ORLANDO -- This was not the bowl the team wanted. The lack of outright excitement is evident around the Georgia football team, which has no particular hatred for Nebraska, and no one grew up hoping to capture the Capital One Bowl trophy.
There is just one thing propelling the Bulldogs in this New Years Day bowl game: final validation for their season.
The last time the world saw Georgia, it was within 5 yards of knocking off Alabama and reaching the BCS national championship game.
So a victory would reinforce the impression that the Bulldogs are who they think they are: A top-tier team that was good enough to win it all.
People believe in Georgia again, receiver Tavarres King said. I think people believe that were a great team right now. What better way to continue that belief than to go out and beat these guys?
Nebraska (10-3) is also coming off a loss in its conference championship game. But the Cornhuskers, unlike the Bulldogs, had their worst performance of the season Dec. 1, getting throttled 70-33 by Wisconsin.
So it basically boils down to this: Nebraska is seeking to show that its last game isnt emblematic, while Georgia is trying to show that its last game is.
We definitely wanna prove that Georgia is back, that we are one of the top teams in the country, quarterback Aaron Murray said. I think we definitely earned some respect in the Alabama game, from the country. Now win this game, and hopefully get back in the top five, I think will be a great season. I think our fans will appreciate it.
It definitely wasnt the national championship, which we were so close to getting there. But to end up in the top five, to get 12 wins, that would definitely be a successful season.
As Murray alluded, the 12-win mark has been a rallying cry leading up to this game for Georgia, which hasnt won that many since 2002.
One question facing the Bulldogs is whether they will muster enough energy. Bowl games so often are won by the team that wants to be there the most. The worry for Georgia is that it left its best football on the field at the Georgia Dome, while Nebraska still feels it has something to prove.
Head coach Mark Richt also has to guard against overconfidence among his players, in case they put too much stuck in how badly Nebraska played against unranked Wisconsin.
My comment to them that that game wasnt a great game for them, theyre gonna hear about it the whole time, Richt said. But I told them theyd beat that same team earlier in the season. So what was the difference. I cant sit there and say what the difference was, but I know the same two teams played, and they beat them before.
And then Richt reminded his players of how they played against South Carolina on Oct. 6. Georgia was routed 35-7 in that game.
Hey man, we got beat down pretty good after that one. If that was our last game, how would people visualize us? Richt said. We look at ourselves as the team thats not that team. Im sure they look at themselves as a team thats not the team that really played that game the last game of the year. So I think theres some similarities in our seasons.
Ultimately, this is a legacy game for the Bulldogs, including the seniors. The outgoing players, especially on defense, dont want to go out with a third straight loss in a bowl. A national championship might be off the table, but players said a win Tuesday would cement an acceptable alternative.
Itd be a special year for us, senior safety Bacarri Rambo said. Well go down in probably the history for Georgia for (getting) a lot of wins. A lotta teams havent won 22 games in two years, so thatll be a great honor for us as a senior class. And just try to leave a good legacy for these young guys to carry on.