Gator Bowl Could Set the Tone for a Big 2014 Season for Georgia

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 16, 2013

Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Georgia QB Hutson MasonDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Interest levels of bowl games vary from team to team and year to year based on matchups and momentum of the programs involved.

The Gator Bowl on New Year's Day between Georgia and Nebraska lacks a lot of it.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Georgia head coach Mark RichtSam Greenwood/Getty Images

Nebraska lost two of its last three—including a 38-17 defeat at home at the hands of Iowa—and has a coach in Bo Pelini who's on one of the hottest seats in America. Georgia's 8-4 record is a far cry from where the Bulldogs wanted to be this season—playing in Pasadena, Calif. for the crystal football.

But while it won't move the meter in terms of national intrigue, it can serve as a jumping-off point for the 2014 season for the Bulldogs.

Hutson Mason will get his second career start versus the Cornhuskers. The junior stepped in for an injured Aaron Murray against Georgia Tech and completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a 41-34 double-overtime win over the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Georgia QB Hutson MasonDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Not a bad debut, and now he has a month to prepare for a Nebraska pass defense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten after giving up 205.8 yards per game through the air in the regular season.

Mason knows it will be a challenge, according to David Paschall of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press.

Georgia QB Hutson Mason on the Cornhuskers: "We better be ready, or else they're going to embarrass us."

— David Paschall (@DavidSPaschall) December 16, 2013

If Mason can play well, it will carry a ton of needed momentum into the offseason. 

Georgia head coach Mark Richt (left) and QB Hutson Mason
Georgia head coach Mark Richt (left) and QB Hutson MasonScott Cunningham/Getty Images

If there's one area that the Georgia offensive coaching staff has neglected over the last few years, it's grooming a backup quarterback. Mason had only seen limited mop-up duty during his first three seasons of eligibility in Athens. If he can go 2-0 as a starter in a rivalry game and a bowl game, that will give Mason and that staff a ton of confidence heading into the 2014 season.

They'll need it.

Georgia opens with Clemson at home and travels to South Carolina in Week 3, which will be one of its toughest tests of the season. If head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo are comfortable with the passing game, the offense won't miss a beat with running back Todd Gurley presumably being back at 100 percent and Keith Marshall back from his ACL injury.

Yes, there are still issues at Georgia—starting with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's inability to lead a consistent defense and continuing with youth that permeates all three levels. But that youth—including freshman safety Tray Matthews, sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins—should progress with another offseason of work.

After the first month of the season, Georgia's schedule eases up quite a bit.

It gets Arkansas out of the West, which isn't exactly daunting, and its cross-division rivalry game with Auburn will be played in Athens. The trip to Columbia to take on reigning SEC East champ Missouri will be tough, but the schedule is navigable after the two early-season tests.

With new quarterbacks at South Carolina and Missouri, Florida's offense in shambles and Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky still building, the door in the East will be wide open in 2014.

The Gator Bowl could provide Georgia the opportunity to get an early jump on walking through it.