TAMPA -- Georgia head coach Mark Richt arrived in town Monday sporting a short white beard, the result of a bet he was reluctantly living up to.
“Some of the guys tried to convince me I made a promise to grow my beard (if we won the SEC East). I don’t remember it,” Richt said after the Outback Bowl’s welcome dinner. “But I said I’d grow it during Christmas, and I’ll wear it to the first function, but that’s it.”
There was another reason for Richt to be in a good mood: The Bulldogs are close to full strength, avoiding any academic casualties.
Last year, three Georgia players, including tailback Caleb King, were academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl. This time around, Richt reported that everyone had made it academically.
“Those guys have done well,” Richt said.
“It gets rid of a lot of distractions,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We had a couple last season, and we don’t have to worry about that now. We just have to worry about practicing, getting ready for the bowl game.”
(Speaking of King, on Monday he was activated from the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad to take the roster spot of injured star Adrian Peterson.)
Georgia is also healing up from injuries as it prepares for the bowl game Monday against Michigan State.
Mike Gilliard, the team’s second-leading tackler, is expected to play after suffering an ankle injury in the SEC championship game.
And Richt had an interesting reason for optimism on Gilliard.
“You’ll have to ask him, but he said he ran away from a cow or a bull or something. I’m not lying. That’s the story,” Richt said. “Somehow he got chased by a cow or a bull or something. He said he moved pretty good then, so I think he’ll play.”
Georgia is due to hold its first practice Tuesday at the University of Tampa. There are other activities planned this week, including trips to the beach and an amusement park. The mood at the dinner was light, with Richt and Michigan State counterpart Mark Dantonio expressing mutual admiration for their teams. But Richt wants it to wind up being about the game.
“There will be a time for work and a time for play,” he said. “I want them to enjoy it, but I want them to realize we’re here for a purpose. Not many people 10 years down the road will ask the guys if they had a good time at the bowl; they’ll probably ask if they won or not.”