Why Georgia is the closest thing to the college football version of Mississippi State baseball
As Mississippi State players collectively jumped on the dog pile and celebrated the university’s first national championship, I couldn’t help but think of Georgia football.
Admittedly, part of that is because as great as the College World Series was, we’re only 2 months from football, and that’s worth a celebration in itself.
But in many ways, Georgia is the college football version of MSU baseball.
No, I’m not saying that’s the case in all ways. I didn’t forget Herschel Walker and the fact that the Dawgs have actually won a national title, unlike previously national title-less MSU. It’s not an exact comparison because MSU was dealing with a title drought across all sports for its entire history, and that fan base recognized that baseball was the best chance to end that.
(At one point in the broadcast on Wednesday night, ESPN announcer Karl Ravech made a comment asking his fellow analysts if it was fair to say it was more realistic for MSU to win a national title in baseball than in football. That’s like asking if it’s fair to say the service better at Chick-fil-A than on Spirit Airlines. Of course it is.)
Think about it, though.
MSU baseball and Georgia football both are at the top of their respective sports when it comes to resources. Spending big is never an issue with those 2 programs when it comes to facilities, recruiting or the coaching staff.
Their in-stadium atmospheres are as good as any in the sport, too. Call it a combination of having an extremely successful program along with a title-starved fan base.
That’s not to say that winning a title will change that. But there’s something to be said for witnessing history and knowing that every year can be the year.
Before Wednesday, MSU was the team that was always knocking on the door. They had the runner-up finish in 2013, but the Bulldogs were also the only team in America to win 5 consecutive Regionals, and they were No. 3 on the all-time list of CWS appearances without a title (11).
Georgia football spent the past 40 years knocking on the door and not winning a title. If we’re using the equivalent of reaching the CWS like MSU did so many times, let’s just look at the top-8 finishes. In 40 seasons since that title, UGA finished in the top 8 of the AP Poll a whopping 13 times. That includes each of the past 4 years under Kirby Smart, who sort of gives off Chris Lemonis vibes himself.
I’d argue that before Wednesday, MSU baseball hadn’t spoiled its path to a national title in quite as frustrating fashion as Georgia. At least not recently. Between “2nd-and-26” and the fake punt attempt in the 2018 SEC Championship, those memories are still raw. It’s a fan base who is always seemingly waiting on that one thing to go wrong.
That tells the story for MSU Athletics as a whole, pre-2021. It was one of 3 Power 5 schools without a national title in a team sport. Why? Just look at the past decade. The women’s basketball team blew a late lead and lost a national title on a buzzer-beater 3-pointer in 2018, the football program lost 3 games after earning its first No. 1 ranking in school history and the baseball team was the favorite to beat UCLA in the 2013 College World Series … only to get swept.
Shoot, even go back to 1985. MSU baseball had a generational group of talent with the “Thunder and Lightning” duo of Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro, and it still couldn’t get it done in Omaha.
Speaking of legends, can you think of another generational talent from the 1980s who changed the perception of the program and the entire sport? Oh, that’s right. I already mentioned Herschel.
There’s a certain nostalgia factor that’ll always play with those guys. That’s why the SEC Network made documentaries about them. Talk to one of those fan bases who remember that time and they’re sure to tell you about how unfortunate it was that neither captured a national title in their final season on campus.
It’s the time in the program’s history that immediately comes up whenever a national title is a possibility. For both MSU baseball and Georgia football, of course, that’s been a frequent occurrence the past few years.
MSU finally got the job done, and it did so with a simple, but appropriate mantra — why not us?
You heard superstars like Tanner Allen repeat that during the CWS. This is what the mindset was before MSU played in an all-or-nothing game to try to capture the school’s first national title:
Just ran into @HailStateBB Tanner Allen on an elevator. Asked him how he feels… “Feel good man.” I said “Man you guys are always so loose and relaxed.”
Looks straight ahead and says “We just believe.”
— Dari Nowkhah (@ESPNDari) June 30, 2021
When your skin returns to normal after the goosebumps subside, think about if you saw a Georgia quarterback say something like that before taking the field in a national title game. Imagine being that locked in with such a massive weight on your shoulders.
If Georgia is ever going to win it all again — which I believe will happen — it’ll take a collection of guys like that. It didn’t matter to MSU that there were reminders of the national title drought every time there was a microphone.
It’s not that MSU didn’t understand the history. Seeing Lemonis break down and talk about being the first to ever to it, you could tell he was well aware of what was at stake. But there’s a difference between embracing an opportunity and being overwhelmed by an achievement. For the past 4 decades, Georgia fans have become plenty familiar with the latter.
Who knows, though? Maybe Georgia has that special group this year.
Lemonis said he told recruits about how special it would be in order to be part of the first national title at MSU. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that Smart used a similar pitch, though obviously with the tweak of being the first to win it all this century.
To be fair, if and when Georgia does win it all, it’ll feel like the first time. We’re now at a point where you’d need to be at least in your mid-40s to have any sort of memory of 1980. And if you aren’t at least 50, you probably didn’t really process it.
There are a whole lot of MSU fans who processed the magnitude of ending the national title drought. They processed it in the form of banging cowbells, shouting “Hail State” and for the adults/college students, they likely consumed some adult beverages. One of these days, perhaps, a similar celebration will take place in Georgia.
Just with a little less cowbell.