ATHENS -- There are few things more unpredictable than the emotional state of a football team heading into a bowl game. But there are reasons for Georgia to be on guard against a letdown in the Capital One Bowl.
The No. 7-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) are coming off a game in which they literally finished five yards shy from playing for a national championship. The SEC Championship ended with Chris Conley sitting with the ball on the 5-yard line in the Georgia Dome and Georgia unable to stop the clock. Time ticked away in a 32-28 loss to No. 2 Alabama.
Not only did the Bulldogs come up short in their bid for the national championship. They lost consideration for a BCS bowl. So now they head to a non-BCS bowl to face a 10-3 Nebraska team coming off a 70-31 loss as a double-digit favorite.
Add to that a looming threat of distraction. Twelve UGA defensive starters are expected to be moving on, nine due to exhausted eligibility and three others due to soaring NFL stock. Even junior quarterback Aaron Murray admits that he’s “definitely going to think about” the NFL draft. Perhaps having an eye on the future is understandable.
Final exams over, the Bulldogs reassembled Wednesday for their first of 15 bowl practices. Coach Mark Richt, speaking at the team’s Capital One Bowl Media Day, said he isn’t entirely sure yet where his team’s collective head is. But he believes they’ll be engaged and motivated in time for the Jan. 1 game in Orlando.
There is evidence of Georgia’s not being terribly motivated for bowl games in the recent past. It could be argued the Bulldogs were not intensely interested — or at least lost interest about halfway through — in last year’s triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. And Georgia definitely wanted to be elsewhere in the 2010 Liberty Bowl, when the Bulldogs lost 10-6 to a extremely motivated Central Florida team. The Bulldogs were similarly disinterested in the 2001 Music City Bowl, which ended in a 20-16 loss to Boston College.
But Georgia players insist there will be no hangover of disappointment.
“Me, personally, I just want to win a bowl game,” Murray said with a laugh. “I haven’t won one as a starter, so I know I’m going to be working extremely hard to win this game. And this senior class has just meant so much for this program, for bringing us back to where Georgia needs to be. I know myself and all the other underclassmen want to send them off on the right note.”
Said senior linebacker Christian Robinson: “Yeah, we were five yards away from being somewhere else. But let’s not show that we’re not worthy of it by not finishing.”
The 2012 Bulldogs have a chance to become just the third team in school history to win 12 or more games. The 1980 national championship team went 12-0 and the 2002 team finished 13-1 after a Sugar Bowl win over Florida State.
“Jarvis (Jones) and John (Jenkins) said after the (SEC Championship) game, ‘This feeling we have now, we need to take that out on Nebraska,’” freshman linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “I know the young guys and all the other guys on the team don’t want the seniors going out with a loss in a bowl game after going 11-2. We want to finish the season strong and finish the drill.”
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