ATHENS -- There is a video board in the Georgia football facility that features a countdown clock to the next game. By Monday it contained Nebraska’s logo, and at noon the meter indicating days until kickoff switched from 16 to 15.
The anticipation, however, is hardly palpable.
Georgia players did their best to claim excitement about a rematch with a team they beat last year, in a stadium they’ve already played in this season. But there was no talk about a budding rivalry, earning respect or the bowl experience. The comments went more like this:
“It’s another game,” sophomore tailback Todd Gurley said. “Another win we hope to get.”
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“I’m glad to play another game,” junior receiver Chris Conley said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t get to play a bowl game.”
And then Conley pointed out that last year’s game was close (until Georgia pulled away to win 45-31), and that Nebraska would be ready to play.
“So it’s a challenge to us to not be apathetic, just make sure that we practice hard and we’re prepared,” Conley said.
Yes, the biggest challenge for Georgia in the Gator Bowl might not be Nebraska (8-4), its 59th-ranked offense or 36th-ranked defense.
Georgia junior receiver Michael Bennett captured the feelings of many the night of the bowl announcement when he tweeted, “Nebraska again? Are you kidding me?” Bennett deleted the tweet soon after, and by Monday was making clear he didn’t want to talk about it. He also pointed out he didn’t actually play in last year’s game, having torn his ACL earlier in the year, so he has a legitimate case to make about being excited to face Nebraska, his deleted tweet notwithstanding.
There are some differences between the two teams that met in last year’s Capital One Bowl. Both starting quarterbacks from last year, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, are injured. Nebraska has been rotating in two quarterbacks, while the Gator Bowl will be the second of the Hutson Mason era at Georgia.
“I’m just very grateful for the opportunity,” Mason said, adding that he had started watching film of Nebraska and saw that it returns a bunch of players in the secondary. “If you just go back and watch last year’s game, it took us awhile to get going. And they’re a team that’s a lot like us. They’ve been hit by the injury bug. They’re 8-4, we’re 8-4.
“But if you look at their games one thing I noticed is there were a few (instances of) one drive here, one play there, away from being 9-3 or being in a bigger bowl or playing in their conference championship, just like us. I don’t think 8-4 describes their record like I don’t think 8-4 describes our record.”
But it is still Georgia and Nebraska, two teams without any particular hatred for each other.
Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt has been doing his best to push his personal angle. He was born in Omaha and grew up rooting for the Cornhuskers. Richt is pushing that angle much more than he did last year. He also admitted Monday to some excitement when he thought Georgia might instead face Miami in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“I was kind of hoping we were going to play The U,” Richt said, smiling. “I heard there was a chance we could play my alma mater. But this is going to be great, because Nebraska is the team I grew up admiring.”
Georgia senior guard Chris Burnette will be playing his final college game, as will a handful of other players. So he vowed that there would be no apathy, although he also heard the talk about playing different Big Ten opponents before Nebraska was announced.
“I was kind of like the other guys and did want to play Michigan or Iowa or Minnesota or whatever, just a team that you never get a shot to play against,” Burnette said. “But, at the same, time I wasn’t disappointed. I’m just glad we get to play another football game. It’s my last go-around, I’m not gonna sit here and complain about who I’m playing, because it’s my last shot.”
Georgia junior cornerback Damian Swann, who has one year left, said he looked at it as “another game to get better.”
“They played us last year, and they played us tough. So it’s gonna be one of those games where we have to come in and we’ve gotta play our best.”
But, Swann was asked, did anything happen out of last year’s game that made him excited to see them again?
“Nah,” Swann said. “I’ve played a lot of football here. It’s just another opportunity to put a win in our column, and that’s what we’re gonna try to do.”