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Dawg Sports Interview

Kyle over at Dawg Sports (a Georgia blog) proposed the idea that we interview each other about our teams' respective futures. Even though Alabama doesn't face off against Georgia until 2007, I thought it was a good idea so we Bama fans can get a little more familiar with all things Dawg.

Kyle's interview of me can be found here.

Roll Bama Roll: Mark Richt has put up an astonishing 52-13 (.800) record in his first five years at Georgia (which are also his first five years as a head coach.) However, he's only 1-4 against hated rival Florida and 2-3 against (also) hated rival Auburn. Will Georgia fans continue to accept nine or ten win seasons every year if that means a continually low success rate against their two main SEC rivals?

Dawg Sports: Let me state from the outset that no coach in the Southeastern Conference has greater job security than Mark Richt.  Short of a complete collapse, Coach Richt will conclude the 2006 campaign as the third-winningest head football coach in the history of the program, behind only Vince Dooley and Wally Butts.  Given his age and winning percentage, I am confident that Coach Richt will retire as Georgia football's all-time winningest coach.  

That said, the `Dawgs clearly have to step it up against Auburn and Florida.  While, naturally, Bulldog Nation is pleased that Coach Richt has righted the ship against Georgia Tech and Tennessee, we would like to see the Red and Black winning more consistently against their two biggest league rivals.  

Coach Richt's 2-3 record against the Plainsmen is the more forgivable of the two.  Absent a poor play call at the end of the 2001 game and the ball taking a funny bounce at the end of the 2005 game, he easily could have a 4-1 record against the Tigers.  

Moreover, Auburn has always been the thorn in Georgia's side.  The first loss in Bulldog football history came against Auburn in 1892.  No other team has beaten the Bulldogs more times than the Tigers have.  The Plainsmen have a winning record in Sanford Stadium.  Vince Dooley, who boasted stellar records against almost everyone else (including Florida and Georgia Tech), was 11-13-1 against his alma mater.  In short, Coach Richt's record against Auburn, while frustrating, really is no worse than par for the course, unfortunately.  

The Florida situation, though, is absolutely maddening.  After Georgia dominated the first 85 years of the series, the Gators have owned the 'Dawgs since Steve Spurrier left Duke to return to Gainesville.  From 1990 to 1997, Florida was 7-1 against Georgia.  From 1998 to 2005, Florida also was 7-1 against Georgia, but the second eight-year run has been quite different in character from the first.  

In the first eight-season stretch, Steve Spurrier's Gators generally demolished the Bulldogs, winning by scores such as 38-7 in 1990, 45-13 in 1991, 52-14 in 1994, 52-17 in 1995, and 47-7 in 1996.  Even the Red and Black's lone win during that period was by a convincing margin (37-17 in 1997).  Since then, though, Georgia has changed coaches once and Florida has changed coaches twice.  Although the Gators' run of Cocktail Party success has continued, the games have been much closer; in fact, the last four games (including the lone Bulldog win during that period) have been settled by a total of 21 points.  

The Evil Genius's Florida squads of 1990 to 1997 finished first in the S.E.C. six times, captured five straight Eastern Division crowns, and competed in two national championship games.  Seven of those eight U.F. teams were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game in Jacksonville.  From 1998 to 2005, on the other hand, the Gators finished with a single-digit win total five times, represented the S.E.C. East in the league championship game twice, and won fewer conference crowns (1) than Georgia (2).  None of the last four Florida teams have gone into the Georgia game as a top 10 team.  In short, the 1-7 record from 1990 to 1997 was excusable; the 1-7 record from 1998 to 2005 is inexplicable.  

Historically, Georgia has had Florida's number and it has only been in the last decade and a half that the tables have turned.  In the last 16 years, the Gators have gone 14-2 against the Bulldogs, but, in the 16 years before that, the Red and Black went 13-3 against the Orange and Blue, demonstrating virtually identical dominance in the series.  Likewise, Florida's recent winning streaks of seven games (1990-1996) and six games (1998-2003) are more than matched by similar Georgia winning skeins of seven games (1904-1927), six games (1931-1936), seven games (1941-1948), and six games (1978-1983).  

