(Updated 10 p.m.)
A day after coming up five yards short of a trip to Miami for the national championship game, Georgia’s football team learned Sunday that it will play a bowl game in a different Florida city.
The Bulldogs (11-2) will play Nebraska (10-3) in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1 in a matchup of the losers of the SEC and Big Ten championship games.
While Georgia lost the SEC title to Alabama 32-28 on the final play of a stirring game, Nebraska endured an embarrassing 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
The Capital One, which holds first choice of SEC teams after the BCS games, had been rumored to be considering Texas A&M and its Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Johnny Manziel. But after Georgia’s strong performance against Alabama, the bowl opted to take the Bulldogs, who dropped from No. 3 to No. 7 in the final BCS standings released Sunday night.
Notre Dame and Alabama remained Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, and will meet in the national championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami. Alabama survived an SEC title game that saw the lead change hands five times and ended with Georgia on the Crimson Tide’s 5-yard line as time ran out.
Florida moved up to No. 3 in the BCS standings Sunday and, as the second highest ranked SEC team, will go to the Sugar Bowl to play Big East co-champ Louisville.
Other BCS games will match Pac-12 champion Stanford vs. Big Ten champ Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Big 12 co-champ Kansas State vs. BCS No. 4 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl and ACC champ Florida State vs. Mid-American champ Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. In the latest controversial chapter of BCS history, Northern Illinois (12-1) received a BCS berth by being ranked in the top 16 (No. 15) and ahead of at least one champion of an automatic-qualifying conference.
After Florida passed Georgia in the rankings, UGA was locked out of a shot at a BCS game because of a rule allowing no more than two teams from a single league to get BCS bids, a rule that Alabama coach Nick Saban sharply criticized after beating the Bulldogs. Saban called it “a crying shame” and “ridiculous” that Georgia would be excluded from a BCS invitation.
Actually, Georgia appeared in danger of falling farther down the bowl pecking order than the Capital One. But that’s where the Bulldogs landed after some late scrambling among bowls triggered by Northern Illinois earning a BCS berth at the expense of Oklahoma.
“If we weren’t going to be in a BCS game, this is the location we wanted to be,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said Sunday night.
But McGarity added, “There’s no question — there’s absolutely no question — that we are deserving of a BCS bid. … There’s no question we played great the last half of the season and just to see the way we laid it on the line (Saturday) proved that we’re right there along with the best in college football.”
Capital One Bowl CEO Steve Hogan called the selection of Georgia “an easy decision” in the end.
“No offense to Texas A&M,” Hogan said. “I think they’ve had a fine first year in the conference, a 10-win team. And we have an opportunity to get an 11-win division champion, a few yards away from a national championship.
“The most important thing to our committee was, Georgia deserved this trip. And we’re fortunate to have a team, really, that is of BCS quality.”
After the Capital One selected Georgia, the Outback, which had the next pick from the SEC East, chose South Carolina to play Michigan. And the Cotton, with the next pick from the SEC West, chose Texas A&M to form a marquee matchup against surprisingly available Oklahoma.
The Capital One Bowl will be played at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day in Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium and will be televised on ABC.
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he foresees no problem in getting the Bulldogs to bounce back from the disappointment of losing the SEC title game and their national championship aspirations.
“I think playing Nebraska is going to get everybody’s blood pumping,” Richt said. “There aren’t many teams in the history of Georgia football that have ever won 12 games in a season and it’s going to mean something to them. I know our guys want to finish on a high note.”
Georgia and Nebraska have met only once previously in football. Georgia lost to the Cornhuskers 45-6 in the 1969 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
This will be Georgia’s sixth appearance in the Capital One Bowl. The Bulldogs are 3-1-1 in the Orlando game, most recently defeating Michigan State there at the end of the 2008 season.
In Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, Nebraska’s defense allowed 640 total yards, including 539 yards rushing. Against Alabama, Georgia’s defense surrendered 512 yards, including 350 rushing.
– Tim Tucker, AJC