ATHENS - Georgia's next game will indeed be in Florida, just not where it thought it might be for much of Saturday night.
The Bulldogs' consolation prize after coming five yards short of a BCS championship bid is a trip back to the Capital One Bowl. The opponent will be Nebraska, which is 10-3 after falling 70-31 (that is not a misprint) in the Big Ten championship game, to Wisconsin.
"If we weren't going to be in a BCS bowl, this is the location we wanted to be," Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said on Sunday night.
McGarity also said he believed the Bulldogs were good enough to be in the BCS, saying they played great in the last half of the season.
Never miss a local story.
So for the second straight season Georgia's bowl will be a match-up of SEC and Big Ten teams that just lost in their conference championship game. Last season Georgia fell in overtime to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.
Georgia's big hope entering the weekend was to beat Alabama and earn a trip to the BCS championship, in Miami. But as of Friday the expectation was a loss would put the Bulldogs in the Cotton Bowl. The Capital One had reportedly settled on Texas A&M, and it was just a matter of announcing it on Sunday.
So what happened? It may simply be that the Capital One was impressed by Georgia's 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 coaches poll. The SEC may already have been applying pressure on Georgia's behalf to the Cotton, which might have preferred LSU. (The Cotton Bowl is now taking Texas A&M.)
Capital One Bowl CEO Steve Hogan denied that his bowl got any pressure from the SEC or had been leaning towards Texas A&M. Hogan called Georgia a team that was "BCS worthy" and deserved the trip to Orlando after being a few yards from reaching the national championship.
In any case, Georgia now gets a matchup with Nebraska, a team the Bulldogs haven't faced since 1969. That was in the Sun Bowl, and the Cornhuskers won 45-6.
But Georgia head coach Mark Richt knows Nebraska well: He was born in Omaha, and his parents grew up in Nebraska.
On paper it's a mismatch tilting in Georgia's 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. The Cornhuskers also aren't quite as loaded with NFL-caliber talent; while Georgia has three players rated in the top 20 of ESPN's "Big Board," Nebraska has none.
The Cornhuskers (10-3) are coming off a game where they allowed 529 rushing yards, pushing them to a national ranking of 95th in that category. But they have the nation’s top-ranked pass defense.
Offensively, the Cornhuskers are just as bi-polar: They have the nation’s eighth-ranked rush offense, but are 89th in passing. That’s in large part because of their offensive system, which is led by dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez.
"To hear they led their league in rushing, and kind of had a three-headed monster, is gonna be a great challenge," Richt said. "And hopefully our experience in this last ballgame will be even more motivation to tackle better, to wrap up better, to play our gap responsibilities better."
This is the first appearance in the Capital One Bowl for Georgia since 2009, when it beat Michigan State, 24-12. The Bulldogs also played in the bowl in 2004, knocking off Purdue. And Georgia played twice in the Citrus Bowl, the former name for the game.
It also means Georgia will set a record for Pelinis faced in one year: Florida Atlantic, which Georgia defeated in September, is coached by Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's brother Carl.