Bulldogs' future non-conference opponents

Greg McGarity has scheduled Georgia for success

Said no football fan ever: “Enough of these Power 5 games. Let’s go back to playing directional schools.” 

Said few Georgia fans lately: “Our athletic director is doing a nice job.” 

It’s unclear how much longer Greg McGarity will continue in the post so high-falutin’ it bears another person’s name – the Georgia AD isn’t just the Georgia AD; he’s “the J. Reid Parker director of athletics” — but if McGarity retires tomorrow (guessing he won’t), he has set his legacy. 

McGarity is 64. Long after he’s gone, Bulldog Nation will be making pilgrimages to Pasadena (yes, again); to Clemson (hey, it’s the place to go); to Tallahassee (’bout time); to Austin (second time ever) and to Norman, Okla. (never been). An AD can’t do much about hiring assistant coaches and recruiting players — that’s the head coach’s job — but an AD can make a schedule. 

Not long ago, Georgia fans hated their schedule, or at least the Athens part of it. In 2017, these were the Bulldogs’ six home dates — Appalachian State, Samford, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Kentucky. The grumbling was partially but not fully offset by UGA’s march on South Bend (first time for that, too), which Georgia fans made in such numbers as to awe all beholders. 

We note that Georgia’s home schedule is largely a function of its fans’ insistence on keeping the Florida game in Jacksonville, which Bulldog backers will relinquish only when you pry those cocktails from their cold dead hands. But still: McGarity got blamed for those six tepid home games. McGarity gets blamed for everything, which is part of an AD’s life. Nobody ever holds a pep rally for a balanced budget. Here, though, is what his constituency should remember about this AD:

He made the decision to fire Mark Richt, for which he was pilloried by many of the same folks who’d spent years demanding such a firing, and hired Kirby Smart, who has been given every opportunity to succeed and, sure enough, has succeeded.

In three seasons, Smart has taken the Bulldogs to a level of prominence Richt never quite achieved. (Times Georgia played for the national championship under Richt — zero. Times Georgia has played for the national championship under Smart — one.) And even if last season’s coaching can be questioned — botched fake field goal in Baton Rouge, botched fake punt versus Alabama, no-show in the Sugar Bowl against Texas — the Bulldogs still went 11-3 after losing Roquan Smith, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to the NFL. 

Smart has made Georgia football relevant again. McGarity has handed Smart — assuming he sticks around for the next dozen years — the sort of schedule a relevant program needs to be playing. Gone are the days when going 11-1 was enough. There’s a playoff now, and there’s a committee that sits in judgment over teams and their schedules. The expectation is that good teams will play other good teams, and not just in-conference, and not just once in a blue moon. 

From 1992 through 2001, which spanned the years from Ray Goff to Jim Donnan to Richt, one home-and-home with Clemson marked the Bulldogs’ only non-SEC non-bowl Power 5 opponent besides Georgia Tech. Over Richt’s 15 seasons, his only non-SEC non-bowl Power 5 opponents were Clemson (two home-and-homes), Oklahoma State (home-and-home) and Arizona State (home-and-home). In Richt’s final year, these were the Bulldogs’ non-conference foes — Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech. 

To national observers, Georgia’s schedule had become something of a joke. There was a time when Alabama’s had, too, but under Nick Saban the Crimson Tide began playing big games at neutral sites. With the advent of the College Football Playoff, a joke of a schedule is no longer amusing. You’re better off playing somebody good and losing than beating a bunch of nobodies. Smart’s AD has done his bit to make sure nobody laughs at Georgia’s slate over the next decade. 

Because everything with Saban/Smart hinges on recruiting, playing Big Names is never a bad thing. No 5-star signs with a program because he wants a steady diet of Louisiana-Monroe and Southern. It also plays well with alums, who get a charge from going places they’ve never been and watching their team face opponents they’ve seldom if ever faced. Vince Dooley coached the Bulldogs for 25 years, but never once against Oklahoma. 

Credit the Bulldogs — meaning Smart, and also meaning McGarity — for changing with the times. Even Saban, who rails about many things, has railed about the need to give Tuscaloosa crowds more attractive games. (Now the punch line: Saban’s team will play host to New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina this fall. If Bama weren’t Bama, that sort of schedule could come back to bite it.) 

An AD must strike a balance. No big-time coach wants to play multiple big-time non-league opponents, seeing as how two losses can deal him out of the playoff. (He’ll risk one loss, but no more.) An AD is duty-bound to schedule a couple of gimmes, and this fall Georgia gets Murray State and Arkansas State between the hedges on consecutive September Saturdays. The Saturday after that brings, for the first time ever, Notre Dame to Sanford Stadium. There’s your balance.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.
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