Earlier this year, the NCAA released a list of the loudest stadiums in college football. The list encompassed just five schools, but Georgia's Sanford Stadium was nowhere to be found.
The fact that Sanford Stadium is missing from the list is hardly surprising. Despite housing nearly 93,00 fans (92,746 to be exact), the nation's ninth-largest college football venue has rarely been considered a truly hostile environment, at least not recently.
To be fair, the home crowd at Sanford has had its moments. The first blackout game against Auburn in 2007 comes to mind. But, for the most part, Georgia fans tend to show up a little bit late after their tailgate parties begin to die down. At times, the crowd seems more fatigued than enthused.
In defense of those partying Georgia fans, there hasn't been a whole lot to get excited about over the past few years—at least not as far as competition is concerned.
In 2009, Georgia squared off against just one ranked opponent (No. 4 LSU) within the cozy confines of Sanford Stadium. In 2010, 12th-ranked Arkansas visited Athens, but Georgia's other ranked opposition (South Carolina, Auburn, UCF) came on the road or at a neutral site. Georgia won 10 consecutive games in 2011, but only one was a home game against a ranked opponent (No. 20 Auburn). Last year, Georgia did not draw a single ranked opponent at home.
Combine the lack of big home games with a slew of matchups against decidedly inferior opposition, and the past four years have been fairly lackluster for the Bulldog faithful.
The environment at Sanford Stadium has changed this year thanks to the following factors:
Fans are always anxious for the season to start. However, when a team opens up with three games against ranked opponents before the month of October, that anxiety is furthered. The byproduct of that unrest among Georgia fans has been excitement.
Big Games at Home
More important than that excitement, however, has been Georgia's schedule. With two Top 10 teams playing between the hedges during the month of September, fans had plenty of reasons to be fired up. That energy has translated into success on the field for the Bulldogs.
2010 was a tough season for Georgia fans, but the program has steadily improved in each of the seasons since. In 2011, the team won 10 consecutive games en route to earning a birth in the SEC Championship Game. Last year, Georgia came painfully close to to a national championship game bid.
Now, for the first time in several years, Georgia is winning big games. Early-season tests are no longer meaningless, early-season filler exhibitions. They are big games, and games that Georgia fans expect to win.
After this week's trip to Knoxville, Georgia returns home for a matchup with Missouri. The Tigers are currently 4-0 and could be 5-0 heading into the game with the Bulldogs if they manage to knock off Vanderbilt this weekend. Combine that early-season success with last year's "old man football" comments, and one should expect Missouri's first trip to Sanford Stadium will be less than hospitable.
Hopefully that becomes the trend between the hedges for the foreseeable future.