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South Carolina and Georgia Football: Response to T. Kyle King

It appears I struck a nerve with my recent post about the UGA series. It's only befitting that I respond to Kyle's reasoned points. I'm going to start with the end, in order to get the most important part out of the way:

There is just no satisfying folks who evidently are determined to see slights where none are intended and obviously are unconcerned with the tone they take with their perceived antagonists, who, honestly, have been minding our own business and causing them no trouble whatever. I would respectfully suggest that pettiness, irrationality, and denial may be character traits which are not exclusive to those of us whose loyalties draw us to Sanford Stadium, but, rather, may be shared by some who call other Southeastern Conference venues home.

Kyle has a point here. The tone of my original post was inappropriate, and I painted the UGA fan base with too broad a brush, as I admitted in the comments section of the post. It's not fair to generalize the UGA fan base based on its worst portions, and for that I apologize, and I will attempt to avoid doing so again. I'll probably fail at some point, because, like any football fan, the rivalries get the best of me sometimes, but I'll make an honest effort.

Let's move on to some of the other arguments, though:

I must confess that the above passage left me more than a little confused. For one thing, I have been a fan of the Georgia Bulldogs throughout my 43 years, and I have never heard a Georgia fan say that the only reason the South Carolina Gamecocks "ever beat Georgia--indeed, the only reason the game is ever anything other than a four-TD UGA win--is because the game happens early in the year." I have heard it said---indeed, I personally have argued---that, because the SEC East series between Georgia and South Carolina historically has been so close (eight of the last eleven meetings have been decided by margins of seven or fewer points), minor factors may have large impacts.

OK. So, my original statement was definitely characterized by excessive hyperbole. And, again, it's important not to paint too broadly here. That said, Kyle's statement belies the fact that he knows that there are many UGA fans who believe the earliness of the matchup favors Carolina. I honestly can't find it in myself to believe that he's never heard any of his Dawg brethren say something to this effect--likely not in the extreme manner in which I phrased the point, but something along these lines.

Continue after the jump.

Now let's get to the good stuff:

By the same token, it is not unreasonable to suppose that South Carolina benefits from playing the game earlier in the year, given the frequency with which the Gamecocks have followed up strong starts with late-autumn slumps.

In 1993, South Carolina started out 4-4, but finished 0-3; in 1994, 4-1 was followed by 3-4; in 1995, 4-3-1 became 0-3; in 1996, 5-3 disintegrated into 1-2; in 1997, 5-3 descended into 0-3; in 1998, a 1-0 beginning turned into an 0-10 run; in 2000, the Gamecocks leapt out to 7-1 before going 1-3 down the stretch; in 2001, 5-0 was replaced by 4-3; in 2002, it was 5-2 that collapsed into 0-5; in 2003, starting out 5-3 did not prevent wrapping up 0-4; in 2004, 4-1 gave way to 2-4; in 2006, it was 5-2 that was transformed into 3-3; 2007 saw South Carolina commence the campaign with a 6-1 run before falling to 0-5; 2008 brought more of the same, as 5-2 wound up being 2-4; in 2009, 6-2 served as prelude to 1-4; and, even in 2010, a 6-2 beginning slid into a 3-3 ending.

Here we go--the main piece, stated in much more measured terms than my hyperbole, of course, but the same idea, more or less. Before responding to this, let's get to another good piece:

I am not at all sure what Georgia’s records against the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers (the "traditional powers" who have been to the SEC Championship Game fewer times than the Red and Black in the last ten years) have to do with anything, since the transitive property has no application to college football. It is true that, over the last 20 years, the Bulldogs have fared considerably better against the Gamecocks than against either the Gators or the Volunteers, yet it is also true that, in the last two seasons, the Red and Black have gone 0-2 against South Carolina while going 3-1 against Florida and Tennessee, with the lone loss coming in overtime. The connection of one to the other is unclear to me; however, the tendency of a team to play its best football in September, and its worst football in November, over an extended period, would seem quite relevant to the question whether one would rather play that team in September or November.

