Georgia finds itself playing a bowl game this year on the same day it played its season-ender last year, in the same state and at the same time. The opponent is from the same conference as last year's bowl foe. And yet, the games feel like they're worlds apart.
After all, the Bulldogs spent most of 2011 trying to live down the reputation that they got where they were -- SEC East winners, Outback Bowl participants -- in part because of a cushy schedule. Every ranked team that Georgia faced in 2011 beat them. And Michigan State in the Outback Bowl proved to be more of the same, a 33-30 triple-overtime loss that just seemed to reinforce the idea that Mark Richt was losing control of his ability to win the big games.
This year is different. Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party to essentially sew up the SEC East title for a second straight year. And its four-point loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, as opposed to the second-half blowout against LSU in 2011, seemed to do more to prove Georgia's bona fides than disprove them.
If anything, the only thing that Georgia fans might have to worry about this year is whether their players really want to be there. Florida will be playing in the Sugar Bowl, after all, and Alabama will take the national championship game berth that likely would have gone to the Dawgs had they won in Atlanta. Fortunately for Georgia, Nebraska isn't exactly thrilled with its destination, either; the Cornhuskers were penciled into the Rose Bowl before a 70-31 clubbing by unranked Wisconsin in the B1G Championship Game knocked Nebraska to Orlando for the second consecutive New Year's Day.
The more worrisome sign for Dawg fans should be their rushing defense, which ranks near the bottom of the SEC, as it goes up against the Nebraska rushing attack. And Nebraska's biggest defensive strength, its No. 2 standing in passing efficiency defense, also lines up with the best part of Georgia's offensive attack. But that formula has let down the Cornhuskers in big games this season, and that was without the motivation problems they're likely to face here.
Georgia 35, Nebraska 20