A 7-5 record, a defense coached by mostly grad assistants and round-trip airfare to Shreveport wasn’t the way Georgia planned to go into the bowl season this year. But welcome to the season’s final reality check.
Despite closing out the regular season with an upset win over Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs did not receive any status upgrade from bowl officials. So much for the one-week high. The Dogs will finish the year in the Independence Bowl against Texas A&M Dec. 28.
Maybe you believe Georgia got jobbed and deserved better. Not so.
It’s important to remember that bowls are business enterprises, as I wrote in a blog last week, when Shreveport looked like the probable destination. The Dogs made huge gains in bragging rights with the victory over Tech. They succeeded in dropping the Jackets a few notches in the polls. But that’s about it. What happened in that game doesn’t change what happened against Florida, Tennessee or certainly Kentucky. It doesn’t change perceptions.
Bowls care about two things: 1) Records. 2) Perceptions. And really more No. 2. The second is what fuels ticket sales and revenue and stories and happy sponsors. The Dogs were not considered nearly as attractive a 7-5 team as Auburn or Tennessee for good reason. Neither was expected to do much this season but both recorded significant victories with first-year coaches and excited their respected fan bases. Those fans will travel well.
Georgia is coming off a season widely viewed as disappointing, to say the least. Coach Mark Richt just fired three defensive assistant coaches, including coordinator Willie Martinez. The defense will be coached in the bowl in part by grad assistants. The Dogs don’t shape up as a marketing dream. Realistically, this was going to be a hard sale for the Chick-fil-A, Outback and even Music City bowls. Auburn, Tennessee and, yes, Kentucky — which is headed to the Music City — were considered more attractive options.
Is there something to be gained by going to Shreveport? Absolutely. First, the seniors get a final game, even if it’s not the destination they would have preferred. Second, the remaining players get a few weeks of practice and one more game, with a chance to close out the season on a relative high note before next year.
Richt’s challenge will be making sure his players are motivated for a game that otherwise doesn’t have any ramifications. This is when things like character, discipline and resolve come into play. Obviously, another game couldn’t hurt.