The announcement that the Georgia Bulldogs had agreed to a two-game home and home football series with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish brought a lot of excitement to the Bulldog Nation, and rightfully so.
But now that the initial buzz has begun to wear off, when you look at the reasoning behind putting this series together, it means much more to the folks in South Bend than to Mark Richt and his staff.
Georgia is a member of the SEC, the most powerful football conference in the nation. Year after year, even when the league is having a so-called “down” year, the Bulldogs face a series of in-conference games that could spell a string of losing seasons for most programs.
Mark Richt also has 13 years in Athens under his belt, one of the longest-tenured coaches in all of college football right now, and with many more to come. He’s got a direct Batphone line to just about every high school in the state of Georgia, and he can drive less than three hours in nearly any direction and find plenty of people who will open doors for him in other states.
Recruiting has never been a problem for Richt, or Georgia. The state is talent-rich, and the school and conference are a huge draw for top-flight athletes.
But Notre Dame doesn’t have that luxury.
The Fighting Irish have been through one of the longest dry spells in school history in terms of real success on the football field. Until Brian Kelly came on board in 2010, the program had been spasmatic, and completely relied on the ghosts of championships past, a weekly national audience on NBC, and a declining brand to lure players to South Bend.
A humiliating defeat in the 2013 BCS National Championship game at the hands of SEC foe Alabama did nothing to bolster their image in the eyes of recruits either.
Notre Dame has no conference affiliation in football. They have no guaranteed bowl bid that would come along with winning a conference (if they belonged to one). They have no split of wads of conference payouts at the end of a season. They are a football island, fighting to regain glory in a world of mega-conferences and cash.
So what’s the next best thing to being in the SEC? Making sure you play the SEC.
Notre Dame wants to accomplish two things with this series. They want to dispel the perception that they “don’t play anyone” (which in truth, is a ridiculous statement when you look at their slate of regular opponents), and they want to help develop a pipeline to recruits in a talent-rich state like Georgia.
So regardless of whether Georgia wins or loses when they play Notre Dame, the coaching and recruiting staff in South Bend will get some help. That’s, of course, if the same staff is even in place. Since Mark Richt began coaching at Georgia in 2001, Notre Dame has seen six different head coaches.
This isn’t to say that Georgia won’t benefit from having a school like Notre Dame on their schedule, instead of say…oh…College of Charleston? But the benefits for the Irish far outweigh that of the Bulldogs.
Either way, it’s going to be fun to watch.
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