Welp. That happened. As you've no doubt heard by now the University of Georgia Bulldogs will be going to the Gator Bowl, which they anticipated, and which Red and Black fans were relatively excited for. However, they'll be playing in that game against the same Big Ten team they played in last season's Capital One bowl in Orlando.
That news was met, less positively. I for one said some pretty angry things on Twitter last night upon hearing the news. My behavior was rash and childish. And I take back none of it. Zero. Rick Catlett, Gator Bowl president, said that the bowl chose Nebraska after the Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl passed on the 8-4 Cornhuskers to take the 7-5 Michigan Wolverines. The choice, once the Wolverines were off the board, was between Nebraska and Minnesota. The rationale for the Fighting Pelinis' selection was that the Nebraska fanbase travels better than the Golden Gopher contingent, and that the program from Lincoln is a more storied, traditional power.
In the words of Jules Winfield, allow me to retort. Finding a fan base that travels well means jack-diddly crap when you present them with a game that they're just not motivated to travel for. Nebraska fans are about as excited as Bulldog fans to play a rematch. Only they're generally situated anywhere from 800 to 1500 miles away from Everbank Field. If the Huskers sell half their allotment of 15,000 tickets it will be a miracle. And in the process the Gator Bowl folks have presented the other fan base involved in the game, the one geographically situated such that they actually could show up in Jacksonville in droves, as they do annually, with an opponent to whom they are not only ambivalent, but openly hostile.
Big Ten fan bases never travel well to Florida bowls. It's a fait accompli that the majority of tickets sold in these SEC/Big Ten match ups in the Sunshine State are sold to the folks from the land of speed and diabetes. Assuming you give them a reason to buy. Which the Gator truly and righteously failed at.
Admittedly, they don't seem to have had a whole lot of control over what the Wing Dings Bowl did. But they certainly could have leaned on the Big Ten to preserve the order, and even talked incentives with the Ann Arbor contingent if they wanted to. It happens all the time during bowl season. But it sounds a lot like the guys in Jacksonville got pantsed on this one, caught flat-footed when the team they wanted wasn't available. Like a panicked game show contestant whose time is running out in Final Jeopardy, they simply scribbled "LATVIA?" on the pad, then held an absolute cluster bomb of a press conference to gin up excitement for a match up that no one can ape excitement for without being a candidate for the Disingenuous Dipspit of the Year Award.
It wasn't convincing in the least. When Mark Richt goes to the "Hey, I lived in Nebraska when I was a kid" well in the first 5 minutes, you know you're selling crap to the septic tank repair man.
And don't even get me started on Greg McGarity's comments, which indicate that the boys in Athens also didn't do a whole heckuva lot to avoid this. McGarity admitted that there wasn't any lobbying that went on from their end. I'm hoping that he's being diplomatic, that there were efforts, they didn't work, and he's not going to drag the whole sordid business out into the light. Because if our Athletic Director realized this was a possibility and didn't do a thing to avoid it then he should have to explain that. He should have to explain to Bulldog fans why this doesn't make him look like a complacent minion of the SEC honchos in Birmingham, who will be plugging the story line of new conference member Texas A&M and poster boy Johnny Manziel coming to one of the conference's most traditional bowls. A bowl they'll play against Duke in part because the ACC actually lobbied for the Blue Devils to be there. That's the really bewildering part of all this. If in fact we were not politicking, we were the only ones.
In short (okay, not that short I suppose), this is a disappointing match up which will likely require both schools to eat ticket costs and yield a disappointing TV product which will do little to reinforce the Gator's brand. Solid job, team!
Now that we've established that, let me also say this: that's the last time I'll rant about this selection product. From this point forward it's just counterproductive. Your Georgia Bulldogs will play at noon on New Year's Day in Jacksonville against Nebraska, and there's not a thing any of us can do to change that. The task from here on out is to get ready for the game, actually show up for the game, and win the game. I'm not going to encourage you to boycott the Gator Bowl. The folks in Jacksonville-Duval County have been great to Georgia fans over the years, they try very hard to create a fun environment for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, and I expect they'll put on the Ritz for this one as well. Not showing up does nothing but convince the Gator Bowl committee that our 24 year absence from their game wasn't long enough. Let's not burn that particular bridge, at least any more than I already have after they read the first half of this article.
Let's also remember that there are still some distinct positives to be had here. There's another excuse to head down to St. Simon's, Amelia Island, or your other particular First Coast/Golden Isles haunt of choice. Believe me, there are worse places to be on New Year's Day.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that this also means we can probably make it through the game without Glenn Mason being mentioned even once, which is a plus. And that the folks over at SB Nation's Corn Nation are a lot of fun to work with.
For another, there's the chance to play against a physically comparable opponent in a warm up for 2014. Mark Richt made clear last night that the 'Dawgs probably won't use the full complement of bowl practices, because doing so would take away from recruiting time. Georgia has several big time prospects still in play who need convincing, several committed prospects who are getting attention from other programs and absolutely must be locked down, and a lot of 2015 players who they need to get on now.
Be that as it may, 10 bowl practices isn't a bad thing for this group. And a game against a team that's got the players to play with Georgia won't hurt. Near the end of the 2006 campaign, Dawg Sports Editor Emeritus T. Kyle King and I had a friendly, but spirited debate about whether the 8-4 Georgia Bulldogs should accept a bowl bid if offered. The 'Dawgs had lost to Vanderbilt and barely escaped against Tech. They had lost a redshirt senior quarterback to injury then outright benching in favor of a young and unproven QB (albeit one with a lot more fanfare than Hutson Mason).
That team accepted a bid to play Virginia Tech in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl. They then looked uninspired and lethargic against the Hokies for one half before storming back with a solid defensive and special teams effort which no one really saw coming. The next season saw, in this man's opinion, perhaps the best squad of the Mark Richt era. A team that was one inexplicable loss to Tennessee away from a national title berth. I said it then, I'll say it again. No one ever improved as a team by sitting on the couch crying in their cranberry sauce. Let's go play the Huskers and beat them.
The one thing worse than playing in an underwhelming bowl game? Being the uninspired team that loses the underwhelming bowl game in front of a half-empty stadium because fans couldn't be bothered to show up. Don't be that team, Bulldogs. Don't be those fans. Let's go do this thing. Until later . . .