ATHENS - Georgia receiver Michael Bennett summed up the thoughts of many on Sunday night.
“Nebraska again? You kidding me?” Bennett tweeted.
Bennett soon deleted the tweet, but not before it was seen and re-tweeted by plenty of Georgia fans who agreed with him.
The Georgia Bulldogs are headed back to Jacksonville, to play a team they played in last year's bowl, in a stadium they've already played in this season.
It's Georgia vs. Nebraska in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 at noon, in a game that will be on ESPN2. The game is a rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31. Back then, it was a matchup of teams coming off appearances in their conference championship games.
This time only Georgia is ranked, and both teams are 8-4.
Head coach Mark Richt, appearing on a teleconference after the announcement, was asked if the rematch factor took some luster out of the game.
"Oh I don't know, I think it's becoming a good rivalry," Richt said. "And of course you know my background with Nebraska, growing up a Nebraska fan, being born in Omaha. We just grew up loving Nebraska, loving the Big Red."
Of course the fact that Richt went right into mentioning that angle was another indication of the lack of juice for this game.
Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett maintained that the rematch factor wasn’t important, rather than his committee wanted not only a good game, but two storied teams.
"Both of these teams have struggled with injuries," Catlett said. "Both had high expectations coming into the season. Both finished 5-3 in their conferences, 8-4 overall. Georgia's ranked 22nd. So we're not disappointed at all in the two teams we have playing in our bowl game. In fact we're really quite excited about it."
For awhile, Catlett thought he would pair Georgia and Michigan, two teams that had not met in 40 years. But when the Wolverines were picked by the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which has the choice ahead, the Gator’s board was Nebraska and Minnesota, and the bowl elected to go with the more storied program with the bigger fan base.
“We certainly could have avoided (the rematch),” Catlett said. “But when you analyzed the teams that were there, and what we had been looking for for some time, when the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl decided to pass on Nebraska and take Michigan – even though Nebraska was 8-4 and Michigan was 7-5 – we put our heads together and talked about it, and talked with the conference staff about it. And the reality of it is they’re not repeating in the same bowl game. We’ve got two powerhouse programs. We felt that was the best matchup for the game, regardless of what happened a year ago.”
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity did grant that some of his fan base may now pass on the game. But given the proximity to Jacksonville, he still thinks it will do well.
“There will be a certain percentage of Georgia fans that choose maybe not to go because of a rematch," McGarity said. "But it is in a different city. The support we have from south Georgia, northern Florida, has traditionally been very, very good. So it is a different venue. And there might have been some people that didn’t go to Orlando last year.
“So it is what it is. And we’re happy that the Gator Bowl picked us.”
After all, the Gator could have picked Vanderbilt, which had an identical record and beat Georgia.
Of course, the Chick-fil-A also could have picked Georgia instead of Texas A&M.
“There is no lobbying," McGarity said. "Some people say: Why don’t you lobby for this and that. At this point, when you’re 8-4, when you know you’re not in the mix for Orlando, you know you’re not gonna be in the mix for Cotton or Tampa, you’re looking at perhaps the Peach, perhaps the Gator, and perhaps the other bowls in the mix. Nashville. So you kind of know going in where you’re being begged, and where the standings lie.”
The Gator Bowl is at EverBank Field, where Georgia plays Florida every year. The Bulldogs will put a three-game winning streak in the stadium on the line.
It will be Georgia's first appearance in the Gator Bowl since 1989, when it beat Michigan State 34-27, in Vince Dooley's final game as head coach. The bowl went away from its SEC affiliation between 1996-2011.
It will also be both team's third straight Florida bowl. Nebraska was in the Cap One the past two years, and Georgia was in the Outback Bowl two years ago.
“The bottom line is the goal is to win the game,” McGarity said. “We win the game, we’ve got a great chance of finishing in the top 20. Whether that’s against School A in another bowl or what have you, at the end of the day this is the way it worked out.”
The prospect of a rematch did not garner much excitement among Georgia fans and some players, at least as judged by Twitter. In fact, it was the opposite. A sampling:
@SethEmerson I haven't missed a game in nearly 30 years. This may be the end of the streak.— Mitch Clarke (@MitchAClarke) December 9, 2013
@SethEmerson no interest here at all. Terrible choice.— Mark Mathison (@MMathison04) December 9, 2013
@SethEmerson The Jags can leave the tarps covering the seats! Was considering the drive, not now!— Robbie Holloman (@robholloman) December 9, 2013
@SethEmerson sucks for fans and players. No one wants to play the same team 2 years in a row. Stupid decision— Nick Stanford (@nstanford24) December 9, 2013
@SethEmerson no way this could have been avoided?— Josh B (@jdb426) December 9, 2013