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A Decidedly Premature Independence Bowl Preview: Will the Georgia Bulldogs Face the Iowa State Cyclones or the Texas A&M Aggies?

Last night, while watching the Oregon Ducks defeat the Oregon St. Beavers, I found myself thinking ahead to bowl season.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Last night, while watching the Oregon Ducks defeat the Oregon St. Beavers, I found myself thinking, "Is Chip Kelly trying to make coaching decisions so strange as to baffle Les Miles?" As Joe Tiller learned the hard way in the 2000 Outback Bowl, no coach should ever go for two unless he has to go for two, and, after scoring a touchdown to go up 34-33 with more than sixteen minutes remaining in the game, Oregon didn’t have to go for two.

Because the Ducks didn’t kick the extra point the way they should have, Morgan Flint’s fourth-quarter field goal gave the home team a four-point lead instead of a five-point lead. That proved to be huge when Oregon found itself facing fourth and two at the Beavers’ 19 yard line with 1:43 showing on the game clock. Had the Ducks been up by five at that point, they could have kicked a 36-yard field goal and kicked off to an Oregon State team that hadn’t scored a point in nearly sixteen minutes and hadn’t scored a touchdown in more than 24 minutes, secure in the knowledge that the Beavers would have to drive the field, score a touchdown, and get a two-point conversion just to force overtime.

Granted, Oregon might have gone for it, anyway, but the difference between a field goal representing a seven-point lead and a field goal representing an eight-point lead foreclosed what ought to have been legitimate options for the Ducks. After picking up the first down and forcing Oregon State to expend its last time out, though, Coach Kelly inexplicably dithered about with what ought to have been the easy process of kneeling out the clock.

Oregon had a first down at the visitors’ 14 yard line, Oregon State had no time outs, and the Ducks held a four-point lead with 82 seconds showing on the scoreboard. At that point, it’s time to go into the victory formation. Instead, Jeremiah Masoli ran around (rather than backed up behind an offensive line in max-protect mode) for a four-yard loss, stopped the clock on a delay of game penalty, stopped the clock again by calling a time out with 40 seconds remaining, and finally did the sensible thing after much needless rigmarole. The two-point conversion call may have been harmless error, even insofar as Coach Kelly’s later decisionmaking process was concerned (although it certainly changed the math on his range of choices), but, after watching him botch what ought to be the simplest play in football, I had real questions about whether what appeared at first to be shrewd gamesmanship in the wake of a disastrous start was merely beginner’s luck. Rarely has a coach impressed me less in the act of capturing his team’s first Rose Bowl berth in a decade and a half.

After that, though, I found myself thinking ahead to bowl season, and to the Georgia Bulldogs’ potential opponents in the Independence Bowl, who appear to be (depending upon the outcome of tomorrow’s Big 12 title tilt) either the Iowa St. Cyclones or the Texas A&M Aggies, and about whom I had the following thoughts:

Frankly, neither team especially excites me as an opponent, but beggars can’t be choosers and I certainly wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to expect a victory over either club. (Repeat after me, Bulldog Nation . . . when you expect the worst, your only options are to be proven correct or pleasantly surprised.)

The Red and Black have no gridiron history with Iowa State, or (for that matter) with teams from Iowa, or (for that matter) with teams whose names begin with the letter "I," perhaps because there is no "I" in "T-E-A-M" (although there is an "M" and an "E"). The Cyclones, who are represented at SB Nation by the weblog Clone Chronicles, are coached by Paul Rhoads. Coach Rhoads served as the defensive coordinator of the Auburn Tigers in 2008, the only year since 2004 in which the Plainsmen held Georgia under 30 points.

Coach Rhoads is not the only former Auburn defensive coordinator to have served as the head coach in Ames, of course, and that fact may have something to do with the fact that the Tigers are heading to the Outback Bowl, as the fine folks in the so-called Loveliest Village undoubtedly were not anxious to risk facing Gene Chizik’s former team in Shreveport. (Note to Auburn fans who read this: I used the word "may"; I am drawing logical inferences from the circumstances surrounding Auburn’s odd invitation to the Outback Bowl, not stating facts known to me to be true. Please refrain from displaying your usual lack of comprehension any time I mention the Bulldogs’ oldest rival.)

The Cyclones rank eleventh in the Big 12 in scoring offense, ahead of only the lowly Baylor Bears, but Iowa State boasts its league’s fourth-best rushing attack, averaging over 175 yards per game on the ground. ISU has done a poor job of stopping the run, once again ranking ahead of Baylor and Baylor alone in rushing defense, but the thirteen rushing touchdowns the Cyclones have surrendered in a dozen outings this autumn are the sixth-fewest conceded in the Big 12.

Obviously, the ‘Dawgs have considerably more history with the Aggies, whose network-affiliated partisans at I Am The 12th Man aren’t necessarily stoked about the prospect of meeting Georgia in Shreveport. It’s difficult to draw a bead on either team, as both appeared to play well above their heads in season-ending in-state rivalry showdowns right around Thanksgiving and neither is likely to be able to duplicate that same intensity in a matchup with the other. Obviously, the Texas A&M team that showed up against the Texas Longhorns would slaughter the Georgia team that showed up against the Kentucky Wildcats, while the Georgia team that showed up against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets would thump the Texas A&M team that showed up against the Oklahoma Sooners. The reality likely would lie somewhere in between the two extremes.

Georgia is 1-3 all-time against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs fell to the Aggies in the 1950 Presidential Cup bowl game, in Dallas in 1953, and in Athens in 1954. The latter loss was particularly painful for the Red and Black, who came into the game with a 2-0 record while in the process of rebounding from a 3-8 season in 1953 that remains to this day the worst in Georgia history. The 1954 Aggies---the legendary "Junction Boys"---were in their first year under Paul "Bear" Bryant and they lost nine games, although seven of their losses were by ten or fewer points. That year’s Texas A&M team formed the foundation for future success, but the Bulldogs were the only victim of that 1-9 outfit.

Georgia exacted its revenge in 1980, when the Classic City Canines handed the Aggies a 42-0 thumping between the hedges in Herschel Walker’s first home game as a Bulldog. The Goal-Line Stalker rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns, including a 76-yard scamper. That game also was the first game since Vince Dooley redesigned the Georgia uniform in 1964 in which the Red and Black wore the silver britches Wally Butts had first introduced in 1939. They have been a staple of the Bulldogs’ uniform ever since.

The potent Texas A&M offense ranks third in the Big 12 in scoring (33.9 points per game), second in the league in rushing (190.4 yards per game), and sixth in the conference in passing (274.9 yards per game). The Aggies stand atop the Big 12 in total offense (465.3 yards per game). Fortunately, they also feature the league’s worst pass defense (262.8 yards per game allowed), third-worst rush defense (168.6 yards per game allowed), and worst scoring defense (32.7 points per game allowed).

No matter which opponent the Bulldogs face, the Classic City Canines likely will benefit from the fact that three of their coaches will be on the Georgia sideline for the final time. I don’t mean that in an obnoxious way; I merely mean that the Red and Black have a history of playing hard for departing coaches, even in consolation games. The ‘Dawgs sent Coach Dooley out a winner in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day 1989, "won one for the Goffer" in an 18-17 road triumph over Georgia Tech on the Saturday after Ray Goff’s firing was announced, and delivered an O’ahu Bowl victory to the deposed Jim Donnan in his last outing with the Red and Black. With any luck, the Georgia defense will be intense for their postseason tilt as a farewell gift to Willie Martinez, Jon Fabris, and John Jancek.

Go ‘Dawgs!