Georgia and Nebraska are hoping a New Year’s trip to Florida will be the perfect place to get over their conference championship game disappointments.
Both teams accepted bids to the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl on Sunday, just a day after falling in their respective conference championship games.
The Bulldogs (11-2) came up just a few yards short of winning the SEC crown and trip the BCS national championship game Saturday night, losing to defending BCS champion Alabama, 32-28.
”We spent ourselves in a worthy cause,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. ”We, of course, wanted to play for a national championship. We knew we were just a few yards or a tipped ball, or however you want to say it away from winning it. It was heartbreaking, no doubt. We were highly hurt by it. … So you have to kind of get over the heartbreak of that.”
For the Cornhuskers (10-3), their 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game might not have had the nail-nibbling heartbreak Georgia endured, but was just as painful. Nebraska is appearing the Capital One Bowl for the second straight season. The Cornhuskers fell 30-13 to South Carolina in last season’s matchup. It is their 49th bowl appearance overall.
Coach Bo Pelini said though his team was just in Orlando last postseason, he jumped at the chance to play the highest ranked team not in a BCS bowl.
”It’s a great opportunity for us,” Pelini said. ”That’s one of the reasons we’re excited to be going. Obviously our championship game didn’t go the way we wanted to. But it gives us an opportunity to play … and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The New Year’s Day meeting will mark only the second time Georgia and Nebraska have met. Nebraska defeated the Bulldogs, 45-6, in the 1969 Sun Bowl.
It will also be farewell to former longtime coach and current Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, who will retire from that position on Jan. 1 as well.
Georgia won the SEC East division title for the second consecutive year. It is making its sixth appearance in the Cap One, having last beaten Michigan State in 2009. This will be the Bulldogs 48th bowl game.
This second matchup between Nebraska and Georgia is expected to be much closer than the first.
Georgia thrived this season offensively behind Tampa, Fla. native and junior quarterback Aaron Murray. He leads the nation in yards per passing attempt (7.8), while throwing for 31 touchdowns.
Defensively the Bulldogs had the SEC’s second-ranked pass defense, allowing just 120 yards per game. Linebacker Jarvis Jones has been a big part of that, with 12.5 sacks on the year.
Richt said he thinks the prospect of winning a 12th game will help his team turn the page quickly during bowl practices.
”We’ve got a bunch of really great seniors that are really great men of character that love the game of football, love playing and playing with their teammates,” Richt said. ”I don’t think it will be that great of a challenge (refocusing), frankly…I think playing Nebraska will get everybody’s blood pumping. I don’t think it will be an issue. I know our guys want to finish strong.”
The Cornhuskers also have a capable signal caller in junior Taylor Martinez. He is Nebraska’s all-time career leader in total offense with more than 9,000 yards.
Martinez has also gotten a lot of support from running backs Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah, a tandem that lead the most productive rushing attack in their conference, averaging 254 yards per game.
Knowing the high-powered rushing attacks that dominate the SEC, Pelini said the team that is able to establish the run Jan. 1 will have the most success in this matchup.
”You give up big rushing yards and it’s a recipe for disaster, and I know it was for us” against Wisconsin, he said. ”That’s gonna be an area that both teams are gonna have to sure up and probably an area that both teams try to exploit.”