Homecoming in the Deep South

Vandy and Kentucky, the historic two-team bottom tier in the SEC East and in the whole of the SEC, were regularly alternating Homecoming opponents in the Classic City for many years, with UGA winning every year in the modern era save one: a mid-season swoon during a 9-4 Matthew Stafford-led frosh campaign where UGA lost to Vandy (and then later at Kentucky, before winning the final four games).

For a time, Kentucky became decent at football and played regularly in bowls. Though they have now clearly faded back into the black, UGA stopped scheduling them as a Homecoming victim out of respect. Vandy too, without really earning it on the field, was soon given a pass against being locked into our Homecoming.

A fitting Homecoming opponent this season, Ole Miss played UGA every year through 2002. Their last win over the Dawgs came in Jim Donnan’s first season of 1996. That lone Rebel yell was the week after a draining UGA victory in the first ever SEC overtime game, which had gone to four O.T.s as Georgia upset Auburn. Good to have Mississippi back in the Classic City, where they have only played once since the every-season series ended. That trip resulted in a 45-17 UGA win featuring big individual games from Moreno and Thomas Brown as Georgia rolled to an 11-2 season and national #2 finish.

A closer look at the Georgia-Mississippi scores since Ole Miss last beat UGA reveals some relatively tight ballgames: 21-14, 24-17, 20-17, 14-9 and some pretty big Georgia wins. Last year’s game was an SEC breakthrough for the Dawgs on a conference losing streak, as UGA returned to national relevance with an SEC East championship.

To repeat as SEC East champs, Georgia must sweep the West by defeating Ole Miss Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with a national television audience watching on CBS and then by winning on the plains at Aubie (7:00 p.m., ESPN2). The Auburn game looked potentially dicey at season’s start, but the War Eagle-Tigers have won only one football game this year – a narrow overtime escape over Louisiana-Monroe. Georgia will win the East…at least. If not, the hot seat suddenly reappears under our sometimes beloved head coach’s rear.

Most Georgia fans are pulling for LSU on the bayou Saturday night, because we want a winnable rematch in the GA Dome, while the Honey Badger stays home stoned. However, facing BAMA may be a clearer path to the national championship – should Georgia somehow be solid enough to defeat an undefeated Tide team in the ATL. Prognosticators are already forecasting BAMA potentially losing at LSU and still getting to the big dance, which would in my opinion make a further mockery of college football. BAMA has won the West only once in the past three years and has only one SEC ring under Saban, with two national titles. Media darlings deserved it less than Okie State last year but won the popularity contest and then totally crushed LSU by following the blueprint Richt-Bobo-Grantham developed and implemented in the first half of the SEC championship game, until the Honey Badger struck and Murray had one of his big game meltdowns.

Speaking of meltdowns, Georgia has lost twice soon following big Cocktail Party wins since 1990: Auburn won in a wild night game in Athens during Donnan’s lone ten-win season at Georgia, and undefeated Aubie took out Top 5 UGA in Greene and Pollack’s senior years before being shunned for the national championship, though I feel they had the best team in the NCAA that year. A loss at Auburn this year would be ridiculous. And Georgia should be too talented for Ole Miss in Athens. Florida hangover should not be a big factor with a title on the line. But it may.

I look for top recruit Keith Marshall to have a huge game after being pushed to the bench by the far superior physicality of Todd Gurley. Gurley would be a solid lock for SEC Freshman of the Year if Johnny Football was not setting SEC records for my Grandpappy’s school, Texas A&M. He has a ton of passing yardage, is leading the conference in rushing and has the top two total yardage games in SEC history. My God a freshman…but I love our new GURSHALL thing, too. Time to get into postseason form, DAWGS.