In college football’s game of musical chairs, it was the Georgia Bulldogs who were left standing when the four Playoff seats were filled. Being No. 5 in a 4-team race is never fun.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart did all his ranting earlier in the month, convinced that Georgia was one of the four best teams in the country, and it was wrong to be left out of the Playoff. Several players did, too, as did thousands of fans, of course. None of the jabbering really mattered.
Instead of a Playoff spot, Georgia has to settle for a slot in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans against the Texas Longhorns. They’ll meet up in the New Year’s 6 game on Tuesday night (8:45 p.m. ET; TV: ESPN).
Texas is a Big 12 team with four losses and is ranked 10 spots behind the Bulldogs. Georgia is a 13-point favorite, so a blowout win is a definite possibility.
Don’t tell these Bulldogs that this is just a meaningless exhibition game. They want to make a statement that they belonged in the Playoff, so they want to finish this season in style.
“We feel like we were one of the top four teams in the country,” Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta said. “We want to come out and show that, and let everybody know they messed up.”
Junior Mecole Hardman, who’s had a great season at wide receiver and in the return game for the Bulldogs, is completely dialed in.
“There’s something on the line because we feel like we should be in the Playoffs for sure,” Hardman said. “We think we’re better than most of those teams in the Playoffs, if not all four of them, so there’s definitely a little pressure added. It’s all good, we’ll treat it like another game and try to get that W.”
Georgia finished regular season with an 11-2 record, losing only to LSU on the road and No. 1-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame, with unblemished records, were basically Playoff locks. The fourth spot went to 1-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma, and that’s where Georgia had its biggest argument. The Bulldogs thought they were more deserving than Oklahoma.
The Sooners’ only loss to was to this same Texas team. They lost 48-45 in October, but then evened the score with a win over the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship Game.
So beating Texas — and beating them badly — will definitely send a statement. It doesn’t really matter this year, because all of those decisions are said and done, but it’s important for down the road. A blowout win might make a difference with where they start in the polls next year. It’s Playoff or bust in 2019 for Georgia for sure.
“We’re going to come out fighting and hopefully we win a big football game,” Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said, “and it might show we should have been in the final four.”
The Bulldogs had their chances to win in the SEC title game, letting Alabama come back in the fourth quarter to steal a win. The loss was hard, and it took away their Playoff spot with it. That doesn’t matter at all now, Fromm said. They’ve all put it behind them.
“That’s past us. We confronted it that night,” Fromm said. “We’re here now. You can’t change anything in the past. You put it behind you and you go to work, that’s the only way I know to get over anything, you just go to work.”
It’s always hard to figure out how good Big 12 offenses really are, because there’s so little defense played in the conference. But Texas definitely has some weapons. Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger has thrown for 3,125 and 25 touchdowns, and has thrown only 5 interceptions. Junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey led the team with 1,109 receiving yards.
They might be able to score some points against Georgia’s defense, especially now that senior cornerback Deandre Baker has decided to skip the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
There are huge concerns, however, on how the Texas defense will hold up against Georgia, especially its running game. Bulldogs D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield could have big days. Swift and Holyfield have combined for 1,992 yards and 17 touchdowns this season on only 302 attempts.