Opening act

Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and the story of a flashy, neutral-site opener:

“It started as a recruiting strategy by Nick,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who served on Saban’s defensive staff for the past nine seasons, “which paid unbelievable dividends, because we go into (Atlanta in 2008 to play) Clemson, and just smash them that one game (34-10), and it kind of started the program, and it set a trademark. … You go outside your footprint and have a great game. In recruiting, it helps and the national exposure you get you can’t replace.”

Smart starts his head-coaching career with the Bulldogs in a neutral-site opener against the ACC Coastal champion Tar Heels. He has adapted Saban’s offseason methods because he has seen them work.

“If you ask a strength coach, any strength coach in the country, they will hard-sell that opening game,” Smart said. “The trend is, you go in reverse, so the first week of summer workouts, they’re going to (show video of) the game they have last. At Alabama, we would start with Auburn. … You show clips of that game, whether you won or lost, you show motivating clips of that game, so they’re thinking about that opponent. A kid’s squatting, he’s looking at a picture of the guy he’s going to line up across.”

By the end of summer workouts, when the team is lifting the most, the players are watching clips of their first opponent. “It’s a hell of a lot better when that first game is Clemson, North Carolina or Wisconsin than it is when it’s App State or Western Michigan or somebody,” Smart said.

I’d say it’s something we’d better get used to, Dawg fans.  The question is, would you rather have that splashy opener in, say, Dallas, or another cupcake game in Athens?  The money’s about the same, so McGarity won’t object (though, tough luck, local businesses).

Recruiting sells, you know?


Filed under Georgia Football, Nick Saban Rules

67 responses to “Opening act

  1. Jared S.

    I love the “flashy” non-con/neutral-site opener. These days you exponentially increase your chances of getting into the CFP if you have a good non-con win. I loved the last three seasons playing Clemson and I like the UNC game. I hope we continue……

    • Jared S.

      And, yeah, I realize the Clemson games weren’t neutral-site games. I like them either way. Either a two or three game series where we alternate home fields or a one-off where we play at a neutral site.

  2. JasonC

    I’m fine with the marquee games but I think bama benefits more from playing in ATL than we do (for recruiting).

  3. Herschel Krustofski

    Next year’s opener against App State must have him excited. But at least it’s followed by a trip to South Bend.

    To answer your question – I would MUCH rather have a splashy game elsewhere than a cupcake in Athens. Cupcake games do absolutely nothing for me.

    • paul

      Agreed. I hate cupcakes.

      • Otto

        Cupcakes aren’t the most fun to watch but there is nothing wrong with them in moderation. I like the model of 1 (P5 or regular BCS buster), GT, and 2 well placed cup cakes.

        UGA playing in Atlanta may not help UGA much but it may help keep Bama out. UGA has also recruited Florida well, an opener in Orlando might help get those Florida recruits.

        If you look back over Dooley’s seasons, he often had a bye week, cupcake or Kentucky before going to the WLOCP.

        • rchris

          Some cupcakes are better than others. Hey, Southern at least had a band. A home game against one of the service academies would be interesting and would garner national interest because, hey they’re our guys too and people pull for them. Some cupcakes might not be interesting but might get us notice in a major news market like San Diego State, San Jose State, Northern Illinois, UNLV, Temple, UMass, or Eastern Michigan. Some cupcakes might help elevate a minor program to the point that they might weaken a major opponent, like South Alabama or South Florida. Some cupcakes should never be scheduled because they are too close to our recruiting territory and we shouldn’t elevate them: Ga. Southern, Ga. State, App. State, Troy, UAB. Also, we absolutely, positively should schedule Yale for the 100th anniversary of Sanford Stadium.

    • I understand that no one wants the cupcake games. I don’t go to the Florida game, so there’s one potential home game taken away every other year as a season ticket holder. When we take another home game and move it to Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Dubai, Dublin, or wherever, that’s another devaluation of the season ticket. At least with a high-profile home/home, you get that ticket in the season ticket package.

      • Herschel Krustofski

        You’re saying that removing a cupcake game and replacing it with a game in Atlanta, Dallas, or Houston “devalues” the season ticket. I’m saying there was never any value in the cupcake game to begin with.

