UGA Football: Top Sports Product in State

Before the start of the college football season, in writing I called for the Georgia Bulldogs to win exactly ten games and the SEC East and it be somewhat disappointing. I called for Georgia to beat Florida and Tennessee and stressed the importance of beating the four biggest rivals (4-0 for the first time under Richt). By winning ten games in 2011, Coach Mark Richt has simply returned to his average at the University of Georgia. He averages over nine wins throughout his eleven-year tenure as head coach, down from fifth to sixth in the NCAA amongst active coaches with fickle Urban Meyer now back in coaching at Ohio State University.

As I walked and took trains through much of my city on a warm and lightly rainy winter Sunday, it was especially evident to me how much more vast and utterly urban Atlanta is compared to the rest of the South. Though more than four of the over five million so-called Atlantans live far from any centrally dense core, The ATL in actuality is a giant and gorgeous rocket ship of a city. Peachtree Street/Peachtree Road alone skyscrapes all the way from barely above the Braves big house at the south to the way uptown northern edge of Buckhead. And Georgia is the geographically largest state east of the Mississippi River.

The Atlanta Falcons have zero championships and badly lost one Super Bowl. Before the playoff one-and-done run with Matt Ryan as quarterback, they were the only American professional sports franchise to never have back-to-back winning seasons.

The Atlanta Thrashers went the way of the Flames. Oh, Canada. C-AY-N-AY-D-AY.

The Atlanta Hawks historically made and lost early in the playoffs. Then they didn’t make the playoffs for years. Then they returned to making the playoffs, but never even the conference championship. The best Hawks team ever extended Boston in a series that was only for a chance to play in the conference championship round and did not come through with the four wins.

Georgia Tech football has lost ten of eleven to Georgia and has not won a bowl game in eight seasons. They did win in it all in a split championship twenty-two years ago.

Tech basketball is an overly nostalgia remembered mediocre ACC product, with a losing record to UGA since the teams quit playing neutral site games. Hoop Dawgs = not too good.

Georgia Southern is high-quality pee wee college football. Georgia State has football. They both play basketball, as does Kennesaw State, Mercer, etc.

Border crossers Auburn, Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Florida State, Tennessee each have huge football followings in The ATL and in various areas of Georgia. And none have the winning percentage to match Mark Richt’s over the time he has been at UGA.

The only competitor remaining is the Atlanta Braves. They won it all in 1995 for Atlanta’s only pro sports team title (Evander Holyfield also a champ) and won division titles for years. Stopped short in a bunch of World Series runs, they are still a valid and good sports option in the summer. But they have not been a real factor in the National League for years, and a historic collapse this past season was emblematic of their fortitude now that Bobby Cox has been retired for two years.

Mark Richt will coach the University of Georgia Bulldogs, by far the most profitable and the single most popular sports product in the state of Georgia, to at least ten wins next season. He had one bad year (6 wins) following one average year (8 wins) and was squarely on the hot seat. His first year was an eight-win campaign while he got acclimated, and the other eight seasons were either good (9 wins), very good (10 wins) or great (more than 10 wins).

Richt has two SEC Championships and two BCS bowl wins and two national finishes in the final top three in the polls. He has only one unreached goal at UGA: to win it all. Georgia’s schedule and returning talent lines up for me to right now predict that UGA will play for the SEC Championship in Atlanta again next season. Dominating unblemished #1 LSU for a half this year with a team of sophomores and freshmen, UGA showed the potential promise of a bright future. Finish the Drill and the SEC may play for a seventh straight NCAA crystal ball with the Dawgs finally getting a shot. Georgia just may have been the best team in the country by season’s end when UGA finished #3 and #2, but the existing system cost those teams a chance to prove it in a playoff. Looking down Georgia’s schedule, 2012 is as good a shot to win it all as Richt has had or may ever have.