ORLANDO - So Georgia practices at Celebration High School, which it hopes is a sign of something. Nebraska, its opponent in Tuesday's Capital One Bowl, is practicing at Freedom High School, which is a sign of ... I don't know, the ability to secede from the Big 12 and go to the Big Ten?
This is the second straight Cap One Bowl for the Cornhuskers, who went down to South Carolina in last year's version. When you throw in the recent history of SEC-Big Ten matchups, there understandably isn't a lot of delusional talk springing from the Nebraska players and coaches. The mantra from a media availability on Thursday was one of respect for Georgia and its conference. No old man football comments here.
Two Nebraska players with local ties talked after practice about the cultural difference between football in the deep South and Midwest.
Starting I-back Ameer Abdullah, a sophomore, is from Homewood, Ala., and his brother Akeem played at Auburn.
"I feel like the talent's honestly a lot better in the South," Abdullah said. "But I feel like in the state of Nebraska they love football just as much as they love it in the state of Alabama."
Freshman I-back Imani Cross is from Gainesville, and played at North Hall High School, a rival hometown school of current Georgia players Chase Vasser and Sterling Bailey. (Cross doesn't know either of them very well.)
"I think the people are a little bit smaller. That's about it," Cross said. "I think they're extremely competitive in the Midwest, just as in Georgia."
Abdullah added this point:
"The Iron Bowl, that's definitely one of the bigger rivalries in college football history. Nebraska football, that's all you got in the state of Nebraska, there's no Auburn or Alabama dividing the state in two. So everyone loves the Huskers, and they always come out and support. We have our sellout streak since 1962, so that's a testament to what our fans bring to the program."
Cross was never recruited by the Bulldogs; he was most involved with Kentucky and Tennessee before Nebraska came in at the last minute. Cross also didn't grow up a Georgia fan, saying he rooted more for players, including Reggie Bush and Adrian Peterson.
"It wasn't a goal," Cross said, then added with a smile: "Maybe a tad bit. But no, I never really wanted to play for Georgia."
Nebraska's center problem
Georgia not having John Jenkins might be mitigated by not only still having Kwame Geathers, but Nebraska being short-handed at center.
Senior Justin Jackson, who started all 12 regular-season games, will be out for the bowl with the same ankle injury that kept him out of the Big Ten championship game.
Junior Cole Pensick, the expected starter, didn't get his first career start until the Big Ten championship game. And Pensick has been sick, and hadn't arrived in Orlando as of Thursday morning. Head coach Bo Pelini said he expects Pensick to play. Pensick is the favorite to be the starter, but Mark Pelini, who is the head coach's nephew, could play, with Pensick shifting to guard.
Respect for Jarvis Jones
Much like there's not much disputing the SEC's prowess, there also isn't much use in disputing the ability of Georgia star linebacker Jarvis Jones.
"He plays hard, he's athletic, he has all those physical tools you look for. I think he's gonna have a heck of a career at the next level," Pelini said. "And from talking to coach Richt and their group, and the guys that I know at Georgia, he's a good person too, which obviously is important for him going forward."
Left tackle Jeremiah Sirles said he was "excited" for the challenge of blocking Jones, who enters the game with 12.5 sacks.
"He's a phenomenal player," Sirles said. "I've watched a lot of film on him: He plays hard, he never stops, he's got a really good motor. Everyone does, but I'm excited to test myself with where I'm at as a player."
Sirels was also asked to compare South Carolina and Georgia's defensive talent.
"I'd say very similar," he said. "They're fast, they're strong. The SEC is known for those fast and quick defenses."
And respect for Gurshall
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis was asked about Georgia's freshman tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Papuchis latched on to the fact that both players, especially Gurley, are hard to bring down on first contact.
"They both have the ability to break tackles and make big plays. That flashes over and over throughout the course of the season," Papuchis said. "Obviously we've got to do a good job of tackling, first guy at the point of attack has to do a good job of hitting and wrapping up. We've got to get 11 hats to the ball, it's gonna be a huge factor in the game."
Gurley enters the bowl with 1,260 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Marshall has 723 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He's averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
Georgia: 1-0 vs. Pelinis
This isn't the first game this season against a Pelini-coached team: Florida Atlantic's head coach is Carl Pelini.
But Bo said he doesn't lean on his brother for any advice from that game, which Georgia won 56-20.
"No, you go on film," he said. "I've watched almost every game Georgia has played."