Power in the Piedmont by: Han Vance
Power Football: Clemson University is the nearest proximate geographic rival university to the University of Georgia, in Athens. The Tigers are actually a few miles closer to the nation’s oldest public state university’s campus than in-state rival Georgia Tech is.
I see an opportunity for Tech to climb back into the national spotlight, somewhat, based strictly on their geography. It’s Atlanta.
The flats of North Avenue are in Midtown, and nothing, nothing at all resembles their wide rocket ship skyline view from the upper deck of the oldest on-campus football stadium, in majesty. While technological advancements to Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field, like TV monitors at all concessions for example, should have been made long ago, there is a definite allure to playing in the world capital of college football, that Tech provides. The new coach built a sometime winner at private Temple in big city Philly, so he is a very good fit experience-wise, for the public Tech.
Further, a stronger in-state rival is of immediate and lasting benefit to the Bulldogs football program. Why? Tech will always be niche, because of their specialized academic platforms and practices. They won’t be stealing Georgia’s specific talent that much. And, when as I forecasted happening in the future upon the installation of a stupid in its smallness four-team (non-pluralized) playoff with just two rounds and three games, that Georgia would someday be 5th, I was on. It just happened.
Why? Strength (or in this case weakness) of schedule and such a small pool of teams. Had Georgia played say undefeated CFP entrant Notre Dame, an academic/athletic program Tech could model itself after in seeking success, as in 2017 and 2019, and eliminated them, while whipping a say 10-win Tech in Athens – and Tech does have the history of winning that big, as recently as a 1990 national championship and dominance of Georgia in the Donnan era – Georgia would have gotten in, without winning the SEC.
The power has shifted from the SEC as a whole and the highly-populated with lots of cities Sunshine State to specifically the Piedmont. First, let’s look at recruiting. Alabama, which calls itself the capstone, is in the same basic geographic footprint as Georgia and Clemson. BAMA is only a three-hour drive out HWY 20 from Atlanta, again, the epicenter of all this success. The Tide won half the national championships of the last decade – HALF! – while finishing #1 in recruiting for all but one of seven straight years, as well, with the lone exception being last year, when their former recruiting coordinator Kirby Smart hauled in the #1 class, an hour from Atlanta in Athens. Bama was down a few notches in the highly-subjective rankings of recruitment, which are pumped out by three primary sources: Rivals, 247Sports, ESPN. They were #1 this year (Georgia was #1 by Rivals).
The SEC as a whole went sub .500 in bowl games over the last two years. Winning seven national championships in a row, with multiple teams getting multiple championships, seems so long ago to me now.
While I have not mixed words in stating that Georgia has yet to get all the way over the hump on the fields of play – which is 100% factual – Kirby Smart has recruited classes in the top 10, continuing what Mark Richt was doing with the transitional first new regime’s class, then ramping it up and getting the #3, #1, #2 classes over three full recruiting cycles. On the field, only Georgia has cracked the national championship game stranglehold of the clear top two programs, Clemson and Bama, at all, in a full four-year standard student cycle. (Off topic: I went to Georgia for 5 years: 1990-1993 and 1996-1998; many top football players stay just three years.)
That Georgia was a blown coverage and lack of runs called away from winning a national championship, speaks further to the strength of the area. That January 2018 thorn in my side, still smarts me.
Clemson has won 2-of-3 national championships. Clemson is a two-hour drive from Atlanta, and like I said, right across the state border from Athens, basically. It’s a one T-Stand burrito drive. South Carolina has the population of Atlanta, roughly, but doesn’t have big state numbers.
Miami, Florida State, Florida were superpowers, and UCF has emerged as a legit fourth program in the state of Florida, with USF and others behind them. Florida has four times the total population of Georgia, but Atlanta is not in Florida, and the heat has encircled Atlanta like a much-wider perimeter highway. 6-of-10 Georgians are current residents of Greater Metro Atlanta, and Georgia is one of the top football states: Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and California (the latter two based much on sheer size).