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Team Speed Kills’ College Football Facts Countdown Series: Day 96

In which we go way back to 1920 to explore Georgia’s first national title.

The Atlanta Constitution

College football season is well within reach!

With less than 100 days until kickoff, we here at Team Speed Kills are introducing a brand-new, quotidian countdown series to help you prepare for the first slate of college football action on August 26th.

In this series, we will post a daily SEC-related fact and/or story that corresponds to the number of the day in the countdown. Hopefully, you’ll find this series enlightening and entertaining. If you do, click that ‘share’ button we all know and love. If you do not, quit lying to yourself.

96: Seasons since Georgia’s “first” national title win

(Note: Now, before you start mentioning me on Twitter about how 2017-1920 is actually 97, we have not had a 2017 college football season yet, so the 1920 Georgia Bulldogs are still a valid subject for discussion.)

Pull up a chair and listen to an old person reminisce about days gone by. Chances are that—in between discussing physically writing words and food made from scratch—they’ll talk about the ‘simpler times’ they experienced in their youth.

However, if they do say something like this, they likely weren’t a college football fan (or one concerned about which team to call the national champion, that is). Before the 1998 season, in which Tennessee won the newly-minted BCS title, national champions were determined by various polls. In this muddled system, multiple teams could earn the title of “national champion”, causing debate after debate to ensue about which team truly was the best in the country. It was anything but easy to understand and deal with.

While I cannot claim to be an eyewitness to conversations of college football fans in the year 1920, I am aware of human nature, and I’m sure that arguments were spawned over who the real national champions were. After all, 5 different teams (Notre Dame, Harvard, Princeton, California, and Georgia) were named as such by various polls and metric systems. This constant disorder was nothing more than a recipe for disagreement.

The teams deemed national champions in 1920 along with the outlets awarding them with the title.
NCAA’s 2013 Football Records Book—FBS

Allowing only 17 points throughout the season, the Bulldogs were impressive in their level of dominance. They even set the record for the largest victory by either team in their historic rivalry with Clemson, routing them 56-0. The only blemish on their 8-0-1 record came in a 0-0 tie with Virginia, which sounds like a game that provided a level of offense that would make Tony Bennett proud.

As noted above, the 1920 Georgia Bulldogs were not named as a national champion by any poll in 1920. However, they were retroactively given their national title by Clyde Berryman’s QPRS metric. This metric evaluates the offensive, defensive, and schedule strength of teams from every season since 1920, determining the national champion for every year since then. Naturally, this makes Georgia the first-ever national champion to be determined by Berryman. For this reason, quotation marks were placed around “first” in the header, as it was awarded to the Bulldogs well after their 5 other national titles were given to them.

While they were not named as a national champion at the time of their performance, the 1920 Georgia Bulldogs were no doubt one of the best teams in the country, putting together an undefeated season while also winning the SIAA title in the school’s penultimate year as a member of the conference.

Due to the 1920 team’s successes, much has been made in the 9+ decades since their title win of Herman Stegeman, the man who led the Georgia Bulldogs to their first national title. To basketball fans, the name surely sounds familiar, as Georgia’s basketball team plays their home games in a coliseum named after the former coach.

In his 2008 book About Them Dawgs!: Georgia Football's Memorable Teams and Players, Patrick Garbin writes about Stegeman and how his 1920 team that changed its nickname “from ‘Wildcats’ to ‘Bulldogs’” during their title run “always gave its coach its very best” while leaving many around the country “astonished” by their success.

Impressively, at the same time that he was coaching the Bulldogs to a national title in his first season on the job, Stegeman was also busy coaching the basketball, track, and baseball teams—he truly did anything and everything for the school’s athletic department.

For some Georgia fans, it probably feels like 1920 was their most recent national title, as it has been quite some time since the days of Vince Dooley and Herschel Walker. Still, with some predicting a high finish in the SEC for Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs in his 2nd year at the helm, hopes are once again towering high in Athens.

Yet, as we prepare our hopes and expectations for the college football season that we are now able to spot on the once-distant horizon, we ought to remind ourselves of some of the great teams that came before us. Even if they weren’t recognized at the time for their accomplishments, we must still reflect with keen discernment on the foundation-laying legacy of the 1920 Georgia Bulldogs, a team that helped allow the university to evolve into the football powerhouse that it is today.

96 days till kickoff...