Following a lackluster season plagued by injuries, special teams mishaps and missed expectations, many Georgia fans were looking forward to an intriguing bowl matchup to close out the 2013 season. What those fans got, however, was more disappointment.
For the second consecutive year the Georgia Bulldogs will face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in postseason play. Even the Bulldogs’ appearance in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, which should be a reward, leaves Bulldog fans wanting more.
Fortunately, this matchup is more intriguing than most recognize.
Not the Same Two Teams
Georgia fans’ biggest complaint about this matchup is simply, “We’ve already seen these two teams play.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, the teams taking the field in Jacksonville will represent the same universities that were on display last year at the Capital One Bowl, and the two teams will be wearing the same colors. But these are hardly the same two squads.
Last year’s Bulldogs came up just a few yards shy of a shot at a BCS National Championship. Sadly, this is not that team.
The 2012 Cornhuskers also experienced more on-field success. While they entered last year’s bowl game on the heels of an embarrassing 39-point loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, the fact remains that Nebraska played in their conference title game last year. And, at one point, Bo Pelini’s squad enjoyed a six-game winning streak in 2012.
These two teams are not those that took the field in 2012. The combined record differs for the worse (they boasted 21 total wins heading into the matchup last year; this season that total is just 16), but in some regards that may make this game more competitive.
Georgia fans looking for a more competitive game may find one, courtesy of Nebraska’s new freshman quarterback, Tommy Armstrong Jr. Armstrong is the future of the Cornhusker program, as he looks to fill the shoes left vacant by Taylor Martinez (injured and unlikely to return).
Last year, Martinez started hot against a veteran Georgia defense, completing seven of his first eight passes for 108 yards and one touchdown in the first quarter. After that, however, the wheels fell off for the Nebraska passing game, as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes over the last three quarters and threw two interceptions.
Armstrong is young and inexperienced, but perhaps he will be able to display competency for a complete game where Martinez came up short.
Georgia, of course, is also breaking in a new quarterback of its own. To date, Georgia fans have appreciated Hutson Mason’s brief stints in relief of Aaron Murray, and most dubbed his first career start against Georgia Tech a success.
That being said, five full weeks with Georgia’s first team will go a long way in Mason’s development with his best receiving weapons. Georgia fans should be excited about what Mason will be able to do after a month’s worth of reps with starters like Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and Arthur Lynch.
Two Great Running Backs
This game won’t be decided solely by aerial assaults. To the contrary, the Gator Bowl will feature two of the nation’s best backs.
Fans of hard-nosed football will appreciate Nebraska tailback Ameer Abdullah. The 5’9” junior from Alabama has flown under the radar while rushing for 1,568 yards, the ninth highest total in the country. To be sure, he carries the ball an awful lot (254 totes on the year), but he remains productive, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.
Georgia fans know a thing or two about production from the running back position. Todd Gurley is the definition of efficiency when the ball is in his hands. Despite missing significant playing time due to injury, Gurley has amassed 1,247 yards of offense and 15 total touchdowns on just 174 touches. If nothing else, this matchup provides unenthusiastic Georgia fans with one last opportunity to watch Todd Gurley run the football before a long offseason settles in.
A New Rivalry
Over the past 10 seasons, Georgia has only played two out-of-conference opponents in consecutive seasons.
|Georgia Tech||2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013|
|Arizona State||2008, 2009|
Nonconference rivalries are few and far between, especially for SEC schools who have no need for added out-of-conference schedule difficulty. Georgia fans should appreciate the camaraderie that comes with taking on another national power.
It's worth noting that the game's organizers think a second year of Georgia vs. Nebraska is worth watching. According to Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph, Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett called this year's game, "Arguably the best matchup we've had in the last three games."
These aren't last year’s Nebraska Cornhuskers, nor last year’s Georgia Bulldogs. The only commonality is that both of these teams still represent two of college football’s premier programs. What’s not to like about that?