Georgia football: Will horrible nonconference schedule come back to bite Bulldogs?
The four nonconference games that Georgia will play this year will serve a purpose. Regardless of the quality of the opponent, Dawgs fans will fill Sanford Stadium and have a rollicking weekend in Athens, the Bulldogs will add an easy win to the record and the outclassed foes will head for home with a big check in their back pocket.
But sadly, there might very well be a price to pay for this easy four-game schedule. In case you need reminding, here’s the slate:
- Sept. 1 — Austin Peay
- Sept. 15 — Middle Tennessee
- Nov. 17 — UMass
- Nov. 24 — Georgia Tech
Outside of the annual showdown with Georgia Tech, Bulldogs athletics administrators get to pick and choose the other three foes. Heading down to the bakery for a cupcake is one thing, but loading up on cupcakes is quite another. Playing Austin Peay, an FCS school, in the opener is a walk in the park. Middle Tennessee is in Conference USA in the Group of 5 and UMass is a new FBS independent.
Of the 130 schools in the FBS, UMass comes in at No. 107, and Middle Tennessee is No. 85. The Sagarin ratings include all 255 college football teams and Austin Peay ranks No. 170. (In Sagarin, UMass is No. 139 and MTSU is No. 102. Georgia Tech, by the way, is No. 33).
That’s a lot of numbers, and they might not mean much to you now. But they might very well mean something to the College Football Playoff selection committee come December.
Strength of schedule does mean something, even for SEC teams. And it could come back to bite the Bulldogs in the end. Yes, it’ll be nice for padding statistics, but it might also keep Georgia out of the Playoff.
Here’s a scenario that could play out, and it just might since I’m already on record as predicting that Georgia will run the table in the regular season and finish 12-0. They’ve never done that before, and it is very hard to do in the SEC, but I can see it happening this year. There’s a huge talent gap between Georgia and the rest of the SEC East and the two crossover games — at LSU and home against Auburn — might be the toughest conference games. I still see Georgia getting through.
So what happens if the Bulldogs go 12-0 but lose convincingly to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game? If there are impressive champions from the ACC and Big Ten — a very likely outcome — there’s two Playoff spots taken. If someone has a good year in the Pac-12 or Big 12, the committee could look at Georgia’s pathetic nonconference slate and leave them on the outside looking in.
Is that fair? Probably not. Definitely not if you’re a Dawgs fan. But here’s what this schedule will force you to do all year. You will have to pay attention to the other conferences to see what’s going on. Obviously, the easiest fix would be to win the SEC again, because every SEC champ will always make the Playoff. But if it doesn’t happen, then be prepared to whine, because 12-1 might not be enough.
A lot of these contracts with nonconference foes are done years in advance, and it’s always hard to predict what might happen in the future. But now that the Bulldogs are Playoff contenders — and probably will be every year now for quite a while — they should have done something about this.
What could they have done? The easiest thing would have been to buy out Austin Peay or UMass and search for a more talented — or at least more recognizable — opponent. That might have helped with the selection committee a few months down the road.
Efforts have been made to make it better — at least a little bit — down the road. The Bulldogs host Notre Dame in 2019 and play Virginia in Atlanta in 2020. Further in the future, there are games with Oregon (2022) and UCLA (2025 and 2026).
It’s a shame something like this wasn’t happening in 2018. It’s going to be a sad story — man bites dog — if and when the selection committee says no to the Bulldogs in December.