ATHENS -- From the minute the Georgia football teams postseason fate was finalized, this has been the central question: How will the Bulldogs, pointed for so long and ultimately so close to reaching the national title game, get up for yet another Florida-based bowl against a Big Ten team?
The way the past two bowls ended might be enough motivation.
The situations were different. Two years ago, Georgia really didnt want to be in the Liberty Bowl, and it showed in a 10-6 loss to Central Florida. Last year, Georgia was more motivated to be in the Outback Bowl, and it jumped out to a 16-0 lead on Michigan State. But the Bulldogs couldnt hold the lead and lost in overtime.
This years situation is closer to last year, as once again the Bulldogs are coming off a loss in the SEC championship game and are once again meeting the Big Ten runner-up, this time Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Theres a bit more disappointment this year for Georgia, having come 5 yards from playing for it all. But players say that beating Nebraska would be a way to cement this teams legacy.
I know when we win, its gonna be like, Yeah, we are the real deal, sophomore linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. We are what youve seen. How we were playing is really how we are.
And if they lose a bowl again?
We aint losing, Herrera said. We aint losing, bottom line.
Quarterback Aaron Murray mentioned that winning the bowl probably would leave Georgia ranked in the top five nationally.
Which is an unbelievable season, to finish in the top five, to win 12 games, to be that close. Its definitely a memorable season, Murray said. But it could definitely hurt us to lose this game. Drop out of the top 10, then it just becomes just another season. So this is definitely a huge game for us.
Georgia has finished ranked in the top five just twice since 1983. The Bulldogs were No. 2 in the final AP poll after the 2007 season and third after the 2002 season.
This year, the Bulldogs are sixth entering the bowl season. But a convincing win over Nebraska could reinforce the positive impression Georgia made in nearly knocking off Alabama. It would also avoid the programs first three-game bowl losing streak since 1976-78.
I know me personally, I wanna win a bowl game, I havent won one as a starter, said Murray, a junior. Im gonna be working extremely hard to win this game. And this senior class has just meant so much to this program, bringing Georgia back to where it needs to be. I know myself and all the rest of the underclassmen really want to send them off on the right note.
Head coach Mark Richt, whose record in bowls at Georgia is 7-3, said this week he would be challenging the team to finish better than last year and to solidify the job the team has done this season.
I think they need to put an exclamation point on it or at least finish strong in a manner worthy of the way they led the entire offseason from January until now. That will be a big part of it, Richt said. Ill be talking a lot to the younger guys -- the guys who know they are going to be coming back -- to honor those guys the way they play. Bowl games tend to shape peoples opinion of your team and your program. There is a lot of that well be talking about, as well.
There will also be the usual talk of using the bowl game as a springboard to the next season. The validity of that is debatable, considering the past two bowl losses have led to SEC East Division titles.
Thats where it may help the Bulldogs to have such an experienced group -- as in a group that has experienced so many postseason losses.
Im 2-2 in bowl games, senior receiver Tavarres King said. This senior class wants to win their last bowl game. This team wants to win their bowl game.