The 2013 season didn't go the way either the Nebraska Cornhuskers or Georgia Bulldogs envisioned, but both sides will get an opportunity to end it all on a positive note at the 2014 Gator Bowl.
For Georgia, the Gator Bowl appearance represents the absolute worst-case scenario. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 5 in the country, even receiving a first-place vote from one Associated Press member. Instead of a national title, however, Georgia's season was one mired in disappointment from the opening kickoff.
In Jacksonville, the Bulldogs will attempt to avoid being Mark Richt's first five-loss team since the nightmare 2010 season. With quarterback Aaron Murray out, and a bevy of other injuries adorning the roster all year long, we'll have to see how this team responds to a relatively shrug-worthy bowl invitation.
A year removed from a chance of playing for the Rose Bowl, Nebraska also didn't expect to only reach the Gator Bowl. However, with questionable losses and shaky wins from their schedule, the Cornhuskers should probably be grateful for a January bowl game.
Bo Pelini's squad has lost each of its past three postseason contests, a streak the current Vegas oddsmakers expect to extend to four.
Whether that happens or not will be decided Wednesday. Here's a look at the 2014 Gator Bowl, complete with a prediction for the outcome.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Everbank Field in Jacksonville
Spread: Georgia -9 (Vegas Insider)
|Tommy Armstrong Jr||QB||ankle||Probable|
Can Either Team Trust QB Play?
It's amazing how quickly injuries can change a game from a battle of two elite college quarterbacks to one of uncertainty. Neither Taylor Martinez nor Aaron Murray, both Heisman dark horses in the preseason, will suit up in what would have been their final collegiate games.
Martinez is missing his ninth game of the season, as he deals with a lingering foot injury. His being ruled out was not much of a surprise, though there were a few glimmers of hope that he would be able to play.
The same could not be said for Murray, whose torn ACL cut his season short and may irreparably damage his pro prospects. Murray was already considered a mid-round prospect due to his lack of arm strength. Having a busted-up knee to go along with the noodle on his right shoulder won't engender him much to teams.
Without Murray and Martinez, the quarterback situation goes up in the air for both teams.
Hutson Mason will start in place of Murray. The junior signal-caller received his first start on Nov. 30, a 41-34 double-overtime victory over Kentucky. While the offense seemed to be running smoothly in the wake of Murray's injury, and Mason has been stellar every time he's gotten a chance, he has never entered a game of this magnitude.
It will be interesting to see how he fares against a stellar Nebraska secondary. The Cornhuskers didn't quite remind anyone of the vaunted Blackshirts in 2013, but they hung around the top 20 all season in terms of passing yards allowed per game.
They allowed only 16 touchdowns passes against 13 interceptions. Nebraska's noted struggles stopping the run have contributed to teams being predisposed to a more ground-oriented attack, but considering opposing quarterbacks aren't even completing 55 percent of their passes against the Huskers, let's just say Mason will be taking a step up from Georgia Tech.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. won't have the same troubles against Georgia, but his question marks are no less glaring. I'm not quite sure when it's a good time for a freshman quarterback not named Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston to start his first bowl game, but I'm pretty sure it's not when said freshman is coming off a bothersome ankle injury.
Armstrong is expected to play after getting more than a month off to rest the ailing ankle, but he's still listed on the injury report. That means there's at least a slight chance that he's not yet 100 percent, which could be just a bit of a problem.
Armstrong, when healthy, threw as many touchdowns as interceptions (seven) and had real trouble consistently hitting targets. He's far more an athlete than a quarterback at this point in his career.
Georgia's secondary isn't great shakes. It rarely makes big plays and picked off only six passes, one of the lowest rates among bowl-eligible teams. But even the Bulldogs should be able to pull off a turnover or two against a hobbled, struggling passer in his freshman season.
Because faith in both quarterbacks is so up in the air, this matchup could really go either way. Armstrong may torch Georgia through the ground and air en route to proving incorrect everything we just noted. Mason may wind up proving a worthy successor to Murray in 2014, and this could be his coming-out party.
But we're working in probabilities here. The odds of Armstrong excelling on this stage seem minimal. He's just not ready for this stage, nor are the Huskers' pass-catchers great enough to bail him out on questionable throws.
Ameer Abdullah and Todd Gurley are excellent, but just good enough to cancel one another out. The two running backs should both approach 100 yards, and it's probably important that they do. Otherwise, we'd be looking at an awfully unwatchable football game.
Instead, look for a semi-close, semi-sloppy affair that swings in Georgia's direction because of a key turnover.
Score: Georgia 31, Nebraska 20
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