        And actually…I can get tickets to a game in Atlanta, Dallas, or Houston (or Jacksonville) through my season ticket account. I’d say those games INCREASE the value of my season tickets.

        • You don’t get the option to purchase tickets to the game in Atlanta or Jacksonville (or any away game) because of your season tickets. You get to order them because of your current year Hartman Fund contribution. You get to purchase them based on your cumulative points earned through your life-to-date contributions. You can buy a season ticket on a nonrenewable basis without a contribution to the Hartman Fund if they are available, but you have no standing for games away from Sanford. If you order but don’t have a high enough priority, you miss on getting the ticket and then have to pay a premium to a scalper if you want to attend. If you have enough cumulative points but don’t buy season tickets, you can still order and receive away game tickets. You may call that “splitting hairs,” but it’s the truth.

          We have 6 home games this year with 2 neutral site games at least one of which would have been in Athens this year. That devalues the season ticket package no matter which way you look at it. I don’t get a price break as a season ticket holder on the UNC ticket, and the university is damn sure they are going to be revenue neutral to season ticket holders when we have one fewer home game because of the decision to play in Atlanta.

          I’m also paying a $40 premium per seat for the UNC ticket over the price of the same seat at Sanford. That comes up to an additional $160 for a game in the Dome vs. playing UNC in Athens for the 4 tickets I ordered. If I don’t get all 4, you’re damn right my season ticket package is devalued.

          I don’t think we should play neutral site games (other than the WLOCP) if we’re trying to do what’s best for the season ticket holder. I would much rather play UNC in a home and home like we do with Clemson rather than in Atlanta. I would much rather play Notre Dame in a home and home than play them in Nashville or Cincinnati.

          • aladawg

            ++ 2 Neutral site games sux for season ticket holders. Do the home and home or eliminate the other “neutral” site game. NO ONE else but OU TX do that anymore.

            • Don’t take my rant as a call to end the game in Jacksonville. While I don’t go (because I don’t want to take out a 2nd mortgage for tickets, parking, and the inflated accommodations for a family of 5 and to deal with 40,000 people wearing jorts), I don’t want that game to leave, period. It’s a great tradition, and no one on the northern side of the St. Mary’s River complained before 1990 when we went down there most every year and whipped their @$$3$.

          • Maybe the only positive to this whole thing is that the Dome won’t run out of ice, the concession lines won’t be ridiculous, and the restrooms won’t smell like raw sewage. On the other hand, you’ll spend more out of pocket for the concessions that are available and hope that your car hasn’t been broken into during the game.

            Give me Athens even if it is a cupcake …🙂

            • Herschel Krustofski

              Give me a neutral site game against a decent opponent over a home cupcake any day.

          • Herschel Krustofski

            You’ve wandered into trying to debate neutral site vs home/home. We were discussing neutral site vs home cupcake (in response to the Senator’s question).

            And as far as the point you’re trying to make in your first paragraph…the fact of the matter is that very few people are going to build up & maintain their point total without buying season tickets. Donating/buying season tickets is linked to the ability to get away/neutral games. So better away/neutral games therefore increases the value of getting season tickets.

            • Ok – let’s debate home cupcakes vs. neutral site games. If we eliminated the 2 OOC home games outside of Tech, using your premise that a cupcake game has no value, then your position is that we should play Clemson in Charlotte and Texas in Dallas rather than Nicholls and ULL at home this season. Therefore, you think we should only have 4 games in the season ticket package because the other 2 have zero value.

              My point is that the high-profile, neutral site game does reduce the value of our season ticket package, period (especially if for whatever reason, you don’t go to games away from Athens). As a season ticket holder, I would prefer home/home OOC games rather than the one-time neutral site game as an annual occurrence, and yes, that means I’ll take the cupcake over the one-time neutral site game if that’s the long-term scheduling direction.

              • Herschel Krustofski

                The cupcake games don’t in any way, shape, or form support more home & homes and less neutral sites. You’re kind of making that connection in your last sentence, as well as continuing to talk about home/home vs neutral site (note: I prefer home/home over neutral site too).

