Athens – Depending on the index, Georgia is ranked No. 5 (USA Today coaches’ poll), No. 6 (Associated Press) or No. 7 (BCS) in the land. Counting the national championship game, the BCS fits 10 teams into five postseason games. Georgia, alas, is not among them.
The Bulldogs are bound for the Capital One Bowl, which is essentially the consolation game for losers of conference championships. (Georgia’s opponent is Nebraska, which lost to Wisconsin 70-31 in the Big Ten title tilt.) With three losses, the Cornhuskers probably belong in the Capital One. Georgia does not.
At worst, Georgia is the nation’s third-best team. It went 11-1 in the regular season and won the SEC Eastern Division, which this time around was no junior circuit. (Florida is ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings, South Carolina No. 10). But the Bulldogs were penalized for falling five yards short in one of the greatest games ever played, dropping from No. 3 to No. 7 and sliding below Florida.
Lest we forget, Georgia beat Florida 17-9 on Oct. 27. But the Gators finished with one loss to the Bulldogs’ two, and by virtue of being ranked in the top four Florida was guaranteed a BCS spot. For the second year running, we see the advantage of NOT playing for the SEC championship: In 2011 Alabama played for the BCS title without risking a loss in the Georgia Dome on the first Saturday in December, and now Florida gets to play in a BCS game ahead of the SEC loser.
This isn’t to say Florida is undeserving: At worst, the Gators are the nation’s fourth-best team. This is to say that the system – stop if you’ve heard this one – stinks. Northern Illinois (No. 16 in the BCS standings) and Louisville (No. 21) will grace BCS games, but Georgia will not. The Bulldogs are the highest-ranked team to be excluded from the Big Five postseason games.
And this sits with the Bulldogs … well, about the way you’d think. “Maybe a little bit robbed,” was quarterback Aaron Murray’s assessment. “We definitely feel like we’re a BCS-caliber team. I think we proved that all season long. I think we proved that in the SEC Championship Game — that we belong with the best.”
Tight end Arthur Lynch, speaking of the epic loss to Alabama: “We’ve proved ourselves worthy to be in that situation. Some people have said it was a de facto national championship game. In my opinion, those were the two best teams in the country.”
Then this: “I’m not unhappy with the Capital One, but the national championship was the only game I wanted to go to. If we were in New Orleans (for the BCS-level Sugar Bowl), that wouldn’t be where I wanted to be.”
Wide receiver Tavarres King, measuring his words: “I don’t really think anything. The system is OK. I really can’t say much more.”
But he did. He said this: “I’d love to see an eight-game playoff. If you go head-to-head with teams in this conference, you might slip up. We certainly deserve a BCS bid.”
The argument can be made that, if you’re not playing for the BCS title, it doesn’t matter where you land. Monetarily that’s not true, and psychically it isn’t, either. The BCS system – which will yield to a four-team playoff come to 2014 – has created a three-tier system: Tier 1 is the championship game; Tier 2 consists of the other four BCS bowls; Tier 3 is everything else.
The BCS allows a conference only two spots in its Big Five. (Unless two teams from the same league are matched in the BCS title game and neither is the conference champion, which could never happen.) But when the bigger leagues grow by the minute and the Big East descends to Sun Belt level, is such a provision fair? Would the New Year be lessened if the Sugar Bowl, say, featured a rematch of Georgia-Florida?
Said Mark Richt, Georgia’s coach: “Is Florida deserving of the (BCS) opportunity? I think they are. I think we are, too.”
For the record, Richt and many Bulldogs lauded the Capital One. “Everyone is exited to go to Disney World,” Murray said. “Everyone wants to use their (bowl-provided) Best Buy gift cards.”
But danger awaits in Orlando. Georgia is clearly the superior team – Nebraska is ranked No. 23 by AP – but Georgia mightn’t have the greater motivation. Asked if he feared his team might believe it’s too good for the Capital One, Richt said: “I don’t think anybody is thinking that. The Capital One is a great bowl. Nebraska is a great program.”
Those are nice words from a famously nice man, but the reality is rather different. Thirty days after losing a national semifinal by four points and five yards, Georgia will face a much lesser opponent in a more austere setting. Spend those Best Buy gift bucks wisely, guys.
By Mark Bradley