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Get to know the enemy with Ryan Mercer: Georgia alum, lifelong fan, and my best man

A first look at the Sugar Bowl opponent for the Longhorns.

In four weeks, Ryan Mercer and I will sit on opposite sides of the Superdome — in our respective team’s colors — rooting on our schools to bring home a Sugar Bowl trophy.

Two weeks before that, Ryan, 26, will stand next to me at my wedding after embarrassing himself the night before giving a toast that will almost assuredly be centered around this college football game.

Ryan and I went to high school in North Carolina together. The last time our two teams played each other, neither of us were alive. The next time they were supposed to play, we would have been 36.

Up until this game, debates over which team would be superior in a setting such as the Sugar Bowl were based entirely on hypothetical scenarios.

Ryan and I parallel in a number of different ways with our sports fandom. We both extensively follow the Carolina Panthers. We both enjoy the Chicago Cubs. We both have a growing dislike for the Chicago Bears. Neither of us can be bothered to watch a regular season NBA game.

Yet, when it comes to college football — we are remarkably different. Ryan approaches innovative offensive college football with the kind of disdain you might have if someone handed you a pulled pork sandwich, doused it in vinegar and called it barbecue.

When you ask Ryan about Vince Young, he scoffs. Hershel Walker was better, he’ll tell you. College football is a ground-and-pound game where defense wins championships, he’ll say angrily to no one in particular.

So who better to learn about the Georgia Bulldogs than with Ryan, my roommate in Chicago for the last three years, my best friend, and a complete and total college football moron.

Curry: State your name please.

Ryan: Do I actually have to do this?

Yes. And give us a little background on yourself as well.

Ryan Mercer. Graduated from The University of Georgia in 2015. Dad went there, too. Dad played football there. Follow the team closely — including recruiting. Often on the SB Nation sister-site for the Dawgs.

I am not like an insider or anything with Georgia, but I did go to nine games last year and a number this year — including this past weekend’s heart-breaker against Alabama. Been to a number of SEC Championship games. Been to both playoff games. So I’m very familiar with this type of loss that I am not even all that bothered by the heartbreak.

I think Georgia and Texas can share some common experiences there.

It feels like we have a lot parallel experiences growing up and rooting for our schools, for sure. Now, one of us has obviously seen a lot more success than the other.

Oh my God. Are you going to do this already?

Right? I think that’s safe to say.

Well, Texas has won a national championship since you’ve been alive.

Texas has actually been to multiple since I’ve been alive. Not to knock all of the Georgia Capital One Bowl appearances.

I mean if this is the way you want to do this, that’s fine. But Georgia has also been very, very close to being a national title winner.

I think there is an argument to be made that if Georgia wins that 2012 SEC Championship against Alabama, the Dawgs win the national title. A lot of these seasons, Georgia has been extremely close to being national champions.

Wow, a good argument for sure. Similar arguments, of course, can be made for Texas in 2008 with the Crabtree catch or in 2009 if Colt McCoy’s arm doesn’t get knocked out of its socket in the Rose Bowl. A lot of teams can play this game.

Hold on, now. The point I am trying to make is that you saying Georgia just lives perennially in Capital One bowls is just not true.

That’s fair. We can agree that both Texas and Georgia have high expectations. There have been a lot of years where Georgia has come very close and not been able to seal the deal. I think back to that 2012 game you referenced. What makes this Georgia team any different?

If Alabama had won Saturday’s game by 28 points, if Alabama had done to Georgia what you thought they were going to do to Georgia, maybe I would agree.

But Georgia led that entire game — except for the very end. I think (UGA coach) Kirby Smart has made Georgia one of the best football programs in the country. Straight up. This year’s recruiting class was the best in Georgia history. I also think this team is extremely well-coached.

That game against Alabama was a great example of an amazingly good game plan and great coaching. There were so many freshmen and sophomores on Georgia that were ready to play against Alabama — and actually made plays.

This was supposed to be the bad year. This was the rebuilding year — and there is a case for Georgia to be in the playoff.

The national title is always the goal in Athens. That’s why we fired Mark Richt. He always got close but in the end it was pretty stale. It feels different with Kirby Smart.

Alabama wiped the floor with a lot of middling SEC teams — and they did it in classic Alabama fashion. Scoring a lot of points while playing great defense — the Nick Saban way. Tua was great all season.

But Georgia shut them down on Saturday. They may have taken the Heisman Trophy away from Tua and given it to Kyler Murray.

Let’s talk a little bit about your perspective on the Big 12. When you think about Big 12 teams, what comes to mind?

Offense. There are a lot really good quarterbacks. A lot of really good offensive coordinators. Just a lot of offense and a lot of points.

No, it’s OK to be honest, Ryan. When you think of Big 12 teams, what actually comes to mind?

What do you want me to say?

It’s OK you can say it.

What? That they play no defense?

There it is.

I look at it this way: Alabama had a terrific offense all year against middle-tier SEC teams. They had no problem putting up Big 12 offensive numbers.

They did not score a lot of points against Georgia because Georgia played great defense.

I think there are a lot of similarities when looking at Georgia matching up against Alabama’s offense and matching up against Texas’ offense. Both have really good, intimidating wide receivers. Both have really good dual-threat quarterbacks. Texas will be a little different because they use the quarterback a little more with designed runs.

Alabama’s offensive line is better but Texas’ has been solid. Alabama’s running game is a lot better, though. On the defensive side of the ball for Georgia, I would anticipate a similar game plan for Texas that they had for Alabama.