                As far as whether Nicholls State and Louisiana-Lafayette have zero value…bingo, you got it! That’s exactly what I think. As a season ticket holder, I have no interest in those games at all (and I’d rather not have to pay for them to be perfectly honest). To me, the home schedule this year is Tennessee, Vandy, Auburn, and Tech.

                I think those 2 worthless games are actually the ones devaluing the season tickets by forcing the fans to have to pay for crap they don’t want.

                • I think the home cupcake and a 2nd neutral site game both devalue the season ticket package. So, using your logic, you should drop your season tickets and the required donation and buy the games you want to see with a scalper. You may be able to get the 4 games you want for less than you pay otherwise and possibly with better seats than your season tickets.

                  I happen to believe the cupcakes serve a purpose. (1) To fill out the schedule and keep the price of tickets on a per game basis down (2) To provide people who wouldn’t typically get a chance to attend a game the chance to get tickets (3) To provide an opportunity to develop younger players and to give that walk on who has bled for the whole season to play those 5 minutes of mop-up duty. What’s wrong with that?

                  • Herschel Krustofski

                    What’s wrong is that most of the people who actually pay for the season tickets couldn’t care less about those games. If I ever find that it’s more cost effective to buy tickets to all of the other games through Stubhub (I’m not interested in chancing it with a scalper on the street who may or may not have a ticket that’s already been sold via Stubhub), you better believe that’s the route I’m going.

                    There’s other points I could make here in response to some of your points but I’m tired and have things to do. Have a good night and thanks for the discussion.

  4. rchris

    I think it’s a mistake to schedule a regular season marquee game against Clemson or FSU. Both are too close to us and you help their recruiting more than ours. I think we should strive to schedule matchups with teams with as much or more tradition than us: Michigan, ND, USC, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State, or Miami. That would give us the maximum amount of ink. Teams like Colorado, Arizona State, and UCLA gain from associating with our tradition. We should be the one to gain.

  5. UGA85

    Confidence. CKS clearly expects to win. He wants to schedule tough, non-conference games because tough wins matter more than patsies. I think this is part of the “all or nothing, win or go home” mentality that he has learned from Saban. I like it. No risk, no reward.

    • Saban schedules plenty of patsies just like everyone else.

      • UGA85

        Well, Bama plays a high profile out of conference game each year. And they play in the SEC West, the toughest division, by far, each year, in college football. I think a few patsies scattered in that schedule seems reasonable.

        • “Bama plays A high profile out of conference game each year.”

          Let’s go look at our schedule since 2007 when Saban went to Alabama.
          2007 – Oklahoma State (win 35-14)
          2008 – at Arizona State (win 27-10)
          2009 – at Oklahoma State (loss 10-24), Arizona State (win 20-17)
          2010 – at Colorado (loss 27-29) – you can make the case this wasn’t a “high profile” game
          2011 – Boise State (loss 21-35)
          2012 – none (we finished #5)
          2013 – at Clemson (loss 35-38)
          2014 – Clemson (win 45-21)
          2015 – none

          In addition, we play an out-of-conference rivalry game and a neutral site conference game where we give away our home field advantage every other year. Our fans bitch about our scheduling but then bitch when we lose games when we play a high-profile opponent.

  6. AusDawg85


    On behalf of all Dawg fans in the Lone Star and surrounding states.

    • Russ

      Hear, hear!

    • Otto

      Orlando would be the better option for recruiting and the fans.

    • Herschel Krustofski

      When they announced in 2011 that Texas A&M would be joining the SEC the following year, I assumed we’d be playing in College Station some time in the near future. You know, being that we’d now be in the same conference and all. Boy was that ever a bad assumption…

      The question at this point is what should the over/under be set at for the number of games we play in the state of Texas before we make our first trip to College Station in 2024? My guess is that 1.5 gets about a 50/50 split on the bets.

      • Otto

        UGA has multiple long breaks between games with LSU. The division format at 12 teams actually helped create the notion that every team in the conference should play every few years.

  7. Dylan Dreyer's Booty

    … (though, tough luck, local businesses).”
    Yeah, for one weekend, but it will pay dividends even for them on another weekend. We’ll still have six home games, surely.

