ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia was unbeaten and ranked third nationally when it returned from a Sept. 2008 game at Arizona State.
Richt: "I'm sure a lot of fans enjoy taking some of those trips, but it is tough on your team."
The following week, Alabama won 41-30 in Sanford Stadium. It was a game the Crimson Tide dominated early and led 31-0 at one point, knocking the Bulldogs out of the national title picture.
From Georgia coach Mark Richt, it was a lesson learned.
“I didn’t know if this was a good idea or not, win or lose,” Richt said. “Just to see what (the travel) did to everybody, it wore them out. It’s one more game that will drain you mentally and physically because a Colorado, an Arizona State or Oklahoma State, you have to get ready. You have to get ready and you have to travel and you have to live through it.”
Saturday night’s game at Colorado sets up as the final long-distance, non-conference road game that Georgia is to play for a while. New UGA athletics director Greg McGarity agrees with Richt’s stance on scheduling, unlike previous AD Damon Evans, who sought to expand UGA’s brand nationally by traveling to play other BCS programs.
“It does get you on the other side of the country, but do we really recruit over there?” Richt said.
Earlier this month, McGarity negotiated a mutual cancelation with Oregon of the schools’ 2015-16 home-and-home series. He doesn’t buy that UGA athletics needs the national exposure.
“I think in Colorado or the West Coast, you put the Georgia ‘G’ up there, they know what that is,” McGarity said. “I mean, it’s not like we have an identity crisis. So I would just take a different path there.”
McGarity’s thoughts on scheduling resemble those of his previous boss Jeremy Foley at Florida and what’s taking place now at Alabama.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said he wants one big-name non-conference opponent each season, meaning Alabama played Virginia Tech en route to last season’s national title. It also, however, hosted lightweights like Florida International, North Texas, and UT-Chattanooga.
This year’s Alabama schedule included Penn State, but it also had San Jose State, Duke and a Georgia State program in its inaugural season.
“You’re going to win those games. Let’s don’t kid ourselves,” McGarity said. “So Alabama is able to (play one strong non-conference opponent). If Georgia Tech were not on our schedule, sure, we would be able to do things like that. But we’re not dropping that series with Georgia Tech. That’s a series that will go on at least for the foreseeable future.
“So to have two really, really tough games, in some ways it can be unfair to your team and players. I know it’s an interesting opportunity to go travel some, and fans like to travel to those games. But at the end of the day, you want to do what gets you in the best spot to put you in Atlanta (for the SEC championship game).”
McGarity is firm in his stance that UGA should schedule seven games in Athens each season “whenever we can.” He indicated he’d be open to discussing neutral-site games in the future but only if it doesn’t leave the programs without seven home games.
Four road games each year are required by the SEC. So in other words, UGA would only consider neutral-site or non-conference road games in even years, when Georgia Tech is scheduled to visit Sanford Stadium.
“A seven-game home model, to me, is what works,” McGarity said. “It’s great for the local vendors. When you only have six home games, then you’re removing one of the few weekends in the fall that your local community can basically have a chance to generate some revenue. We know with the way the economics are in this country right now, we really need to be good players in that role.”
This weekend will be Georgia football’s first game in Boulder. The trip this weekend is in return for Colorado’s visit to Athens in 2006, when the Bulldogs had to rally for a 14-13 victory in the first-ever meeting between the schools.
Colorado is celebrating the occasion by honoring the 20th anniversary of its national title team.
“It’s going to be a great environment for our guys, which I’m excited about,” UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “It will make us excited to play football.”
Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins expects a large number of Georgia fans to make the trip to Boulder for the game, if only because other teams do that as well.
“I know certainly everybody, when they play us here, they all travel well, because everybody loves to go to Colorado,” Hawkins said. “I mean, it’s a great state. It’s a beautiful state. There’s a lot of things to do and see. The weather is gorgeous. So most people around the country, when they see Colorado on the travel schedule they book their ticket because it’s a great place to visit.”
“I actually have a couple of friends that go to the University of Colorado,” UGA quarterback Aaron Murray said. “I’ve talked to them, and they love it and say it’s beautiful. I’ve never been there before, so I’m definitely excited to go to a new place and see what it’s like.”
Fans can have fun and see the sights in Boulder, but Bobo notes that the team won’t get that chance. This isn’t like a bowl trip with a week of festivities for Bulldogs players. Instead, the travel schedule remains the same as any road game.
The team will be sequestered in a hotel for meetings before the game.
“It’s like we’re at home,” Bobo said.
The Bulldogs will fly out Friday and fly back after the game, putting the arrival time back home at about 6 a.m. While players have Sunday off, the coaches do not. They’ll begin preparations for the following week’s game against Tennessee during the trip home.
“It’s tough to really get some sleep that night between a plane, a bus and different time zones,” Richt said. “We are rolling into the next game, a very important Southeastern Conference game with that kind of night, which is tough. We are already talking about what we’ll do differently Sunday at least as a staff to try to get some sleep for our sanity and try to give respect to the game you just played but also know you have to move forward. We are going to have to reduce what we do as far as reviewing the film of the game. Something has to give, because we don’t have time to do everything that we would normally do.”
The Bulldogs visited Arizona State two seasons ago and opened their 2009 season at Oklahoma State.
In the end, while noting it’s great for fans, Richt isn’t upset about the fact Georgia won’t be taking mid-season trips like this in the future.
“It sounds like a good idea and it’s kind of romantic, I guess,” Richt said. “It seems like everybody would enjoy doing that. All the fans who are taking this trip, I hope they enjoy it. It is a beautiful place. I’m sure our fans will enjoy it. Our players will at least get to see the Rocky Mountains and they’ll say they were there when some other guys probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to do that.
“But I have no problem not taking these kind of trips.”