’s loss to North Carolina State in the 1983 NCAA basketball final and the Cowboys’ 1967 Ice Bowl loss to Green Bay.

So, yeah, you can bet Texas fans would be just as hot for a rematch with Georgia as Bulldog fans are!

Now, let’s get to some of this week’s Junkyard Mail, which starts off also on the subject of scheduling. …

Jim P. writes: Bill, The Notre Dame games got me thinking about future schedules. Our home schedules in particular. The quirk of playing Auburn at their stadium the last two seasons has put our odd-year home schedules in a more unattractive position. Now, Auburn, Tennessee and Tech, (and Vandy) are away games in odd years. While South Carolina, Missouri, (and Kentucky) come to Athens. The rotating West team will also be on our home schedule in odd years. But, depending on who that is, we might be lucky to have two compelling home games in odd years. ND helps in 2019. But, unless we schedule more attractive out of conference home games, our home schedule has taken a hit in odd years. What do you think?

I agree that it’s a problem that the home games against Auburn and Georgia Tech are now in the same year, but aside from getting Tech to agree to play two straight years in Athens (or Georgia agreeing to play two years in a row in Atlanta), both of which are unlikely, I don’t see any way of getting that back on track. So, you’re right, unless Georgia ups its game in nonconference scheduling above the abysmal 2015 lineup (Southern, ULM and Georgia Southern), the attractiveness of the home schedule will depend in large part on the visiting SEC teams. Thankfully, in 2015 the Gamecocks will be in Athens and the Western rotation brings Alabama to town. But in 2017 it’s Mississippi State, plus Georgia will give up a home game to play in South Bend, so if the two remaining nonconference games (other than road games at Notre Dame and Tech) are cupcakes, that will be a pretty poor home schedule. More argument for adding at least some mid-majors, if not marquee schools, to the nonconference schedule, I’d say.

John McRee writes: Regarding your question of what improvements Sanford Stadium needs: This is really outside the stadium but handicap and elderly access is awful. There is no close-by handicap parking and the special shuttle buses for the handicapped require a half mile walk to reach the shuttle stop followed by that much more from the drop off spot to seats. Then, after the game, do it again. My 92-year-old Dad would love to go to some games, but this much walking is not possible for him. I doubt UGA meets the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

John, I’m no expert on ADA requirements, but I’d bet UGA does meet them. The federally mandated requirements are just inadequate for your needs. UGA’s Gameday Gameplan site says: “In accordance with federal law, two percent of all parking spaces on the UGA campus are set aside for the handicapped and disabled parking. Every lot has a certain number of handicapped and disabled parking spaces. It is recommended to park at the East Campus parking deck next to the Ramsey Center and take the free shuttle to Gate 6 at Sanford Stadium.” However, from what you’re saying it sounds like, even with the shuttle letting out at Gate 6, it’s still too long a walk. I hate it that your dad is otherwise able and interested in going and is stymied by the walk to and from the shuttle, but I’m not sure there’s anything the athletic association could do about that. There’s certainly not enough room in the concourses for any sort of golf-cart shuttles like you find at the airport. If you’d like to discuss it further with the parking folks, however, you can call 706-542-PARK or go to the Parking Services website.

Should Mark Richt be judged by his lack of recent championships? (Dan Evans / UGA)

Should Mark Richt be judged by his lack of recent championships? (Dan Evans / UGA)

AttyColo writes: Bill, I would love to get your take on Russ Mitchell’s June 18, 2014, article on College Football News entitled “The Underachieving Georgia Bulldogs.” Despite a few bright moments over the past six years, the Dawgs have, overall, been a major disappointment, and the blame has to be put at Mark Richt’s feet. We have grossly underachieved despite an embarrassment of riches in terms of talent and resources. But, we are afraid that we cannot find a better coach than Richt and we will end up like Tennessee if we try, so we are content with sticking with mediocrity. I have given up hope that we will consistently compete for, and WIN, championships with Mark Richt as coach. My question to you — do you believe that the Georgia Bulldogs will consistently compete for and win championships with Mark Richt as coach? (And whatever you do, please don’t preface your answer by telling me what a great human he is. Maybe he is, but that’s irrelevant to my question.)

Do I believe the Dogs are capable, under Richt, of competing for an SEC Championship and a place in the College Football Playoffs? Yes, I certainly do. Do I agree that Georgia had underperformed somewhat in recent years relative to its talent level? Yeah, up to a point. To me, the most damning stat cited in Mitchell’s piece is that in the past six college football seasons, Georgia has faced 17 SEC teams that finished the season above .500 in conference play, and won only four times. That’s not good. But I think Mitchell’s complaints about Georgia “backing into” the conference championship game is a cheap shot. That’s the way it works. Georgia might lose to South Carolina, but if the Gamecocks then go and lose elsewhere, the Dogs benefit. And it’s worth noting that SB Nation recently looked at college football’s winningest teams since 2003, and Georgia placed 10th, right behind Alabama and ahead of TCU, Wisconsin, Florida, FSU and Auburn. That’s certainly not mediocre. Some of Georgia’s underperformance in recent years is a result of coaching — particularly on defense — and, yes, ultimately that falls on Richt’s shoulders. He hires the defensive coordinator. Some if it has been just pure bad luck, the bounce of the ball, which can happen to anyone.

Bottom line: I don’t think UGA keeps Richt simply because it doesn’t have a better candidate. He’s a good coach and his program is consistently competitive, despite the relative underperforming in recent seasons. He recruits at a very high level, even if some of the kids end up playing elsewhere because they refuse to follow the rules, which Georgia applies a bit more stringently than some other programs. All in all, the ingredients of a championship program are there and the lack of trophies does fall on Richt. But, as I’ve said before, it’s not just about championships. Of course, that gets into all that other stuff you don’t want me to bring up.

Along those lines, Nelson Goss Turner writes: Mark Richt gives players every possibility to grow into a responsible adult as a player and person but does not and should not put up with arrogant trouble makers who disrupt the other players, the team as a whole, the coaches and discredit the school and the sport. I don’t believe the only good players are thugs but, if they were, I wouldn’t want to watch a “prison team” play wearing the Red and Black and would accept a damn good Dawg team playing without great players but with character. Seems to me the 1980 Championship team didn’t have many great stars except for Herschel but had character and won it all …

Let’s just say I’m glad Georgia hasn’t become one of the go-to schools for players kicked out of other programs for disciplinary problems. And I hope it never does!

I’ll be on vacation the next two weeks but the Blawg will be back just in time to comment on whatever comes out of SEC Media Days. Take care until then!

Go Dogs!

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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