  8. When you’re a season ticket holder and see that “home” game become more money out of pocket, I don’t want to see it as an annual experience. Alabama doesn’t have an OOC rival or an annual neutral site game. I would rather see ND or similar teams come to Athens in my season ticket package than 4 $85 tickets in the nose bleed sections of the Dome or Arthur’s World.

    • Debby Balcer

      +1. We get less seats and it costs more plus we lose the home team advantage. The team we play gets the recruiting boost not us. Every few years is fine but give my Athens on game day not a neutral site.

  9. Jared S.

    Alabama doesn’t have an annual neutral site game? Their schedule of season openers:

    2016 – USC – AT&T Stadium, Texas
    2015 – Wisconsin – AT&T Stadium, Texas
    2014 – WVU – Georgia Dome
    2013 – VA Tech – Georgia Dome
    2012 – Michigan – AT&T Stadium, Texas

    • My point is that we have an annual neutral site game with a rival set in stone contractually. We don’t need a 2nd neutral site game on a regular basis for recruiting or otherwise. If Saban decided a neutral site game isn’t worth it, he has the ability to say no.

      • Bob

        Please, enough of the Bama stuff. Yes, they are playing those games and yeah they are interesting. As several have pointed out, they have 4 games in which to select one neutral site game. We have 3 options (as does Florida, USCe and UK). I also have no problem with an occasional neutral site kickoff game. But I prefer the ND home and home option. I want to go to South Bend to soak that up…not the gulch in Atlanta.

        Since 1998 and the beginning of the BCS era, Bama has played a total of 4 out of conference games in the opposing team’s stadium. With schedules already made out for the future, they will have played 4 TOTAL in 20 years which is ridiculous. Meanwhile Georgia has played 14 with 2 more scheduled next year in South Bend and at Tech. College Football was meant to be played in its famed stadiums and that is where it should be played.

        I also would love to have Georgia do a 2 for 1 against someone like Army. Sure, we would win. But it would be against a respected institution and it would Dawg fans a chance to visit West Point and simply soak up the history…our Nation’s history as well as Army’s storied but admittedly “past” history.

        • Excellent post, but according to many, we should schedule the ’72 Dolphins, the ’80s 49ers, and the Lombardi Packers on neutral fields rather than scheduling home games with inferior opponents.

          I don’t think we should schedule any neutral site games unless we drop Jacksonville or tech … Neither of which is happening any time soon. I want the home/home option to play anyone, anywhere. Playing a game in Atlanta outside of tech does NOTHING for our program.

  10. Cojones

    Georgia received much recognition going back to the Vince Dooley years because he played UC El Ray, Michigan in the same year and put out a sign that said “We will take on all comers.”. Let’s return to that yesteryear cockiness and kick butt.

    Although we will begin with Texas next year, we should be asking for and twisting some of that Michigan pride right about now. These Dawgs will respond and make us proud just as they did for Dooley.

  11. We’re looking for an OOC game in ’18.

    Atlanta isn’t exactly outside of UGA’s (or, I’d argue, Alabama’s) footprint.

    Houston and Dallas are beginning to be good friends to UGA’s Admissions Office. Houston hasn’t scheduled its ’18 kickoff game and it has always had a SEC team. I’d look there first, then back at Atlanta where there’s a habit of scheduling more than one game for opening weekend.

    • Just for fun I checked to see what other Power 5 schools need OOC openers in ’18:

      Big XII: TCU, Kansas
      ACC: FSU, Syracuse
      B1G Michigan State, Northwestern, Rutgers
      Pac-12: USC*, Oregon**.

      Needs one game, has Notre Dame and Texas scheduled, usually does a Group of 5 with ND and a Power 5.

      ** Has an opener scheduled, but needs two more OOC games. Could they move some stuff around?

      Tulane might be a Group of Five possibility given proximity to Houston.

      I would say a TCU, Oregon, or Michigan State game in Houston would make sense. They’re all certainly games I’d strongly consider travelling to see.

      • Will (The Other One)

        I’d love to play against the real USC (even though the SEC’s recent track record against them has not been stellar). Still wish we’d gotten them instead of FSU in the 2002 Sugar Bowl.

