Although Husker fans are still entrenched in the malaise of Nebraska’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Wisconsin, there is reason for the Big Red to look to bowl season with hope.
And that reason is the Georgia Bulldogs.
This is not a prediction of victory in the Capital One Bowl for the Huskers. Far from it. Rather, this is just an acknowledgement of the opportunity presented to Nebraska by this matchup.
In the hours following Nebraska’s loss in Indianapolis, rumors were flourishing about potential bowl matchups for Big Ten teams. The most intriguing was the possibility of Northwestern being the first Big Ten selection after the BCS bowls (which I found very unbelievable).
Playing the game of hypotheticals, it is very easy to imagine that a Michigan victory over Ohio State a few weeks back and the selection of Northwestern before Nebraska could have sent Michigan to Orlando in Nebraska’s place and dropped Nebraska to the Gator Bowl to play Mississippi State. But thanks to the Buckeyes’ second half defense in that contest, the Huskers have been provided a much better opportunity by squaring off with Georgia.
On paper, Nebraska’s matchup against Georgia is not as bad as it could have been (read: Alabama).
The Bulldogs, despite having a strong rushing attack, are more reliant on the passing game than most of their SEC counterparts. Barring another complete defensive breakdown (that is the one big caveat to this entire article), Aaron Murray will have to throw the ball against Nebraska’s top-ranked (mostly because there is not much need to pass against the Huskers when you can run for 500-plus yards) passing defense.
And Murray’s 3-10 career record against ranked opponents is not cause for confidence in the junior quarterback.
On the defensive side, Georgia is certainly a strong team, ranking in the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense. But once again, the Huskers can be happy they are not lining up against Alabama’s second-ranked defense.
While the competitive benefits of playing Georgia as opposed to other SEC foes are admittedly marginal, the real value for Nebraska in this matchup is the opportunity to play against one of the nation’s best, despite not qualifying for a BCS bowl.
At a program like Nebraska, the only things that matters are trophies. Divisional trophies, conferences trophies, national championship trophies. A Capital One Bowl trophy is not going to please any Husker fans. At this point, it is all about building toward next year. And what better way to do that than taking on a team like Georgia.
Coming up only five yards short of a birth in the BCS National Championship Game, the Georgia Bulldogs are indisputably the best college football team not playing in a BCS bowl.
This makes them the perfect opponent for Nebraska’s last game of the season.
The Huskers’ major goals for this game are to send the seniors out the right way, do what they can to erase the memory of last Saturday night and build momentum toward next season.
Had Nebraska drawn the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State, little of this could be possible. Mississippi State is a good football team, but a victory over a team that has lost to every top-tier opponent this season would do little for morale and less for momentum heading into next year.
However, partly thanks to the value of Nebraska’s great fanbase, the Huskers were given a bowl matchup with the seventh-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
After their performance last weekend, it is hard to imagine Nebraska pulling off this upset. And in truth, even a big bowl win will not completely erase the memory of that embarrassment.
But if there was a non-BCS matchup that offered the Huskers the best chance to move on after such an excruciating loss, it would be a date with Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. It is tough to imagine Nebraska performing well enough to take down the Bulldogs after their last game, but the opportunity is certainly there to the end the season the right way and build toward a successful 2013.