SEC decision leaves Georgia Tech without Georgia game

Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins shake hands after a game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, November 30, 2019.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins shake hands after a game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, November 30, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A staple of both teams’ schedules every year since 1925, the Georgia Tech-Georgia rivalry will sit out 2020. The SEC made it official Thursday with its adoption of a 10-game, conference-only schedule, which eliminates the possibility of the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs meeting on the gridiron for the 115th time in a rivalry that dates to 1893.

The 2020 edition of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate becomes one more sporting event placed upon the heap of games, tournaments and seasons that have been canceled or suspended by the coronavirus pandemic. A rivalry that is the state’s focal point every year, usually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Tech-Georgia game will have to wait until November 2021 to be resumed on the field.

“I guess I’ll miss this year and just have to hang in there and hope that things will get better in the coming months,” said Tech grad Bobby Joe Anderson, who has attended the Tech-Georgia game for 75 years in a row.

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Anderson, who turned 92 this week, lives the rivalry with friends who are Georgia fans, dishing out the jabs and pokes that make Tech-Georgia a year-round passion.

“I get a big kick out of them, kidding my friends, saying, ‘Well, you’ve got the best team money can buy,’” said Anderson, who knew Tech coaching greats William Alexander and Bobby Dodd well. “We have a lot of fun with that. The rivalry means a lot, and it’s most unfortunate, of course. These are trying times.”

For Tech, the repercussions are unclear as college football’s plans to play a season through the coronavirus pandemic are hammered out on a seeming daily basis. The SEC’s decision gained greater attention Wednesday night, after the ACC seemed to put the onus on the SEC by approving its schedule model for 10 games plus one non-conference game. The format left space for the league’s four teams with SEC in-state rivals – Clemson (South Carolina) Florida State (Florida), Louisville (Kentucky) and Tech – to continue their series this year.

But the SEC, which appeared to have been headed for a conference-only schedule long before the ACC’s maneuver, held course.

“While it’s certainly disappointing for our student-athletes, coaches and fans that we will not have our annual rivalry football game with Georgia this year, I also understand and respect the decision of the SEC,” Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury said in a statement. “We hope to finalize our non-conference opponent for the 2020 season in the near future and very much look forward to meeting Georgia again on the gridiron in 2021.”

“I am disappointed that our players won’t have the opportunity to play our in-state rivalry game this season, but respect the SEC’s decision,” coach Geoff Collins said in a statement.

It’s also possible, certainly, that the season won’t be played at all. The plans that conferences are putting together are no more than that, plans. The season could well be canceled in coming weeks if teams begin preseason practice and realize that the pandemic cannot be prevented from spreading on campuses and in locker rooms and practice fields.

Tech has two other non-conference home games scheduled for the coming season – Central Florida and Gardner-Webb. The Jackets could decide to play either game and either cancel or try to move the other game to another year, with the former option being potentially costly.

With 10 scheduled games against ACC opponents, including Notre Dame, which this year will play as a full-fledged league member, Tech may opt for a less competitive opponent in FCS Gardner-Webb. (The Knights finished 10-3 last season and figure to be a preseason Top 25 opponent.)

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Or, it’s possible that Stansbury and Collins could opt to try to get out of both the UCF and Gardner-Webb games and play an in-state opponent such as Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Mercer or Kennesaw State. Or, the ACC could follow the SEC’s lead and opt to not play non-conference games, though Stansbury’s statement indicated no such intention.

Georgia Southern AD Jared Benko, whose team is short a game, as it was to play Ole Miss, is waiting on the Sun Belt Conference to make its decision on how it will structure its season.

“I would love to play Georgia Tech and Georgia every year,” Benko told the AJC. “Especially Georgia Tech, being in Atlanta because last time we played up there (2016), we had a huge crowd. We have a lot of fans up there. We think it’d be a great game.”

As for the 10 ACC games that Tech will play, the Jackets’ conference strength of schedule is tougher than most, as the Jackets are scheduled to play both Clemson and Notre Dame, who would be almost anyone’s top two choices to win the ACC in this most unusual season. The Jackets are one of six that will play both the Tigers and Fighting Irish, though they get both at home.

The Jackets do avoid North Carolina, a likely preseason Top 25 team with quarterback Sam Howell returning, and Virginia Tech, which was 8-5 last season and returns an experienced roster. If the season is played, it will be the first time that the Jackets have not played the Tar Heels since 1979.

By measure of the average of opponents’ Sagarin rating at the end of last season, Boston College has the toughest schedule in the league. The Eagles’ 10 ACC opponents had an average rating of 49.1, including Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest is second at 49.8. The remaining 13 are clumped between 55.8 and 61.5. Tech is fifth at 56.4.

The schedule is certainly made easier by not having Georgia on it.

“I’ll miss it,” Anderson said. “I sure will.”

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