Public school systems in Georgia close on three occurrences: a half-inch of snow, holiday breaks and … college football?
For Athens-Clarke County’s school district, that might very well be the case. It closed all of its campuses Friday for a “professional learning day for staff.” Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe the fact that seventh-ranked Notre Dame was coming into town and a flood of spectators would take over the town for a 48-hour period. It’s an interesting development, but the latter makes sense. A congested town complicates the routine system for school buses and other planning needs.
And football is important around these parts. Sanford Stadium will host its first top-10 matchup since 1966 against Georgia Tech — Vince Dooley beat Yellow Jackets’ head coach Bobby Dodd, 23-14.
Georgia has pulled out all the stops for this contest against Notre Dame (8 p.m., CBS), a program with a rich history: 500 extra seats to accommodate a promise of 8,000 ticketed seats to Fighting Irish fans, red LED lights to illuminate the stadium as the famed fourth quarter begins, distributed a beaucoup of media credentials to a number of national and local media outlets. More efforts will probably be made to support 93,246 sitting in the stands and maybe another 90,000 or more outside of it.
An SEC-style city shutdown has taken over Athens. Officially, the festivities will kick off at 9 a.m. with College GameDay at Myers Quad. The famed ESPN show comes to Georgia for the first time since 2013 — the Bulldogs beat LSU, 44-41.
“I know a lot of Georgia fans have had this one marked on the schedule for a long time,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “So have a lot of Notre Dame fans. We’re excited to get the opportunity. They’ve got a really good football team.”
Notre Dame’s legacy is well-known around college football, and the Fighting Irish are coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance — granted, one that had Bulldog players tweeting to give their case to appear in the top-four.
Everything screams special: bars and restaurants (already a busy scene on Saturday evenings) around downtown Athens will overflow and some have plans to bring in extra staffers, RV parks are filled as of Thursday morning for those avid tailgaters, and ticket prices have been soaring for months. At one point, third-party ticket outlets such as TickPick and Vivid Seats had their cheapest seat at a price upwards of $800, and fans still made eager efforts to be in attendance. As kickoff drew closer, ticket prices steadily declined. Nevertheless, some of the cheapest buys still ran around $400.
According to Vivid Seats, the median ticket price as of Sept. 19 was $630. The second-most expensive seat, for Michigan vs. Wisconsin, averaged at $184. TickPick shared a median rate of $501, rivaling the NFL matchup between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.
Smart is referring all of his ticket requests to his wife, Mary Beth Smart. Georgia tight end John FitzPatrick said he’s had some former coaches call with requests, but his standard allotment of four seats is going to his family members.
Saturday’s scene around Athens will be unique. Georgia will try to repeat a one-point win over the Fighting Irish in 2017. If that happens, the late-night festivities might run into Sunday morning.
“It’s really unique that we have the opportunity to play a team that has so much history and tradition,” Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship said. “We get a chance to create some tradition of our own with this matchup.”
DOES TYSON CAMPBELL PLAY?
Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell had arguably one of his strongest games against Arkansas State. Three pass break-ups highlighted his havoc-filled day which also included three tackles. He showed a strong chemistry with fellow cornerback Eric Stokes flanking him.
“What you saw Saturday (against Arkansas State) is a guy who had his full confidence back,” safety J.R. Reed said.
But Campbell suddenly exited with an injury. Smart regards it as “lower extremity,” but has been mum on his status for Notre Dame. Georgia has rotated DJ Daniel and Tyrique Stevenson at the position.
“He’s pushing through. He was out there today, trying to work and help us out,” Smart said Tuesday. “But he’s mentally getting prepared and he’s not able to take a lot of reps.”
BIG RECRUITING WEEKEND
Smart said Georgia treats this game like any other. He also said the recruiting process stays the same as any other Saturday. But, based on this game’s magnitude, there’ll be an escalated interest and priority for high-school prospects looking to commit to the Bulldogs.
Some of Georgia’s top attendees will be five-star cornerback prospect Kelee Ringo out of Arizona and tight end Darnell Washington — an official visitor — out of Nevada. Georgia has multiple visitors from the 2020, 2021 and 2022 classes.
The Bulldogs’ 2020 class currently ranks sixth nationally with 16 pledges.
“I’m very thankful that we’ve got this opportunity because we’ve got a lot of national attention and it’s an attractive game that people want to come to,” Smart said. “We’re looking forward to that, but we’re going to do what we do.”