Georgia looks to wrap up memorable season with rare 12th victory

Aaron Murray would have had quite the story to tell one day if that pass in the final seconds in the Southeastern Conference championship game landed in Malcolm Mitchell’s hands in the end zone instead of being tipped and caught short of the goal line.


Marc Weiszer

The quarterback said he believes the Bulldogs can still close the book on a memorable season with a victory in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday that would give the Bulldogs and their followers plenty to make them proud.

“Being in the top five, to win 12 games, to be that close, it’s definitely a memorable season, a season I’ll be telling my kids one day and I know a lot of Georgia fans really enjoyed this season,” Murray said. “It can definitely hurt us if we don’t win this game. Drop out of the top 10. Then it becomes just another season. So I think it’s a huge game for us.”

A huge game against Nebraska in Orlando?

Georgia players say there’s plenty to play for in the non-BCS bowl game.

Sure, the nation won’t be watching in numbers like they will when Alabama and Notre Dame play Jan. 7 in South Florida in the BCS title game. The game won’t get the kind of boffo rating that Georgia’s 32-28 loss to Alabama brought in the SEC championship.

And fans waking up from New Year’s Eve celebrations will have other options at the same time besides Georgia-Nebraska. There’s South Carolina-Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Mississippi State-Northwestern in the Gator Bowl and Purdue-Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The Capital One Bowl matches SEC Eastern Division champs against the Big Ten Legends winners. Both were runners-up in their conference title game tilts.

Georgia ran out of time five yards from the national championship game when Chris Conley caught that tipped pass. Nebraska was obliterated by 39 points to a five-loss Wisconsin team that went .500 in the Big Ten in a game Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said his team came “unglued.”

Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Georgia has to play before he can really judge the type of effort his team and its seniors might have.

“I do think they’re practicing very well. They’re enjoying it,” Richt said during bowl practices. “I think they want to finish strong. I think they want to be proud of their senior season when they walk out of that locker room in Orlando.”

Senior receiver Tavarres King said Georgia, which has lost its last two bowl games, will be motivated.

“Any time you put on the pads, put on the helmet and wear that G, we’re coming to play,” he said. “We’ll be very excited to go out there and compete and get this bowl win.”

A bowl win can mean many things for Georgia,

To start with, it’s a place in history for starters with a 12-2 record.

Only two Georgia teams before have won at least 12 games in a season: the 1980 national championship team that went 12-0 and the 2002 SEC championship team that finished 13-1. Of course, 12-game schedules became the norm in 2006.

The Bulldogs, ranked fifth in the coaches’ poll and sixth in the Associated Press poll, can finish in the top-five for the third time since 1983.

Georgia finished No. 2 in the Associated Press poll following the 2007 season and No. 3 after the 2002 season.

“We can still go down as one of the best teams in Georgia history,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “Just because you’re not playing for a national championship, you can still have an opportunity to be of that caliber. We have that type of player here and we have the type of leadership that hopefully we can show up and not be able to give the game away like we did last year.”

Georgia would have won 22 games over a two-season stretch, putting it behind only the 24 amassed by the Bulldogs in 2002-03

“A lot of teams around the country don’t do that,” senior cornerback Sanders Commings said of the 22 wins and the 12-victory milestone. “Very few Georgia teams have done that. It’s a great opportunity.”

Georgia’s defense will lose eight seniors and as many as three underclassmen who will be preparing for combine workouts in the weeks ahead. How many might have been thinking more about agents and their pro futures in the lead up to the game?

“All of our guys are focused,” outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “All of our guys know that we want to go out on top. We had a great year. Why just blow it away now and B.S. the practices and the bowl game and go out get beat by Nebraska? We don’t want to do that. We want to be focused and go in there ready for a dogfight.”

Or as Richt put it: “I think our guys like football. I think they like to play the game. I think they enjoy winning and I think they enjoy practicing. We have a lot of veterans on this team that came back for a special (year) and to some degree it is a special year. We didn’t quite get to the mountain top like we wanted to, but these guys still have a lot of pride and they want to go out here and leave our program on a high note and in a first-class manner.”

There are motivation questions on both sides.

“We’ve got 29‑something seniors, or something like that,” Nebraska tight end Kyler Reed said after the Big Ten title game. “So no one wants to go out with a loss. We don’t want to repeat last year. So basically you’ve just got to dig down deep and find the will to keep pushing. I mean, there is still something to play for. That’s all you can really do is keep pushing.”

Added Nebraska’s Pelini: “It’s not the first time we’ve gotten hit in the mouth. Everybody who plays the sport of football, or plays athletics, goes through a tough time. The way you’re defined isn’t by what happens to you, but the way you react to it. Our guys are looking forward to the next opportunity to go out there and play. The opportunity to play against Georgia is great.”

Those who are returning to the Bulldogs in 2013 are looking to build off an SEC title game that will go down as perhaps the best game of this college football season and maybe the best championship game in league history.

“This team’s ready to move forward,” Conley said, “and ready to win more games.”

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