While frustrating, Georgia's lack of success in Jacksonville was understandable when Florida was among the nation's elite.  Now that the better program rather clearly is in Athens rather than in Gainesville, the Bulldogs' continuing run of failure in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail party is inexcusable and must be rectified.  

Still, it is hard to fault Mark Richt for some of the fluky ways the Gators have won---after all, what were the odds that D.J. Shockley would be out for one game?---and, at the end of the day, who is better equipped to find a way to beat Florida than a former F.S.U. offensive coordinator?  

Roll Bama Roll: The last four seasons have seen Georgia win 10 or more games. USC and Texas are the only two other teams they share that accomplishment with. What do you see as the main obstacle(s) to Georgia winning another national championship?

Dawg Sports: The league homer in me wants to say that playing in the S.E.C. is the principal impediment to another Bulldog national title, but that argument (often trotted out in 1990 and 1991 in opposition to the expansion of the conference and the conference schedule beginning in 1992) has become more difficult to maintain in the last 15 years.  

Since divisional play began in the Southeast, national championships have been won by Alabama in 1992, Florida in 1996, Tennessee in 1998, and L.S.U. in 2003.  Auburn has twice gone undefeated in that span and had a decent case to make both in 1993 and 2004.  The Crimson Tide fell one point short of an undefeated campaign in 1994, the Gators were one loss away from winning a national crown in 1995, and the Vols were one loss away from playing for the No. 1 ranking in 2001.  As much as I hate to admit it, negotiating a conference schedule has not proven to be any more of an impediment to winning a national title for S.E.C. teams than it has for squads from any other league.  

That being the case, Georgia's main obstacles are the ones that blocked the Longhorns' path to the crystal trophy throughout the Mack Brown era prior to last season:  luck and a regular season neutral site showdown with a hated division rival.  

To win a national title, you need to have the ball bounce your way a time or two.  You need the refs to give you a fifth down play or a Florida State field goal to sail wide right; you need Clint Stoerner to stumble and fumble or the ball to be kicked into the air in the end zone; you need Terrence Edwards to haul in a pass in Jacksonville or you need the ball to bounce out the back of the end zone after being knocked from the Auburn player's grasp.  

Georgia certainly has not had a run of bad luck in the Mark Richt era and most of the Bulldogs' losses during the last five years have been the fault of the Red and Black, whether through poor clock management (Boston College in 2001), ill-conceived play calls (Auburn in 2001), defensive lapses (Auburn in 2005), offensive failings (South Carolina in 2001, Florida in 2002, Florida in 2005), or simply not being ready to play (Tennessee in 2004, West Virginia in 2006).  Only rarely have the `Dawgs run up against a team that was just plain better (L.S.U. in 2003, Auburn in 2004).  

As the experiences of Steve Spurrier at Florida, Bobby Bowden at Florida State, Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee, and Mack Brown at Texas demonstrate, though, the teams that keep hanging around the top 10 will have it all come together eventually.  While I am far from certain that the run of 10-win seasons and top 10 finishes will continue in 2006, it is clear that Georgia has resumed its rightful stature as an elite college football program and, sooner or later, the Bulldogs will have the little bit of luck and the all-important Cocktail Party win that will propel them into the national championship game.  

At last fall's homecoming game, the 1980 national championship team took the field at halftime to commemorate its 25th anniversary.  I said at the time, and I maintain still, that, when the 1980 squad is back in Athens for its 30th anniversary in 2010, Buck Belue, Herschel Walker, and Scott Woerner will be members of a Georgia national championship team, but not members of the most recent Georgia national championship team.  

My answer to your question, therefore, is the same as Axl Rose's:  "All we need is just a little patience."  

Roll Bama Roll: If the SEC ever goes to a nine game conference schedule, which SEC West team would you like to see on Georgia's schedule as a permanent fixture?

