Leadoff: How and why UGA is beefing up its football schedules

Georgia’s football schedule left much to be desired last season, with three home games against opponents from outside the five power conferences: Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and Massachusetts. The Bulldogs won those games by a cumulative score of 160-34, hardly impressing the College Football Playoff selection committee (or most UGA fans, for that matter) in the process. 

Georgia continues to move away from such schedules, aggressively beefing up its future football slates. 

UGA announced another marquee non-conference home-and-home series Monday — games against Oklahoma in 2023 and 2031, the first in Norman and the second in Athens. The fairly long wait for the first game and the even longer gap before the second reflects the complexities of finding mutual fits in schedules. But the announcement again underscores the direction Georgia coach Kirby Smart  is mapping with scheduling.

It follows earlier announcements of home-and-home series against UCLA (2025 and 2026), Florida State (2027 and 2028), Texas (2028 and 2029) and Clemson (2029 and 2030; again in 2032 and 2033) and Chick-fil-A Kickoff games in Atlanta against Virginia (2020), Oregon (2022) and Clemson (2024). And this year, Georgia will host Notre Dame in a return engagement for the Bulldogs’ trip to South Bend in 2017. 

As schedules currently stand, the Bulldogs have at least two Power Five non-conference opponents (Georgia Tech plus at least one other) in 14 of the next 15 seasons. (Now, if they can just do something about the 2021 schedule, which currently features only one opponent from a power conference outside the SEC, that being Tech.) In both 2028 and 2029, Georgia has three Power Five non-conference opponents (FSU, Texas and Georgia Tech in ’28; Clemson, Texas and Tech in ’29). 

How rare is such scheduling? According to FBSchedules.com, only 13 of 64 power-conference teams had two regular-season games against non-conference “power” opponents last season. No SEC team had two such regular-season games last season, and no team in any conference had three.

Georgia’s philosophy going forward reflects a belief that tougher schedules enhance a team’s chances of reaching the College Football Playoff and that lightweight non-conference schedules exacerbate college football’s attendance downtrend that includes no-shows even among some long-time season-ticket holders. While it’s unpredictable what form the CFP will take by the late 2020s — will there be eight teams in the field by then? — Smart and athletic director Greg McGarity obviously are heeding the selection committee’s guidance that playoff-aspiring teams should bolster their out-of-conference schedules. Of course, scheduling such games is just part of the equation — you then need to win them. In the playoff’s five-year history, the selection committee hasn’t invited a two-loss team. 

Georgia’s future non-conference Power Five opponents

In addition to the annual game against Georgia Tech: 
2019: Notre Dame (in Athens) 
2020: Virginia (in Atlanta*) 
2022: Oregon (in Atlanta*) 
2023: at Oklahoma 
2024: Clemson (in Atlanta*) 
2025: at UCLA  (in Pasadena, Calif.)
2026: UCLA (in Athens) 
2027: at Florida State 
2028: Florida State (in Athens), at Texas 
2029: Texas (in Athens), at Clemson 
2030: Clemson (in Athens) 
2031: Oklahoma (in Athens) 
2032: Clemson (in Athens) 
2033: at Clemson 
* - Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium 

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LEADOFF LINKS 

> The buyer of Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Southeast and 19 other regional sports networks sees opportunities for growth from non-game programming, digital streaming and legalized sports betting. See story here.

 > In footballoutsiders.com’s compilation of national NFL writers’ draft report cards, the Falcons received the third lowest grade, ahead of only the Texans and Giants, D. Orlando Ledbetter reports here.

> The Braves’ season is about to get serious, Mark Bradley writes.

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