        • rchris

          OUR track record against them has not been stellar. We’re 0-3. Of course, our last meeting was in 1960. (Fran couldn’t even get us a TD in that one.) Incidentally, all 3 of those games were in LA. Maybe instead of Texas they’d consider coming to Athens 3 straight times to even things up, LOL.

    • Russ

      Yes, I think Houston is an excellent suggestion. 🙂

      Seriously, there’s a large CFB footprint here, and fertile recruiting. Plus it’s pretty easy to get here.

      • And there’s El Real Tex-Mex. And Underbelly. And St. Anthony’s.

      • Why would we play a game in Houston? We can’t take all of the blue chips in Georgia, and then people bitch about Watson, Hyatt, McMillan, Bell, etc. leaving the state. No way are we going to start signing 3-5 players out of Houston to make it worth it to play out there. Give up a home game in exchange? I don’t see how it’s worth it.

  12. I’m just trying to do the calculus ….kick a cupcakes a– and get 10-or 11 wins or lose a “flashy” (read this as Clemson) and lose your national credibility. Like most of the discussion on this blog it will be much clearer in hindsight. Now is not the time to start playing Michigan IMHO.

    • Russ

      Eh, we did pretty well against Clem’s son. Three point loss on the road, and an ass kicking at home. That worked out alright in my book.

      • rchris

        And we elevated their recruiting to the point that they played for the NC this year.

        • They got Deshaun Watson, and that had nothing to do with a 38-35 loss in Clemson. If one game makes a difference in recruiting, why didn’t we see a South Carolina recruiting bounce from the beat down we put on them in Athens in ’14?

          • rchris

            They signed 2 blue chips from GA in 2013, then they beat us and signed double that amount of Georgia blue chips in 2014 (4). South Carolina is not a top state for recruits. Georgia is.

            • I understand that, but I would suggest one game doesn’t make a recruit decide. Using your thought process, we should never play a team OOC that we may compete against for talent because a loss may upgrade their recruiting in Georgia.

              • rchris

                Exactly. And those 2 teams are Clemson and FSU. To some extent it’s OK to play teams farther away like Miami since the geographical factor is less. (Although I’d be careful about scheduling the Tarheels and NC State.) Also, we should never play a lesser team nearby like Georgia Southern, Georgia State, App State or Troy, not because they can compete against us in recruiting now, but because it might help them get to a place where they can compete against us in the future. If we had never played Georgia Southern, it might have taken them a few extra years to get to FBS level, and that would be a good thing for UGA.

    • Get zero credit for smashing Clemson. I think Gurley and Chubb both had another 50 yard run.

  13. PTC DAWG

    I like the way Kirby thinks, although he may not fully realize the ramifications that UF in Jax and GT being our OOC power 5 rival has on our scheduling. Neither scenario did Bama ever have to deal with.

    • Good post, PTC. Exactly my point on this thread … We don’t need to schedule a neutral site game for recruiting purposes (I would suggest the WLOCP fits that bill just fine) and certainly don’t need to schedule a game in Atlanta.

      • They don’t recruit at the WLOCP – school policy.

        • Senator, I understand that, but most years every college football fan (and recruit) in the South has their eyes on CBS at 3:30 on the last Saturday in October for the WLOCP.

        • Otto

          They don’t allow the schools to treat the game as a home recruit trip, tickets, hospitality etc isn’t given to recruits.

          However, do not tell me that Bama doing the same in the Dome didn’t catch the eye of Atlanta recruits. Also do not tell me that the WLOCP did not help UGA retain South Georgia recruits who are closer to UF, and FSU.

    • Otto

      Most of the time, GT isn’t on the level of the kick off games Bama is playing.

  14. CB

    P5 needs to totally break away from the G5 and FCS (and the NCAA for that matter). No more cupcakes. Is it really entertaining to watch us drub Troy or even worse almost lose to GA Southern? For me it’s a lose lose. Your cupcakes can be Vandy and UK, the rest will be real games worth watching.

  15. Hopefully not 2012 Derek

    We should play a non-con in Birmingham. Just because.