ATHENS — Georgia receiver Tavarres King was at Oklahoma State last year. He will go to Colorado in two days. He sat out when his team went to Arizona State two years ago.
“I love traveling and going places and seeing things. I’m excited to see that buffalo,” King said, referring to Colorado’s famous mascot.
But thanks to a move this week by Georgia, signaling a change in philosophy, this trip will be the final one scheduled one out west for the foreseeable future.
Greg McGarity, in his first month as the athletics director at Georgia, made known his first break with his predecessor by agreeing to cancel a series with Oregon. Previous AD Damon Evans had scheduled the games for 2015-16, as part of his effort to brand Georgia nationally.
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But McGarity prefers a more local strategy. The result will be less exotic games and a softer non-conference schedule — but in McGarity’s mind, a better chance for the Bulldogs to reach their ultimate goal.
“There is no RPI in football,” McGarity said, referring to the all-important stat that ranks men’s basketball teams for the NCAA tournament. “At the end of the day if Georgia is 8-0 (in the SEC) and beats Georgia Tech, chances are they’re going to play for the national championship.”
That fits with the strategy at Florida, where McGarity spent the past 18 years. The Gators have their year-end rivalry game with Florida State, much like Georgia has Georgia Tech. Otherwise, Florida tends to have an easier schedule, allowing it more home games.
The aim of Georgia’s new strategy is to have seven home games a year and perhaps more on the years the game with Georgia Tech is in Athens.
The Bulldogs are locked into only having six home games in three of the next six years, because of contracts with Clemson and Louisville. But those are close enough that travel isn’t an issue.
“Every now and then I think it’s important to play a rival, like Clemson. I think that’s a great series,” McGarity said. “But you don’t do that every year. I think you pick and choose. And every now and then you can get by with six home games. But that should really only be one time in a decade.”
Head coach Mark Richt is on board with the change in thinking.
At first, according to Richt, he liked the idea of the western trips, which he called “an administrative decision.” But Richt said he changed his mind after the first one, to Arizona State, when he saw the effect the travel had on his staff and players.
For instance, the Bulldogs are expected to arrive back in Athens on Sunday at around dawn. Then they have to immediately begin preparations for next week’s game against Tennessee.
“It sounds like a good idea,” Richt said of the cross-country games. “And it’s kind of romantic I guess, boy wouldn’t it be great to do that. I’m sure the fans have enjoyed it. It is tough on your team, your players and coaches.”
Where McGarity and Richt may differ a bit is the Florida-Georgia game.
Richt has never said he was against having the game in Jacksonville, Fla. But he has several times during his decade as coach said he wouldn’t mind having the game in the state of Georgia.
McGarity, who as an Athens native and Georgia graduate has seen both sides of the rivalry, prefers it remain in Jacksonville.
“If the city had not responded with all the desires and all the wants that each school has asked for, it might be a different story,” McGarity said. “But what they have done to create a Super Bowl stadium. The amenities that are there. There are just so many deep-seated tradition for the south Georgia Bulldogs, it’s something that would be very, very difficult to pull away from.”
Whether or not they consider the Jacksonville site to be a neutral site, Richt and McGarity are definitely on the same page as far as having as many home games as possible.
So going forward, it seems Georgia will schedule Georgia Tech every year and occasionally a team like Clemson, and otherwise the most challenging games will be in the SEC.
“I think over the long haul if you really looked at the schedules of teams that advanced from BCS conferences, they’re playing schedules that probably have one difficult non-conference opponent,” McGarity said. “Then maybe every now and then have one other difficult (game). Now granted maybe the games aren’t as exciting, but at the end of the day if you’re trying to make it to Atlanta, you wanna create the best schedule that allows you to get to Atlanta.”