Dawg Sports: Ole Miss.  I will admit to being somewhat biased upon this point, since my wife and I are alumni of the University of Georgia and my wife's younger sister and her husband are alumni of the University of Mississippi, but this position is justified upon historical, as well as familial, grounds.  

Although they met only intermittently during the early years of the Southeastern Conference, the Bulldogs and the Rebels squared off every year between 1966 and 2002.  Under the original scheduling format established when the S.E.C. commenced divisional play in 1992, Georgia and Ole Miss were permanent opponents.  

Generally, the series has been competitive, with 14 of the 41 series meetings being settled by a touchdown or less, including five of the last nine contests.  Add to that the fact that Athens and Oxford arguably are the two prettiest college towns in the conference and the linkage between the two schools is altogether natural.  Georgia and Ole Miss even share a common head football coach (Harry Mehre) and a common benefactor (George Foster Peabody, who is the namesake of buildings on both campuses), so a resumption of the series between the Bulldogs and the Rebels on an annual basis seems to be a perfect fit.  

Roll Bama Roll: Alabama fans and Georgia fans share a mutual hatred of Auburn that can only be described as "good and right and true." Pat Dye played at Georgia and was an assistant coach at Alabama. After head coaching jobs at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye became the head coach of Auburn. Tommy Tuberville switched jobs within the SEC-West going from Ole Miss to Auburn. Which one is the bigger traitor? Dye for taking a job that would have him coaching against two rivals he used to be associated with or Tuberville for pulling the intra-divisional switcheroo without going elsewhere first?

Dawg Sports: As much as I can't stand Pat Dye, I have to declare Tommy Tuberville the bigger traitor.  

For one thing, Coach Dye didn't jump ship within the conference.  Coach Tuberville coached his last game at Ole Miss knowing he was leaving for Auburn yet continuing to claim with a straight face that he was staying put, but Coach Dye was moving transcontinentally and making a distinct upgrade, in terms of both the conference and the football tradition.  He even went so far as to step down as the head coach of the Cowboys without knowing for certain that he had gotten the job coaching the Tigers.  

Moreover, there has been a long history of cross-pollination between the Georgia and Auburn programs.  Vince Dooley went to Auburn.  Erk Russell went to Auburn.  Rodney Garner went to Auburn.  Shug Jordan coached at Georgia.  Will Muschamp played at Georgia.  David Greene's parents were Auburn graduates.  The proximity of the two schools simply has produced a great deal of swapping sides.  Personally, I find it rather distasteful, but it isn't as though there isn't an established practice in place.  No such "exchange program" exists between Oxford and the Plains, though.  

Finally, Auburn wasn't Coach Dye's first choice.  He would have welcomed the opportunity to have succeeded Coach Dooley as the head coach in Athens had Vince returned to his alma mater following the 1981 season.  While I don't believe Pat Dye would have been given that opportunity---I believe Coach Russell would have been promoted to head coach---that would have been his preference, so you can't fault him for settling for Auburn when his opportunity to coach at Georgia got away from him, any more than you can criticize Sylvester Croom for taking the Mississippi State job after he didn't get the Alabama job.  

Roll Bama Roll: Athens is just as renowned for cranking out good music as it is for producing good football teams. It must've been pretty fantastic to go to school in a town that has produced so much quality music. What are your favorite bands to come out of Athens?

Dawg Sports: Truthfully, R.E.M. never did much for me after "Automatic for the People" and "Green," so I'm going to have to go with a group that has made the Classic City its adoptive home town, Alabama's own Drive-By Truckers.  If you ever get the chance to take in Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jason Isbell, and the gang at the Georgia Theatre, you have see D.B.T. play live.  

After D.B.T., my favorite product of the Athens music scene is Robert Lurie, but, inasmuch as Rob and I are old friends, I have to admit to being biased on his behalf.

Many thanks to Kyle for coming up with this idea and for thinking enough of me and my writing to want to do this.