There’s more riding on Saturday’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game than bragging rights in a rivalry.
There’s more at stake than simply the Bulldogs’ bowl eligibility, although that’s a key component in why Saturday’s game is important.
A Georgia loss – likely leaving the Bulldogs out of the bowl picture when every major-conference school worth two flips makes the postseason – would be the cherry on top of the most sour-tasting sundae Bulldogs fans will have ingested in years. Maybe ever.
Regardless of what happens at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, this will go down as one of Georgia’s most disappointing years in the modern era of college athletics.
Never mind the embarrassing tabloid-quality drama that ensued when athletic director Damon Evans was arrested for DUI in late June – eventually leading to his dismissal – 2010 has mostly been an unsatisfying year on the courts, fields and mats on which Georgia teams compete, as well.
And it was largely disappointing in the sports that typically draw the most fan attention, making the taste that much more bitter.
Georgia’s baseball team endured an historically bad season. The men’s basketball team showed great signs of improvement, but still finished the 2009-10 season with a losing record and failed to win a single game on an opponent’s home court. The gymnastics team, coming off five straight national titles, missed the NCAA Championships for the first time in 26 years.
Then came the fall, when the volleyball team had its coach fired in the middle of the season and the soccer team missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.
And to top it off, the football team was rocked by a four-game NCAA suspension to star receiver A.J. Green for selling a bowl jersey and started the season 1-4.
Now they have to beat the hated Yellow Jackets just to have the chance to kick around some lower-tier team in a bowl location nobody really wants to visit. It’s just that a trip to somewhere like Birmingham or Memphis is so much better than the alternative – staying home during bowl season.
Reaching a bowl wouldn’t remove all the disappointment from this year by any means. A 6-6 finish isn’t much better than 5-7 – certainly not in Athens – but it would offer the opportunity for Georgia athletics to conclude a disappointing year on a positive note.
No Georgia fan – or for that matter, no coach or player – wants to endure the indignity of missing a bowl game for the first time under coach Mark Richt and to have Georgia Tech be the team that made sure that happened.
That would be the ultimate stomach punch to end this year.
Let’s be honest, Georgia football draws more interest and money than all of its other sports combined. The athletic department largely rises and falls with the successes and failures of Richt’s football team. And so a disappointing year for the football team is a disappointing year for UGA athletics – despite the handful of bright spots from 2010, like the women’s basketball team reaching the Sweet Sixteen, the softball team advancing to the Women’s College World Series or several Bulldogs athletes winning individual NCAA titles.
No, none of that really matters to the average Georgia fan. Not the way that it matters that the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech this Saturday so the Georgia people can move toward the new year with smiles on their faces.
Win and you won’t fix everything, but it will make the month of December so much more tolerable as the Bulldogs can regroup and prepare for a positive bowl experience.
Lose and it will be a long holiday season with an uncertain offseason ahead as the Bulldogs move toward 2011 without several key pieces from this underperforming football team.
That’s all that’s resting on your game Saturday, Bulldogs – the chance to keep a truly bad year from finishing with an outright disaster.
• David Ching is the sports editor of the Banner-Herald. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.