Entering tomorrow’s game on the Plains, Georgia finds itself in a rather unfamiliar position: the Bulldogs are underdogs.
Prior to Auburn being recognized as a three-point favorite, as it currently stands, Georgia had entered just two of its previous 31 regular-season contests as the underdog, including being favored in each of its first nine games this season.
Simply put, the Bulldogs haven’t been used lately to being underdogs. Still, I was curious of the program’s “underdog tendency” over the course of a long period–like the last half-century, beginning with the Coach Dooley era in 1964.
I really had to dig to find point spreads from the 1960s and early-1970s (and obviously really had some time on my hands). Nevertheless, I discovered the closing line for each of Georgia’s 595 games beginning in 1964 through last week’s Appalachian State game, finding out that the Dogs have been underdogs less than one-fourth the time (23.8 percent) over the last 50 years.
Ranked lowest to highest, Georgia’s last four head coaches according to his frequency of being an underdog (games as underdog out of total number of games):
20%- Richt (33 of 167)
23%- Dooley (65 of 288)
29%- Donnan (17 of 59)
33%- Goff (27 of 81)
If you think there’s little difference between, say, Richt and Goff’s frequency, imagine being the underdog once every three games (like in Goff’s case) compared to once every five games (like Richt)–there’s a big difference.
More telling, what about how successful each coach was in an underdog role? Their winning percentages in games they entered as the underdog:
.485- Dooley (30-32-3)
.412- Donnan (7-10)
.394- Richt (13-20)
.278- Goff (7-19-1)
After discovering the coaches’ winning percentages as an underdog, what first jumped out at me was Richt’s respectable percentage of nearly 40 percent, and Goff’s lowly mark. However, upon a second look, Richt was indeed 10-8 as an underdog through 2007, but has gone only 3-12 the last six seasons.
For Goff, there’s a reason why he couldn’t win as an underdog, often playing the role as a big underdog. When Georgia’s head coach from 1989 through 1995 was the underdog, it was by a spread of 8.5 points or more nearly 60 percent of the time (10 of 17). In comparison, Richt’s teams have been an underdog of at least 8.5 points less than 20 percent of the time (6 of 33).
What if a UGA coach was the underdog, but only a slight one–like in the Bulldogs’ case at Auburn tomorrow–of four points or less? In other words, how have their teams performed in games they evidently were supposed to lose, but could reasonably win?
The four head coaches’ winning percentage as an underdog of four points or less:
.556- Donnan (5-4 record)
.500- Goff (2-2)
.484- Dooley (14-15-2)
.400- Richt (8-12)
Because of the small data set, Goff’s record, and maybe even Donnan’s, under such circumstances could be disregarded, leaving Dooley and Richt. Speaking of our current head coach, his 8-12 mark is somewhat deceiving. Richt was 7-6 as an underdog of four points or less through 2007, but just 1-6 ever since, including losing his last five in a row.
Over the last 50 years, Georgia’s “true story” as an underdog is primarily one of infrequency, but satisfactory results in such a role–that is, until the last several years. The Bulldogs’ 3-12 record as an underdog the last six seasons is the program’s second-worst record over a similar stretch under the same circumstances (Georgia was 2-11-1 as an underdog from 1993-1995), and never over the last half-century have their results been as poor as they have been since 2007 when the Bulldogs were recognized as slight underdogs.
Personally, I like how Georgia matches up with Auburn tomorrow, the Bulldogs playing in Jordan-Hare might as well be a home game, and I realize a number Vegas spits out doesn’t determine the result of a football game. However, a reason for concern is simply that the Dawgs are underdogs, and when recent editions of Richt’s squads play an underdog role, especially a slight one, his underdogs consistently underwhelm.