The opening week of college football can tell a lot about a team, or give false hope. While many teams choose to schedule a warm-up game against an FCS opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs traditionally like to make opening week matter.
Coming back from an opening week loss in college football can be difficult, particularly back during the BCS era, so taking the leap of faith to schedule a top opponent can come back to haunt a team, as it has with Georgia in several instances.
But even a loss to a good opponent can tell more about a team than a blowout win against a team who would struggle to beat some of the best high school teams in the nation. Georgia’s opening week schedule during Mark Richt’s tenure as head coach has been one that has proven be a challenging opponent more often than not.
UGA Opening Week Games 2001-2014
|2001||Arkansas State||W 45-7|
|2003||at Clemson||W 30-0|
|2004||Georgia Southern||W 48-28|
|2005||#18 Boise State||W 48-13|
|2006||Western Kentucky||W 48-12|
|2007||Oklahoma State||W 35-14|
|2008||Georgia Southern||W 45-21|
|2009||at #18 Oklahoma State||L 10-24|
|2010||Louisiana Lafayette||W 55-7|
|2011||#5 Boise State||L 21-35|
|2013||at #8 Clemson||L 35-38|
|2014||#16 Clemson||W 45-21|
The Bulldogs are 10-3 under Richt on opening week, and have scheduled an FCS opponent only once, usually opting for a Power-5 conference or ranked foe.
The risks of such a scheduling decision other than early season losses? Greater potential for injury, falling behind in the rankings quickly, and most importantly – deflating of confidence.
Scheduling a creampuff early on may seem like a rather sketchy way to begin a season, but can you underestimate the confidence that comes with a big win in the first game? And does a loss, even against a quality opponent, gives players the perception of an uphill climb for the remainder of the season?
Stats show that to a degree, it does matter. The seasons in which Georgia has scheduled a traditional non-power team, the collective record is 55-22, a .714 winning percentage. In contrast, the seasons in which Georgia has played (win or lose) a top opponent, the collective record is 71-23, a .755 winning percentage.
Also of note, the only losing season during Mark Richt’s time as head coach (2009, 6-7 record) was the only season Georgia opened with an FCS opponent. So the difference from week one on can be significant, and who you play can matter, not only for the perception of fans, but for what the players as well.