OK. My response to this is that Georgia and South Carolina's respective records and Florida and Tennessee have everything to do with this argument. Let's backtrack: Kyle, and other Georgia fans, believe that South Carolina is a worse team in November than it is in September. That's not the case. As a Tennessee fan rightly pointed out in the comments thread of the original post, it's not South Carolina that changes in November, it's South Carolina's opponents. The traditional lineup for November is Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, and Clemson. Those opponents (before the recent fall of UT and UF) would equal a November slide for most programs. Moreover, these programs are, significantly, generally equal to or better than Georgia over the past 20 years. Arkansas and UGA are arguably very similar in the past 20 years, with a slight edge going to Georgia, Tennessee and Florida have clearly been better, while Clemson has been a notch below but still strong. As such, it shouldn't be a surprise that South Carolina usually struggles against this schedule more so than it does against Georgia. The opponents we're playing in November have, quite simply, generally been tougher than Georgia during the time span in question. Kyle and other Georgia fans place a lot of emphasis on South Carolina's relative early- and late-season records, but what he's neglecting to acknowledge is that those performances generally included lots of wins over Kentucky, Vandy, and various OOC cupcakes in September and October, with the losses coming to ranked powerhouses in November--powerhouses that, not coincidentally, also have good winning histories against Georgia. It shouldn't surprise Georgia fans that Carolina struggles more against these teams than it does against Georgia, because Georgia struggles against them, too. The idea of a November slide is a myth; it's a function of a back-loaded schedule. And as far as the idea that football results aren't transitive, I beg to differ; it's again no coincidence that South Carolina's once-consistent close losses to Georgia, somewhat close losses to Tennessee, and lopsided losses to Florida reflect the fact that for most of the 20 years in question, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia were the first-, second-, and third-best teams in the division. Yes, there are usually a few outlier results in any given season. But there are more results that are consistent with the way the conference standings shake out at season's end. Let's move on:

Though I will leave aside the question of the pettiness, irrationality, and denial, vel non, of people like me, I will begin by stating what I believe I have stated consistently: Georgia was beaten by better South Carolina teams in each of the last two seasons, a fact for which I have criticized Mark Richt, and which I readily admitted when I wrote that "the Palmetto State Poultry simply are a better team than the Classic City Canines right now, and they proved it on the field of play." I defended the legitimacy of the Gamecocks’ 2010 SEC East championship and argued that the Garnet and Black remained the division frontrunners this year.

I applaud Kyle for manning up and admitting that a loss is a loss, and I promise that, regardless of how it happens, I'll do the same when the Gamecocks next lose to the Dawgs, whether that be next year or some time in the more distant future. That said, he well knows that it's a popular idea that Geogia gave the game away and deserved to win. Again, let's refrain from painting too broadly, but, at the very least, we can say that Kyle's position isn't universal. Moving on:

More galling than those scurrilous animadversions, though, is the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously insisting upon preserving "one of Carolina's most cherished football traditions" and lambasting Georgia for being "intent on keeping a permanent intradivisional rival." Well, if "part of it is about tradition," might we be so bold as to suggest that the Gamecocks’ cherished tradition, which dates back to 1992, might not be any more sacrosanct than the Bulldogs’ rivalry with the Auburn Tigers, which dates back to 1892?

I'm being severely misread here. I have no problem with UGA valuing their rivalry with Auburn; I think it's a great rivalry. I also openly admitted in the original post that I can see why UGA fans would see other rivalries as more significant than the Border War. What I am saying is that if UGA is allowed to protect its interests, it's only fitting and fair that we be allowed to protect ours. That's all.

There's a bit more to say here, but I've gotta get back to work. To close, I'd like to again apologize for the ungentlemanly tone of my original post. I'd also like to say, though, that I think the impetus behind the November slide idea is a misguided one, and that's one point I'm not going to retract. We'll leave it at that for today.