Rivalry No. 1 priority for Dogs

Georgia is a game below .500 and needs a win to become bowl-eligible.

Georgia Tech is a game above .500 and just became bowl-eligible.

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Ranked teams? You won’t find one in the rivalry game for the first time since 1996 when the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets get together at 7:45 Saturday night in Sanford Stadium.

Both teams are looking for an upbeat ending to a disappointing regular season that began with top-25 rankings.

“I don’t know that what your records are changes the nature of the game,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Sunday. “It’s always going to be a big game when it’s a rivalry game. I don’t think the records of either team are going to diminish the importance of the game or how the kids view it.”

Georgia (5-6) can extend its streak of consecutive bowl appearances to 14 with a victory.

Georgia Tech (6-5) took care of that Saturday by beating Duke 30-20 and is eligible to go to a bowl for the 14th straight year.

Beating a rival trumps getting to a bowl for Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team will have had two weeks to prepare for the Yellow Jackets.

“It helps motivate a team at this point,” Richt said. “I don’t think we’ve had trouble trying to motivate our guys. I think our guys have shown up motivated to play. … When you get to this point where we’re at with no chance of any kind of SEC championship game and all that kind of thing, you’re always looking for things to motivate a team, and when you play Georgia Tech … I won’t have to strain very hard.”

Georgia has won eight of nine against the Yellow Jackets under Richt, with the only blemish coming in a 45-42 loss at Sanford Stadium in 2008.

The Bulldogs kept the Tech winning streak to a single game by notching a 30-24 win last season in Atlanta.

“I think any time you get beat, if you’re a competitor, it motivates you,” Johnson said. “I’m sure they were motivated when they came in here last year. They sure played like it. I don’t think motivation will be a problem for either team.”

Georgia Tech, the Atlantic Coast Conference champions a year ago, snapped a three-game losing streak with its win over the Blue Devils, a game the Yellow Jackets trailed 13-6 at halftime.

It was the second game with Tevin Washington starting at quarterback for Joshua Nesbitt, who broke his right forearm against Virginia Tech and won’t play against Georgia.

After going 9-4 and 11-3 in his first two seasons at Georgia Tech, Johnson has his most losses since his Navy team went 8-5 in 2003.

“I think personally I’m disappointed with where we are,” Johnson said. “I’m going to always have high expectations. We did have to replace a lot of talented players, but I felt like that we should be better than where we are. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching them up and a better job playing.”

Four juniors left for the NFL draft after last season: defensive end Derrick Morgan (16th overall pick), receiver Demaryius Thomas (22nd overall), safety Morgan Burnett (third round) and running back Jonathan Dwyer (sixth round), the 2008 ACC player of the year.

Georgia now has the top NFL prospect in receiver A.J. Green and one early betting line has the Bulldogs favored by 13 on Saturday.

Chances of the Bulldogs or any team getting into a bowl game with a 5-7 record now seem unlikely. With two weeks left in the season, there are now 64 bowl-eligible teams for 70 spots.

Richt continues to downplay a bowl appearance as a big motivator.

“It’s most important because we’re playing Georgia Tech,” Richt said. “I really mean that. That’s the most important part of this game.”

Said Johnson: “Winning or losing the game is probably not going to make or break anybody’s season. Nobody’s going to deem their season a success win or lose, I wouldn’t think. Not with the way we’ve played. I know we wouldn’t.”

n Notes: Richt said he’s “in 100 percent agreement” with the decision to schedule Boise State to open the 2011 season next year in Atlanta. “It’s a game that everybody in the country is going to watch and have a high level of interest in,” Richt said. “I think that’s important for our program. Playing in Atlanta is a good thing. Atlanta is right in the heart of our state. I think if you’re going to play a neutral site, it’s nice to play a neutral one in your own state.” … Richt will have a better idea of Aaron Murray’s condition heading into Saturday after Georgia practices this afternoon. Murray sustained a bruised sternum and bruised knee against Auburn and did not practice last week. Richt said Sunday he had not seen Murray since Thursday and today “will be a good indicator of where he’s at.”

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