Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Home field advantage

Wednesday October 3, 2007

Quinton over at the Georgia Sports Blog looks at the waning intimidation factor at Neyland Stadium and concludes,

"A great team makes the venue, not the other way around."

I generally agree with that statement. A fired-up home underdog with the crowd behind them can be a dangerous thing, but that’s not something on which to hang your hat consistently. A great crowd (venue) can occasionally inspire an ordinary team to great things, but the effect (and often the crowd enthusiasm itself) is temporary. Of course a top-notch team doesn’t as a rule mean you’ll have a great venue. Boston College is relatively anonymous in a town that’s obsessed with pro sports.

When you get the convergence of a good team in a football-mad part of the world, the results can be impressive. It’s why places like Nebraska or LSU or Florida or Michigan have, at times, been pits of despair for opponents.

Naturally, this topic gets a Bulldog fan thinking about Sanford Stadium. No one questions the passion of Georgia fans. Yet when folks speak of Sanford Stadium, they speak of the setting, the Hedges, the tradition, but usually not of a particularly intimidating place to play. Why is that?

As Quinton notes, having a good team matters. Georgia has had some good runs, but they’ve also had some pretty ordinary stretches. Even football-crazy fans will moderate during a rough patch. Some might also blame that favorite whipping boy: the wine-and-cheese alumni.

In Georgia’s case, the schedule also has a lot to do with it. I’m not going to turn this into a strength of scheduling discussion, but it should be noted that I think, as a rule, our schedule is often plenty tough enough, thanks. The downside of my preferred scheduling approach is that there just haven’t been that many marquee games to come through Athens.

Clemson in 1991 was the last Top 10 nonconference opponent to play Between the Hedges. The Georgia Tech game has rarely had significance outside of the state. The Florida game is often huge but is played in Jacksonville. LSU has visited Athens just three times since 1991, and Alabama has visited just twice over the same time. That pretty much leaves either Tennessee or Auburn (depending on the year) as a potential marquee home opponent, and Georgia has a losing record in Athens against both of those programs over the past two decades.

In short, Bulldog fans in Sanford Stadium are likely to see 1) opponents of moderate to low quality or 2) a loss. Regardless of the quality of the Georgia program, that’s not exactly the formula for a frenzied home environment. Think about this – from 1992 through 1999, what was the most significant win at Sanford Stadium? What are some of the truly significant wins of the past decade or two at Sanford Stadium? I don’t mean nice wins like Oklahoma State or beating Alabama in 2003. I mean really big head-turning wins.

  • Ga. Tech 2006. A comeback win over an ACC division winner. Not exactly nationally significant, but it meant a lot to the Bulldog Nation.
  • Boise State 2005. I hesitate to mention this as a "big" win, but it was a symbolic clash of traditional power vs. the brash upstart, and it resonated nationally.
  • LSU 2004. A landmark win over the defending SEC champion. Big in every sense of the word.
  • Tennessee 2000. The streak ends.
  • Clemson 1991. Simply electrifying.

That’s as far back as I go. Is that it? There are plenty of other memorable wins – Texas Tech in 1996, Auburn in 2003, South Carolina 1995, and so on – but let’s not confuse those with the kind of titanic wins we’re talking about here.

It hasn’t helped that some of the losses have been absolutely deflating. Consider Ole Miss 1996, Auburn 1997, Tennessee 2004, and even South Carolina 2007. The Dawgs follow up a nice, often significant, win by laying an egg at home. You can’t build home field momentum that way.

Mark Richt has elevated many aspects of the Georgia program, and performance at home is one of them. He noted early on the correlation between perfect home records and conference titles, and the Dawgs didn’t lost a game at home in 2002 or 2003. That edge has slipped somewhat recently, and near-misses against teams like Colorado and Mississippi State almost felt like losses. Two of the three remaining home games have the chance to be pretty significant with the SEC race potentially still up for grabs. Wins in those games could play a big part in rebuilding some of the Sanford Stadium edge that eroded in 2006.

2 Responses to 'Home field advantage'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  • A few other points: Our stadium has an open endzone, a fractured student section, and a relatively small student section too. I read that we have a more gradual slope to the seating than other stadiums. All this to say, noise is diminished by each of those factors, and that plays some role in home field advantage.

  • I remember that Clemson game in ’91. It was my first year and it was amazing! I had never been to a UGA game prior to that year and there was nothing more exciting for me.