Georgia hasn’t really faced a running quarterback all season, so that will be new. I am not concerned about it too much.

You’ve watched a number of Texas games. Give me a little bit of insight on strengths/weaknesses and where Georgia matches up well and where Texas can exploit the Bulldogs.

I mean, I think Georgia is going to win, obviously. I think at every position group, Georgia has better players than Texas does.

Georgia probably has a better defensive coordinator in Kirby Smart than Texas does in Todd Orlando. Georgia will make plays against Texas that I think Texas hasn’t seen from an opponent yet this season.

We haven’t played a true running quarterback this season. The closest thing would probably be Felipe Franks at Florida. That’ll be a new challenge for this defense but I don’t expect it to be a difference maker.

What are Georgia’s strongest and weakest position groups?

Every position group is strong with the exception of linebackers.

Georgia’s linebackers have struggled a little bit this season — and that goes back to when I mentioned that this season was going to be a little bit of a rebuild — just replacing some of the linebackers from last year was going to be a huge challenge.

Strongest position group is probably the running backs. Deandre Swift might be the best running back in college football. I don’t know if there is another running back that is as impressive as a receiving threat and as gifted as a true ground-and-pound running back.

I think Georgia is pretty strong all around though. Offensive line is great. I thought the defensive line would struggle this season but they played lights out against Alabama. The defensive backfield is really good.

We basically had to replace the entire defense from last season — so the first half of this year was getting the new guys to operate as a single unit. That took about half the year before we started to see the dominate performances that we saw in 2017.

Georgia has really good wide receivers so if Texas can stop the run, Georgia can spread them out and throw the ball. This is probably the most dynamic Georgia offense I can remember since the Matt Stafford/A.J. Green years.

Georgia is pretty strong all around.

Do you think Georgia is one of the best four teams in the country?


Who in the playoff should Georgia replace?

Notre Dame.

Let me clear: I think Georgia is one of the best four teams in the country but I don’t think they deserve a playoff spot this year. You have to win and Georgia didn’t win enough big games this season to justify one of the spots.

How did LSU beat Georgia by 20 points?

Oh man.

That was a really bad game. Jake Fromm played really poorly. Georgia couldn’t run the ball. Defense still wasn’t where it is now.

Georgia has one of those games every season. Last year it was Auburn and Georgia wrecked them in the SEC Championship game three weeks later.

I don’t know. It was a bad game. Don’t watch the tape on that game. It’s an outlier.

What kind of atmosphere can Texas fans expect in New Orleans?

I think this game is going to be really fun. A lot of fun.

It’s a great game and great location for these two fanbases to meet. There are going to be a lot of people traveling to New Orleans. It’ll be a blast because it’s New Year’s Eve.

It’ll be fun because both of these teams travel really well. There are a lot of Texas kids that go to Georgia who have been waiting for a game like this. It’s a great non-playoff bowl game because it’s two big-time programs that don’t play each other that much splitting the difference in New Orleans.

Would you say it’s a meeting between two blue bloods?

I mean, I know you are trying to box me in a corner here where I say they are both blue bloods and you respond “No, Texas is leaps and bounds more important nationally than Georgia.” So let me go ahead and beat you to the punch there.

Let’s talk a little more New Orleans. Right now, playing in Louisiana, Georgia is 0-1. What is it about the swamp lands that give the Bulldogs a hard time?

Well, it’s not a huge sample size. It was just one game. And Georgia has looked a lot better since that game. I don’t know. Maybe the humidity. The Sugar Bowl is indoors, though.

I think the hardest part for Georgia, in this game ...

...Here we go. I’ve been waiting for it.

...And I’m not using this as an excuse. It’ll be a real challenge to get these players fired up for this game.

That is Kirby Smart’s challenge for the next month. You have to get this team as fired up as they were to play Alabama to play against Texas.

What player for Georgia that isn’t a household name should Texas fans be concerned about?

Oh, I don’t know. They are all household names in my house. Is Mecole Hardman not a household name? He’s a wide receiver and one of the fastest guys on the team.

He will cause a lot of problems for that Texas defensive secondary. Especially that cornerback who Texas fans have been gaslighted into thinking is all-conference.

Scenario: Georgia scores a touchdown to get within one point with 30 seconds to play. Do you go for two against Texas or do you play for overtime?

Overtime. No need to steal this one. Play for overtime and we can outlast Texas. When you have UGA’s running backs and UGA’s offensive line, you don’t need to steal a game in overtime.

Georgia prides itself on impenetrable defense — especially last year — but gave up 50 points when it played a Big 12 team. Thoughts?

Well, it went to double overtime. Let’s not forget that.

I don’t know if Texas automatically gets the same offensive considerations because they happen to be in the same conference with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.

Interesting. Isn’t that the same argument all of college football makes about the other 10 or so SEC teams that ride the coattails of Alabama while chanting the conference name?

I guess so. Maybe that was a fair thing to say four years ago but not so much today.

Score prediction?

Georgia 38, Texas 31.

I don’t see any way Texas wins this game, really. Unless Georgia just doesn’t show up.

Thoughts on now sharing a conference with Texas A&M?

Meh. Not that relevant to us. We don’t play them. I’d be concerned for Georgia to play at Kyle Field because I know it gets really loud there — but I am not excited or anything that A&M is in the SEC.

Is Vince Young the best college football player of all-time?

Do people actually think that? He’s not even close to the best college football player of all-time.

Get out of my house.

Can I wait for it to stop snowing?

No. Get out, I will see you later.

Okay. Thanks.