Georgia’s future non-conference schedule reads like a who’s who of college football powers.
The Bulldogs have future Chick-fil-A Kickoff matchups set with Virginia (2020), Oregon (2022) and Clemson (2024). In addition to Notre Dame this year, Oklahoma, UCLA, Florida State and Texas, as well as two more games with Clemson, are all scheduled for the coming years.
But there is something different about that second group of games. They are all part of home-and-home series, where each team plays on the other’s campus.
Those are the games that make college football special. It makes for an incredible atmosphere when two powerhouse programs such as Georgia and Notre Dame meet on campus as opposed to a neutral site like Atlanta, Charlotte or Dallas.
“It’s exactly what you’re saying, it’s just a neutral site,” tight end Eli Wolf said. “Here, we protect our home now. Sanford, I don’t know what the streak is of home game wins, I know it’s a lot, so we’re protecting the house.”
When Georgia and Notre Dame squared off in South Bend in 2017, the environment was electric. Between the fans tailgating, the visitors from Georgia sightseeing around the campus and the raucous atmosphere in the stadium, it made for an unforgettable night for both sets of fans.
“The fans enjoy these games,” Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart said. “They want you to play high-caliber opponents. They want to see these kind of games and this kind of atmosphere.”
However, Smart did say there is a delicate balance between these games and contests against the likes of Murray State. Those so-called “guarantee games” are crucial for lower-level schools. The money received from the bigger program often finances a large portion of the athletic budget.
In the era of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is also a considered factor when scheduling. While Smart said the response from scheduling the 2017 game with Notre Dame didn’t directly play into future schedules, it’s something he keeps in mind.
“You need to play on the national stage, you need to play good opponents, you need to have strength of schedule, and you don’t need to be afraid of that, of having one loss or two losses, because I think that’s the way it’s going,” Smart said. “I think it’s better to go out and play the best games, and if you’re good enough, then you should be in there.”
Georgia players insisted throughout the week that it doesn’t matter to them where the games are played. Wherever the game is played, they said, they will be ready.
However, kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, one of the players who has played in both ends of the Notre Dame series, did acknowledge how special it is for the team to face this particular opponent.
“Notre Dame has so much history with their program,” Blankenship said. “I really think that it’s been really unique that we had the opportunity to play so much history and so much tradition, and we get a chance to kind of create some tradition of our own with this particular matchup.”
The game on Saturday night is just the start of Georgia’s strong non-conference slate in the years to come. With the exception of 2021, every year until 2034 has a Power 5 non-conference opponent outside of Georgia Tech.
That makes for lots of memories and great experiences down the line for both fans and players alike.
“You know it’s not going to happen again for a while so it’s a huge opportunity for fans to come out and see a matchup that they’re not going to see on the regular,” Wolf said.