ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia football fans will have to wait a while longer to check out College Station, Texas, but Austin, Texas, is on the docket for 2024. So is Oxford, Miss.; Lexington, Ky.; and — get this — Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Those away opponents for the Bulldogs represented just a few of the revelations offered by the SEC when it finally released its eight-game schedule for the newly expanded, 16-team conference in a drama-inducing TV special Wednesday night on SEC Network. Oklahoma and Texas are joining the SEC in July 2024, a year earlier than originally planned. SEC members in Destin last month voted to play an eight-game schedule rather than nine games, at least for that season. The schedule announced Wednesday is only for the 2024 season.
It could be argued that Georgia, coming off back-to-back national championships this year, received a strength-of-schedule wallop. The 2024 slate certainly will be considered a dramatic improvement over the one the Bulldogs will play in 2023. Thanks in part to having to dump a long-scheduled game versus Oklahoma because of the Sooners’ joining the league, the Bulldogs feature one of the weaker home schedules in school history this year.
Such a claim can’t be made about the 2024 lineup. Georgia not only keeps Florida (in Jacksonville), Auburn and Tennessee as home opponents, but it adds Alabama and Texas on the road. The Bulldogs will be heading to Tuscaloosa only four years after having last played there, with no return game to Athens from the Crimson Tide in between.
“That will be the game of the day, the game of the year in college football,” Paul Finebaum said on SEC Network’s “Opponents’ Release Show.” “When that game will be played is going to be very critical.”
Georgia also will play Mississippi State at Sanford Stadium and Kentucky on the road. The dates of the games will be released by the SEC at a later date that can be hyped for days and weeks on end.
Curiously absent from UGA’s new set for 2024 is a long-awaited trip to College Station to play Texas A&M. Despite the Aggies joining the SEC in 2012, they still have not played host to the Bulldogs in 102,733-seat Kyle Field. A&M finally came to Athens in 2019 for a game that Georgia won, 19-13. The teams originally were scheduled to play in College Station in 2024.
The 12-year gap between Georgia and the Aggies playing each other home and away was one of the reasons SEC membership voted last month to move to non-divisional play when the league expands in 2024. By eliminating Eastern and Western divisions, which have been in place since 1992, the conference teams will be able to play each of the other 15 teams home-and-away over a four-year period. So, despite this initial delay, the Bulldogs will get to College Station soon.
But in drawing the Longhorns, Georgia gets an opponent it has played even less than the Aggies. The teams have met only five times, and the Bulldogs have played in Austin only once. That was in 1958, and Georgia lost, 13-8. The other four meetings all have been in bowl games, with the Longhorns winning all but the 1984 Cotton Bowl matchup. Hence the old joke: “What time is it in Texas? Still 10 to 9.”
From the 2023 schedule, Georgia lost traditional East opponents Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt in this transition.
As for Bulldogs fans who might wonder why their team is getting such a tough row to hoe in 2024, the SEC will tell them that orchestrating a fair-and-balanced schedule for all 16 teams is complicated both subjectively and mathematically. Meanwhile, there were numerous parameters that had followed in the formula that the SEC employed. For example:
— There could be no repeat travel games from 2023 in 2024. That happened to Georgia in the last expansion when it ended up going to Auburn in back-to-back years from 2012-13, and the one-off model for this schedule was made with those games in mind.
— The league factored in a previously undefined strength-of-opponent quotient. Based on its internal power rankings, half of every teams’ games had to be played against opponents deemed to be in the bottom half of the league, while the other half are against upper-half opponents.
— Traditional opponents were a primary factor.
— Also, every existing conference member before expansion had to play either Oklahoma or Texas in the first season. On that note, it’s interesting that Georgia long had been scheduled to play at the Sooners in 2023, a game it was forced to give up when Oklahoma agreed to join the SEC. The Sooners were contracted to return the game in Athens in 2031.
The end result for the Bulldogs is a 2024 schedule that will be considered one of the toughest in college football. Georgia is under contract to open the season against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game Aug. 31 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It also has contracted home games against Tennessee Tech (Sept. 7) and Massachusetts (Nov. 23) and its annual in-state rivalry game against Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium (Nov. 30).
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey placed a priority on conference teams not having to buy their way out of contracted nonconference games. So, those are expected to stick.
“Georgia’s schedule is absolutely brutal,” SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy said. “You have five games away from home, similar to Oklahoma. But when you look at what they have. … The teams they’re playing outside of Athens went a combined 40-25 in 2022, including an 11-2 Alabama. That schedule is brutal.”
The Sooners have an argument for toughest of all, playing Alabama, Tennessee and Texas at home and Auburn and LSU on the road.
“Dang, the SEC gave Oklahoma a gauntlet in 2024,” SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow exclaimed. “They got to play Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mizzou. Come on, man, that’s like giving somebody a hug and a spanking at the same time.”
As for the actual dates of games, everybody in the league will have to wait and see. For Georgia, the Florida game in Jacksonville is expected to remain in its traditional slot around Halloween, which could be Oct. 26 or Nov. 2. There also can be as many as two byes in order to play the 12 regular-season games over 14 weeks.
Following is Georgia’s 2024 schedule as it stands with Wednesday’s new information:
BULLDOGS IN 2024
— Aug. 31 — vs. Clemson (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
— Sept. 7 — vs. Tennessee Tech in Athens
— Nov. 23 — vs. Massachusetts in Athens
— Nov. 30 — at Georgia Tech
— Home opponents: Auburn, Florida (in Jacksonville), Mississippi State, Tennessee
— Away opponents: Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas