ATLANTA -- It was by no means the Florida-based bowl game that the Georgia football team wanted. And it might not have been the Capital One Bowls ideal choice of SEC teams.
But Sunday night, the Bulldogs and the Orlando-based bowl put their best face on the situation. Georgia will face Nebraska on Jan. 1, in a turnabout after it seemed the Bulldogs were headed elsewhere.
Their first choice, obviously, went away when the clock ran out in the SEC championship game Saturday with the Bulldogs at Alabamas 5-yard line. After that, it was widely expected the Cotton Bowl would pick Georgia -- because the Capital One reportedly had settled on Texas A&M as its SEC pick.
But whether it was pressure from the SEC office, or just being impressed with Georgias performance, the plan changed.
Georgia athletics director Greg McGaritys first words on a media teleconference were, Well if we werent going to be in a BCS game, this is the location we wanted to be.
The Capital One gets the first pick of SEC and Big Ten teams after the BCS teams have been picked. So McGarity said Georgia felt privileged to be picked, while acknowledging the hurt at not getting a BCS bid.
Florida received the SECs second BCS bid by virtue of finishing third in the BCS standings. Georgia fell to seventh despite a close loss and beating the Gators during the season.
There was a lot of criticism about the SEC being limited to just two teams, meaning that four top-10 teams were left out of the BCS. McGarity said that was obviously being corrected with the new playoff system in 2014.
Theres absolutely no question that we are deserving of a BCS bid, and Florida finished third, and by way of them finishing third in the BCS, that locked out us, without any further discussion, McGarity said. But theres no question we played great the last half of the season, and just to see the way we laid it on the line (Saturday) and proved that were right there with the best of college football. I know were all still hurting a bit right now, but the sun came up (Sunday) morning, and theres nothing we can do about it but learn from it and move forward.
Meanwhile, the Capital One reportedly was ready to pick Texas A&M, and it was just a matter of announcing it Sunday.
So what happened? It might simply be that the Capital One was impressed by Georgias showing against Alabama and decided Georgia was the better pick. Or it could be that the SEC lobbied the Capital One to take Georgia, as the conference wanted to protect its SEC East champion and a team that has just two losses and is ranked No. 5 in the USA Today coaches poll. The Cotton Bowl is now taking Texas A&M.
Capital One Bowl CEO Steve Hogan denied that his bowl had originally wanted Texas A&M or had faced pressure from the SEC to pick Georgia.
You sit back in your office and you follow some of these things occasionally online, you read some of these articles, you kind of chuckle, you dont know where these experts get their information, Hogan said. But for us, we want to see the season play out and we wanted to see the championship game play out. And it was an easy decision. We had an opportunity to get an 11-win division champion, a few yards from a national championship.
On paper its a mismatch in Georgias favor. Georgia ranks No. 6 in the AP poll, and Nebraska is 23rd. While the Bulldogs were a few yards from a BCS championship appearance, the Cornhuskers were pummeled by a five-loss Wisconsin team in the Big Ten title game. The Cornhuskers also arent quite as loaded with NFL-caliber talent; while Georgia has three players rated in the top 20 of ESPNs Big Board, Nebraska has none.
The two teams have met only once, in the 1969 Sun Bowl, and Nebraska won 45-6.
The Cornhuskers (10-3) are coming off a game in which they allowed 529 rushing yards, pushing them to a national ranking of 95th in that category. But they have the nations top-ranked pass defense.
Offensively, the Cornhuskers are just as hard to read. They have the nations eighth-ranked rush offense but are 89th in passing. Thats in large part because of their offensive system, which is led by dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he found out just Sunday night his team would be playing Nebraska, so he hadnt done any research on the Cornhuskers. But his history with the Cornhuskers goes back a way. Richt was born in Omaha, his parents grew up in Nebraska, and his cousins are Cornhuskers fans.
They like the Dogs, too, Richt said. They call themselves the Corn-Dogs actually.
Richt was asked about getting his team up for the game after being eliminated from the national title picture, said getting a 12th win and finishing strong would be enough motivation.
Ive always had the ability to understand what reality is and move on, Richt said. So were already out recruiting, were getting back to work, and now we know were gonna be in Orlando. So weve got a new goal in sight. Were excited to try to get 12 wins.