ORLANDO - The day before a bowl game blends the relaxed mood that's been pervading it, and the growing realization that there is an actual game about to be played.
As I walked around the lobby of the Renaissance Orlando hotel, various players, coaches and staff members milled about. So did a lot of fans. And at the elevator I ran into Sonny Seiler and Uga IX, formerly known as Russ.
(An excited fan asked me to take a shot of herself with Russ. I complied, but Uga's handler was in quite a hurry. So ma'am, if you're out there reading this, I hope I did a good job.)
Georgia fans dominated the hotel, which isn't a surprise because that's the team hotel. But going around town for the past week, and the past few days, I've run into a minimal amount of Nebraska fans. In fact, I didn't see any until Sunday.
A more scientific evaluation backs that up, as long as you consider going on Stub-Hub a scientific evaluation: Good tickets at the lower levels are still readily available on the Nebraska side of the stadium, while only upper-level seats remain on Georgia's side.
This is why the Capital One Bowl wasn't too crazy about this matchup: From all published accounts the bowl was set to pick Texas A&M and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, but was urged by the SEC to look harder at Georgia. The same thing apparently happened on the Big Ten side, although the choices were less sexy, thanks to the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State. The Capital One might have preferred Michigan - which seems to have a good number of fans a few hours away in Tampa - but the Big Ten didn't want its runner-up getting passed over.
In any case, these are the teams, this is the bowl, and the game actually takes place on Tuesday. There probably won't be a full crowd - but will there be a full motivation for each team? That was the dominant topic at a set of dueling press conferences on Monday, as the two head coaches met the press.
(If by "dueling" press conferences, the winner is determined by length, then Georgia won in a route: Mark Richt got enough questions for his to last 20 minutes. Nebraska's Bo Pelini left after four minutes, due to ambivalence.)
Given how much emotion has figured into Georgia's season - "old man football," Shawn Williams' rant, playing for a national title - I asked Richt what his feel was for the Bulldogs entering Tuesday.
“I just think there’s enough veteran guys that know this is their last moment wearing the red and black," Richt said. "I just can’t imagine them not playing with great effort. Will they play a great game, I don’t know. But I think they’ll play with great effort. And I think when your seniors and your leaders play that way then the young players take notice and try to do the same.
“But Nebraska has a bunch of seniors too, they have a bunch of guys who care about how they finish. They certainly I’m sure are tired of hearing about the last game they played, and care about showing they’re a lot better football team than how they played.”
Pelini said about what you'd expect him to say.
"At the end of the day it's competition. It's football," Pelini said. "Every guy's gonna be motivated, it's the next game, it's the next challenge."
There's also the issue of perhaps taking Nebraska (10-3) too lightly, given the last everyone saw of the Cornhuskers, they were getting shellacked 70-33 by an unranked Wisconsin team.
But Richt, as he has several times this week, invoked his own team's worst loss.
"We've had our game like that. We played South Carolina," Richt said. "They started out hot, they got momentum, and we never really did much to stop that momentum. ... I think that's what happened to (Nebraska, in the Big Ten championship). They played the very same team and beat them earlier in the year. Which team is the Nebraska team we're gonna see tomorrow?
"I think the same team would be true if they just studied the South Carolina they'd probably be licking their chops. But if you watch the rest of the season we've had other performances better than that, and they have too."
Some other notes:
Looking to next year
Richt was asked whether he had a feel for his players who are mulling over the NFL draft.
"I don't know for sure. No one's told me point blank one way or another what they're doing," Richt said.
Richt also bristled a bit with the premise of another question, when somebody talked about next year's defense losing everybody.
"First of all, we are not losing everybody," Richt said. "There are still some very good defensive players who are sticking around. A lot of the young ones who have been waiting in the wings and working hard and preparing for their moment. I think we're gonna be very athletic. We're gonna be a fast defense. We're gonna have guys with the skill sets to get things done. It's just gonna be a matter of how quickly we can make the players into a championship-style defense. That's gonna be a big push."
Abry Jones still questionable
Senior defensive end Abry Jones is still a game-time decision, according to Richt. Jones hasn't played since October because of ankle surgery, but is trying to get on the field for one more game.
The guess here is that Jones will play on a very limited basis. The starters at end will likely be Cornelius Washington and Garrison Smith, with Ray Drew and Jones perhaps rotating in.
'Typical Big Ten defense'
Richt was asked about Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez's comment from a few days ago that Georgia's defense looked like a "typical Big Ten defense."
"Well I don't know what a Big Ten defense looks like, as far as what's typical," Richt answered. "I think we're a defense that's got a really strong talent base, a lot of seniority, guys that can play physical, guys that can play fast, good cover skills, good pass-rush skills. If we put it all together and play our best ball, I'm expecting us to have a good performance."