When asked to identify the Georgia Bulldogs’ top five must-watch games for the 2010 college football season, I had to request an explanation of the question. Dude, I have my calendar marked for the Gym Dogs’ Jan. 8 season-opener against the Denver Pioneers; if it’s a sporting event involving red-and-black-clad University of Georgia undergraduates taking on representatives of another post-secondary institution, it is, by definition, "must-watch."
Still, as Alexander Hamilton opined when attempting to rationalize the Constitutionality of the Bank of the United States in 1791, there is a difference between "necessary" and "absolutely necessary." This was poor jurisprudence on the part of the treasury secretary, but it is a good way to differentiate between those games on the Bulldogs’ schedule which are merely obligatory and those that are completely mission-critical for all who claim to bleed red and black. Regarding the latter category, these are they:
5. at Colorado (Oct. 2)
Had this been a must-win list rather than a must-watch list, Georgia’s date with Tennessee the following Saturday would have gone here instead. However, when a program that didn’t play a regular-season road game outside the South for 43 years travels to Boulder for a non-conference tilt pitting Uga against Ralphie, anyone who calls himself a college football fan has to tune in for the festivities.
Not only will Folsom Field be filled with 53,750 fans who unanimously are in agreement that the Buffaloes were the real 1990 national champions, but fans of SB Nation’s Georgia blog who aren’t in the Centennial State will be gathering in Athens that afternoon for the 1st Annual Dawg Sports Sacrificial Goat Roast, complete with T-shirts to mark the occasion.
4. vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 27)
Paul Johnson’s on-field success and off-field demeanor have breathed some life back into an in-state rivalry that had become a matter of clean old-fashioned indifference while the milquetoast Chan Gailey was stalking the sideline at the Flats. The road team has won three straight meetings in a series in which home field advantage has mattered little: since 1964, Georgia has gone 16-7 against Georgia Tech between the hedges and 18-5 against the Engineers at Grant Field.
As the Bulldogs look to rebound and the Yellow Jackets look to cement their comeback, this year’s post-Thanksgiving showdown for local bragging rights could be as consequential a contest for both clubs as we have seen since Mike Bobo was taking the snaps instead of calling the plays.
3. at Auburn (Nov. 13)
Gene Chizik’s first season on the Plains exceeded expectations and ended in a thrilling Outback Bowl win on New Year’s Day, but the Tigers have gone about as far as a 3-5 conference record and two wins in their last seven regular-season outings can take them. Auburn looks to improve defensively after conceding 30 or more points seven times in the team’s last eleven games in 2009, and that, coupled with second-year coordinator Gus Malzahn’s offense, makes the Plainsmen a dark horse contender in the West.
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has been uninterrupted for more than a century except by world wars and player deaths, and the series has its share of quirks: each team owns a winning record in the other’s stadium; the higher-ranked squad is upset at least as often as not; cross-pollination between the two programs abounds, as exemplified by Auburn alum/Georgia coach Vince Dooley and Georgia alum/Auburn coach Pat Dye. Though not cautioning anyone to "fear the thumb," the Bulldogs hope to win five in a row in the series for the first time since the late 1940s, and both opponents will need the victory to have any hope of reaching the SEC Championship Game.
As if all that didn’t give you reason enough to watch, there’s also the fact that I hate Auburn.
2. vs. South Carolina (Sept. 11)
With all due respect to Louisiana-Lafayette, the Gamecocks’ placement on the Bulldogs’ schedule as Georgia’s first real opponent of 2010 earns the Palmetto State Poultry a spot near the top.
Williams-Brice Stadium is a snake pit, and South Carolina’s expectations have never been higher. The consistent closeness of the contests in this series---seven of the last nine meetings have been settled by a touchdown or less---would make this an outing well worth watching even in a down year for both squads, but this autumn’s early-season altercation likely will burst one team’s bubble. The outcome might not make the winner’s season, but it almost certainly will break the loser’s.
1. vs. Florida Gators (Oct. 30)
Forget the fact that, if the ‘Dawgs get by the Gamecocks, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party could settle the East. Pride alone gets this game pride of place on the Georgia slate.
The dean of SEC coaches has compiled a resume that includes four finishes of no worse than tied for first in the division, three Sugar Bowl appearances, two league championships, a pair of conference coach of the year honors, and 90 wins in nine years, so why is Mark Richt having to deal with "hot seat" chatter? For the same reason John Cooper’s success at Ohio State ultimately was not enough to save his job after a few too many losses to Michigan. All the shortcomings of the last decade in the Classic City are encapsulated in Mark Richt’s 2-7 record against the Sunshine State Saurians.
Metaphorically, if not geographically, the road from Athens to Atlanta runs through Jacksonville; righting the ship against a division rival the Bulldogs owned prior to 1990 would knock the lid entirely off of the jar containing all the Red and Black’s hopes and dreams, whereas the continued inability to do so could represent the glass ceiling curtailing Bulldog Nation’s high hopes.
For the record, the Classic City Canines will be playing at least seven more must-watch games this season, and probably eight, and hopefully nine. I would advise you to tune in or show up for all of them. Then again, I’m the guy who has a statue of Uga on his back porch and turns it to face the site of the Georgia game every Saturday in the fall, so I’m probably not the most unbiased of observers. If you’re looking to catch just the most critical and exciting contests on the Bulldogs’ slate this autumn, those are the five most likely to keep you on the edge of your seat and to determine what kind of season the Red and Black have.