RIGHT OFF THE BAT
SEC football teams and the teams against whom they've most often opened league play in the past 20 years:
TEAM // OPPONENT // MEETINGS
Georgia // South Carolina // 20
South Carolina // Georgia // 17
Florida // Tennessee // 15
Kentucky // Florida // 15
Tennessee // Florida // 15
Alabama // Vanderbilt // 12
Arkansas // Alabama // 11
Vanderbilt // Alabama // 11
Auburn // Ole Miss // 9
Ole Miss // Auburn // 9
LSU // Mississippi St. // 8
Mississippi St. // Auburn // 7
Note: Missouri and Texas A&M officially join the SEC next Sunday.
When former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley was given the additional role of athletic director in 1979, one of his first objectives was to adjust his late-season schedule.
"The three biggest rivals we've had for a long time are Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech, and at one time we played them all in a row," Dooley said. "We wanted to split that up, and we were able to do it."
Now the big question concerning Georgia's football schedule is which team annually will provide the early-season challenge.
The Bulldogs have opened Southeastern Conference play the past 20 seasons against South Carolina, but that run is coming to an end. Georgia's SEC opener this year will be at Missouri on Sept. 8.
It's unknown whether the league's new Tigers will remain Georgia's first SEC foe in 2013 and beyond or if South Carolina moves back or even another East Division team takes the spot. League officials are hoping to release more specifics about future scheduling later this summer.
"I think what you will see is probably a great deal of movement in those games," Bulldogs athletic director Greg McGarity said. "I'm just guessing here, but once our TV partners weigh in, I think providing traditional games that from a television standpoint are attractive would be part of the mix there.
"I think what you may see there is a variation on when you may play certain teams, and that will obviously be determined at a later date once TV has a chance to weigh in and meet with the commissioner to find out what is best for all concerned. I don't think there is going to be anything definite as far as when you play most of your teams."
In the past half century, Georgia has been linked with three annual early-season rivalries: Alabama, Clemson and South Carolina.
Alabama was Georgia's opening opponent from 1959 to '65, shredding the Bulldogs 31-3 in the '64 matchup at Tuscaloosa to spoil Dooley's debut as a head coach. The Bulldogs rebounded the following year to stun the Crimson Tide 18-17 in Athens, but the series was discontinued after the Saturday Evening Post claimed the '62 game, which the Tide won 35-0 in Birmingham, had been fixed by Alabama coach Bear Bryant and Bulldogs athletic director Wally Butts.
Bryant and Butts sued the Post, which in 1967 had to pay $3.06 million in damages.
"Because of the Saturday Evening Post scandal, the powers that be in the remaking of the league schedule decided it wouldn't be good for us to have Alabama as a normal rival," Dooley said. "So what they ended up doing, which wasn't very good, is make Ole Miss a rival or a constant game that we played every year. Alabama and Georgia would have been a natural rivalry.
"Any time you play a team from an adjacent state, it's big."
Clemson is not only from an adjacent state to Georgia but is within 90 minutes of UGA's campus except for autumn Saturdays. The Bulldogs waxed the Atlantic Coast Conference's Tigers throughout the 1960s and early '70s, but the teams split the eight 1974-81 meetings.
Georgia won the '80 matchup and Clemson the '81 encounter, and the victor in each of those seasons went on to win the national championship.
"We played them every year for a long period of time," Dooley said, "and it was a dangerous challenge because Clemson's two biggest rivals were South Carolina and Georgia, and Clemson was not among Georgia's top three or four. We had Auburn, we had Florida and we had Georgia Tech, and we had other teams in the conference. Clemson really got up for us."
Georgia and Clemson played each other through 1987 but have met just six times since, with expansions in both conferences greatly factoring into the infrequency of that series.
The Georgia-South Carolina game has played second fiddle to Florida-Tennessee for most of the past two decades, but the Gamecocks and Bulldogs have combined to win the past two SEC East titles. This year's matchup will take place in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 6, four weeks after the Bulldogs visit the league's new Columbia (Mo.).
"They had to make a quick decision, and this may have been the best quick decision they could have made," Dooley said. "We were supposed to go to Alabama this season, so it's better to go to Missouri, no doubt about that, but the minus side is that an early game like that on the road could be very tough."