As college football rivalries go, Georgia-Auburn stands out, and not just as the Deep South’s oldest.
Saturday will mark the 118th time Georgia and Auburn have played football, making it the seventh most played rivalry in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
But what really marks this rivalry is how closely contested it has been ever since the Bulldogs and Tigers first squared off in 1892 in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. After last year’s miracle win, Auburn leads the series 55-54-8. A victory for the Dogs Saturday would mark the 17th time that the two teams have had an equal amount of wins in the series.
For years, the game was played in relatively neutral Columbus, and many considered it the most collegial of Georgia’s three main rivalries (the others being with Florida and Georgia Tech). The Georgia and Auburn fan bases were viewed by some as sharing almost “cousin” status — you know, the whole Pat Dye-Vince Dooley thing (though that’s certainly not how it’s viewed by my friend Steve, who hates the former Alabama Polytechnic Institute 365 days a year).
For years, the two schools have traded players as coaches, and the connections continue: Georgia assistant coach Tracy Rocker was a star at Auburn, and Tigers starting QB Nick Marshall used to be a Bulldog before getting kicked off the team, while Tray Matthews, one of the two UGA players responsible for the Tigers’ Prayer at Jordan-Hare salvation last year, is now at Auburn, though not eligible to play this season.
In recent years, however, things have gotten quite a bit chippier, thanks to things like fire hoses and Nick Fairley spearing Aaron Murray.
What with the general streakiness of the series with Florida in Jacksonville and the Dogs’ domination of the series with Tech (and the fact that Georgia and Clemson don’t play regularly any more), some Georgia fans argue that Auburn is now UGA’s main rival, not just its oldest.
I put that question to a sampling of Georgia fans this week, ranging from boomers to Gen X’ers to millennials, asking where they rank the Auburn, Florida and Tech rivalries now.
Overall, the ranking ended up as I expected: Auburn, then Florida, then Tech, though quite a few fans drew a distinction, noting that they considered the rivalries with Auburn and Florida more important, but the in-state Yellow Jackets were the ones they would most hate to see beat the Dawgs.
Older fans said it was tough to pick but mostly ranked Auburn as the top rival, with about equal support for Florida and Tech, while younger fans, including current UGA students queried by my daughter, tended to identify the Gators in Jacksonville as the Dogs’ biggest rivalry (“a bowl game in the middle of the year,” said one) and also tended to rank Tech last among the rivals.
Said one younger fan: “Florida is definitely first, in my mind. For the younger generation of fans, they are absolutely the team to beat, as they dominated us, usually win a lot in general, and it’s a chippy, mean rivalry. Add to that the Jacksonville aspect, recruiting, how comparable the universities are, etc.”
He added that picking between Auburn and Tech for the second spot was tough. “Auburn is a very comparable program and it’s as even a series as possible. Tech is not either of those things, but I absolutely hate losing more to Tech than to Auburn. And Tech is obsessed with hating UGA. Auburn may get the nod above them because it’s a conference game and an even older rivalry and a much better rivalry for entertainment purposes. For me personally, I’d put Tech above them due to hating losing to them more and growing up next to their campus. They are insufferable for an entire year after they beat UGA, which I find less true of Auburn.”
One fan who had trouble picking between Auburn and Florida said he judges it year to year by how big a threat that program is to UGA’s ascendancy. “At present, that would be Auburn and [Gus] Malzahn over the Gators, who, despite the heart-breaker they inflicted on us 2 weeks ago, are still stuck with [Will] Muschamp (for now).”
Meanwhile, he viewed Tech as a nonfactor. “They never cost us in recruiting, and they have not inflicted a meaningful defeat on Georgia in a generation or longer. Compare that to the number of times Auburn, Florida, Tennessee or South Carolina have derailed either SEC or national title hopes for us.”
A fan who hates Clemson most of all based his ranking on which one hurts the most when Georgia loses. Going by that criteria, he ranked it: Tech, Florida, Auburn. Another fan who went on the basis of hatred put them in this order: Tech, Auburn, Florida.
Bottom line: Georgia fans hate losing to Tech the most, even if they don’t consider the North Avenue Trade School to be UGA’s major rival any more.
And then there’s my friend Dan, whose disdain for the former Golden Tornado knows no bounds. He not only ranks Tech third among the rivals, but thinks it would be a great idea for UGA to start alternating playing Tech and Georgia Southern as a season-ender. Oh, and the Yellow Jackets should only ever be played in Athens, he added!
As for me, I see two ways of looking at it. If you go by terms of importance, I think it’s between Auburn and Florida, and currently I lean toward Auburn. But if you go by which rival you hate to lose to the most, it’s Tech by a landslide.
Feel free to offer your own rankings of Georgia’s rivalries in the “chatter” section.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.