"For Bulldogs Only"
Aug. 22, 2011
By Neil "Hondo" Williamson
August 22, 2011
The Judge rang in on my cell. "Hondo," he squawked, "These are the hardest opening two games in Georgia history!"
His Honor's zeal for UGA is evidenced by the pants he dons for Georgia football games -- brilliant red trousers spotted with little Bulldogs (polka dawgs?). He bleeds red and black, and his exaggerations occasionally make the Judge sound like Munson's Doppelganger. This assertion seemed like one of his occasions of fanatical hyperbole. My reaction was swift and dismissive.
"C'mon, Judge," I cracked, "how `bout all the years we opened with South Carolina followed by Tennessee, or played great Clemson teams in either the first or second game?"
Hours after our conversation, his claim stuck to my ribs like country biscuits smothered in white gravy. "The hardest opening two games in Georgia history???"
Pondering the point, dark memories of past seasons that started out poorly began to apparate like Severus Snape at the top of a stone staircase. Opening Double-Deaths:
Taneyhill by the quick of the knife and Shuler with a blunt instrument in '93.
- Debut debacles vs. Southern Miss and South Carolina in '96.
1979's unthinkable 0-3 season record against ACC teams that began with losses to Wake Forest and Clemson (and then we fell to South Carolina too - Jeez!).
Clearly unhappy starts to what became disappointing seasons, but were they more difficult than 2011's upcoming clashes against Boise State and South Carolina?
On the other hand, the Dawgs have opened numerous seasons in the modern era (1964-present) with notable one-two combinations.
(Before my time) Coach Dooley and the Bulldogs kicked off the 1965 campaign with an upset of defending national champion Alabama and followed with a victory over Vanderbilt (which preceded the monumental upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor in game three).
1976's SEC Championship season unveiled with a pair of significant non-conference victories as the red and black first knocked off 15th-ranked Cal and then whitewashed Clemson 41-0.
1980..."Oh you Herschel Walker" in Knoxville followed by a 42-zip spanking of Texas A&M between the hedges.
We opened at Sanford Stadium on a Monday night under temporary lights in 1982 and edged defending national champion Clemson 13-7. Working on only four days rest/preparation, the Dawgs then survived a visit from Steve Young and BYU, 17-14.
Coach Richt's 2002 and 2005 SEC title teams cranked up their respective campaigns with back-to-back victories over staunch opposition. With David Greene at the helm in 2002 the Dawgs swept the Palmetto State, first by tripping Clemson 31-28 in Athens and then by rolling into Columbia and downing South Carolina 13-7 (Pollack's strip!). In '05, DJ Shockley was under center as U-G-A crippled Boise State 48-13 and then shaded the Gamecocks 17-15.
Finally, though the Dawgs neither swept nor were swept, these pairs of lid-lifters are in the mix as the most difficult opening two games in history:
The first two outings of 1983 (beat UCLA; Tied Clemson)
1992 (A heartbreak loss to Tennessee followed a win over S.C.)
2009 (a stumble at Oklahoma State followed by a win over Spurrier and the Gamecocks.)
All told, quite a catalogue of wicked double-header openers. But how many pair, if any, surpass Boise State and South Carolina (2011) as the most difficult opening two games in Georgia football history? And how to decide?
The standard of difficulty is simple enough for this exercise. Using Top 25 rankings, the issue practically settles itself. Dating back to the first AP poll in 1936, Georgia has never opened the season against two top 20 teams (or top 25 for that matter). Ergo, when Georgia takes on Boise State (#5) and then South Carolina (#12) to raise the curtain on the 2011 campaign it will mark the most difficult opening two games in Bulldogs history.
The Judge was not guilty of emotional overstatement and in fact rendered the correct verdict: Based on rankings these are the hardest opening two games in Georgia history.
An asterisk. There is the chance that South Carolina could flame out in its opening game in Charlotte against East Carolina and subsequently lose its ranking prior to the Gamecocks trip to Athens for Game Two. Hence, it's noted that should Spurrier and his charges slip against the Pirates and plummet from the top 25 then this argument no longer holds true.
But if the script plays out as expected and the Gamecocks prevail over the Pirates and lay claim a Top 20 ranking when they roll into the Classic City, then the Judge's ruling will stand. In Boise State and South Carolina, Mark Richt's 2011 Bulldogs will face the hardest two opening games in the history of the program.