It looks like the Liberty Bowl is about as much of a mortal lock as it can be at this point, short of the Outback Bowl doing something stupid again to throw everything into chaos. Unfortunately, the Tennessee Volunteers’ victory over the Kentucky Wildcats made the Big Orange available as an attractive in-state option for the Nashville-based Music City Bowl, which likely eliminates all hope of a postseason renewal of the rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers.
Since it appears pretty clear that the ‘Dawgs are Memphis-bound, we need to do what we can to make the best of a bad season by looking for the silver lining. Why should we
love like tolerate receiving a Liberty Bowl bid? Let me count the ways:
- The Liberty Bowl is sponsored by AutoZone. It’s always a plus when you know what product or service the corporate sponsor sells, and it’s an extra added bonus when you’ve actually been to one of their stores and bought something. At least we won’t be wondering, "Who the heck is BBVA Compass?" or, "What the heck is MagicJack?"
- The Liberty Bowl is being played on the afternoon of December 31. Getting to a New Year’s Eve bowl game counts for something.
- Memphis is roughly 450 miles from Athens and a little under 400 miles from Atlanta. That’s not ideal, but it makes for a nice trip, particularly to a city with as much to offer as a tourist destination as Memphis has. (One word: Graceland.)
- The Bulldogs will face the winner of next weekend’s Conference USA title tilt between George O’Leary’s Central Florida Knights and June Jones’s SMU Mustangs. Given Mark Richt’s history with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Mark Richt’s history with Coach Jones’s previous team, I like Georgia’s chances against a gold-and-white-clad club led by Coach O’Leary or a team guided by Coach Jones.
- The Bulldogs have history with both Central Florida and Southern Methodist. In 1999, the winless Golden Knights came into Sanford Stadium and nearly upset eleventh-ranked Georgia between the hedges. Aided by a missed UCF extra point and a debatable pass interference penalty, the Classic City Canines escaped with a 24-23 win. Against the Ponies in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the Bulldogs’ 1966 SEC championship campaign, Georgia cruised to a 24-9 triumph with the help of two future members of the State Bar of Georgia: Kent Lawrence, currently a State Court judge in Athens, broke off a 74-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game, and Billy Payne, a 1973 graduate of the Joseph Henry Lumpkin School of Law, brought in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Kirby Moore.
- Georgia has history in the Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs fell by a 14-7 margin to an N.C. State Wolfpack club led by quarterback Jim Donnan in 1967. The future Georgia head coach earned most valuable player honors by completing 16 of 24 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. The Red and Black went on to win a 20-17 outing against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Memphis in 1987, in a game that appeared in doubt when the Hogs drove inside the Georgia ten yard line with fewer than 120 seconds remaining in a tie ballgame. A holding call set Arkansas back, and a missed 35-yard field goal try set the stage for John Kasay to close out his freshman year with a game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.
- The Liberty Bowl has history, as well. It is the eighth-oldest existing bowl game, behind the Citrus (now Capital One), Cotton, Gator, Orange, Rose, Sugar, and Sun Bowls. While never a major postseason destination, the Liberty Bowl has been around for more than half a century, which carries some cachet in a sport with so many fly-by-night small-time bowl games.
- Since the Liberty Bowl began pitting an SEC representative against a Conference USA squad in 2006, the Southeastern Conference has gone 4-0 in Memphis, but the league’s four victories were decided by margins of eight, seven, six, and three points, respectively. We should expect a good game.
- The likelihood that the Conference USA Championship Game will determine the Red and Black’s bowl opponent spares that contest from the ignominy of being named this week’s national game of disinterest.
- The O’Jays will be providing the halftime entertainment, so those who attend will get to hear "Love Train" performed live.
Is the Liberty Bowl a perfect option for the Bulldogs, or even the best possible option? No, it isn’t, and no Georgia fan should be satisfied with this outcome to a season that ought to have been better than it was. Nevertheless, we are where we are, and, given the reality of our situation, the Athenians could do a lot worse than the Liberty Bowl. If everything plays out as expected, the Liberty Bowl is a tolerable opportunity of which the Red and Black (and their fans) should make the most.