Looking Ahead to 2012

Last week of the year, so instead of rehashing 2011 it’s time to look ahead. BAMA – mighty BAMA – got dropped from the schedule as the SEC East has seven teams and now only two out-of-division slots. The Dawg Nation was originally looking to cruise the relatively short distance to the Capstone of Tuscaloosa, where we have a two-game winning streak. Georgia has won three-of-four overall versus Alabama. Thankfully, we will continue to play Auburn every year in the South’s Oldest Rivalry, first played in Piedmont Park of Atlanta. That custom simply had to continue, and we have won five-of-six versus Aubie and do not fear playing their next season. Since we played Ole Miss at Oxford this season, they are coming to Athens for the culmination of the home-and-home, in what was once an annual meeting. No LSU, no BAMA, no Arkansas – get used to it for another season, America. The conference plan for 2013 is not firmly set yet, but we know Bama is next up in rotation to play us. I anticipate the LSU series will be pushed back from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015. Out of conference, we will resume the old Clemson series in 2013 with our closest proximate geographic rival (few miles closer to Clemson from UGA than from UGA to Georgia Tech). With the non-divisional conference rotation now so deep and infrequent (seven total teams, six off and one always on, plus one more on for two seasons at a time), the divisional foes matter much more than ever before in the SEC. This is great for Georgia with the East perhaps the weakest it has ever been and 8-5 “Mizzou” replacing a potential loss to a strong SEC West program. When a team rolls off the schedule under the 2012 model (which, again, may be tweaked before 2013), you won’t see them again for a decade outside of a possible meeting in the SEC Championship Game. I was forty-one when UGA played at Oxford this football season. The Ole Miss alum I was playing with on a men’s basketball team at the time decided we should skip our planned trip together since the Rebs were so down. I may not have a chance to tailgate like William Faulkner until I’m in my fifties. But Georgia has a chance to establish itself as THE dominant program in the SEC East. The bye game being moved a week earlier and not immediately before Florida is a disadvantage, as UGA goes for back-to-back Cocktail Party wins for the first time since the 1980s. The toughest game on the schedule next year appears to be at South Carolina, but with this Border Bash moved way back to mid-season our young line will have much more time to gel in preparation for their tough defensive front. By then the rotation at running back should be established, with late season struggling SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell welcoming top high school runner Keith Marshall of Raleigh. Our schedule started tough but was mostly manageable in 2011. It looks much easier in 2012, though Vandy, Tennessee, Auburn should each be more mature and better. Florida has some glaring issues and big personnel losses. Winning the SEC Championship Game would be a big challenge, and getting there by finishing ahead of South Carolina looks for a third consecutive year to be the key. Georgia didn’t have the moxie to do it after a bad start in 2010, and the Gamecocks gifted it to the Dawgs in 2011. I think Georgia can win at the South Carolina State Fairground in 2012. Looking down this schedule, Georgia should be favored in every other game.