ATHENS, Ga. -- When last we saw Georgia’s football team, the Bulldogs were trudging off the field at the Georgia Dome, having fallen 5 yards short of a spot in the BCS championship game in perhaps the most disappointing loss of their careers.
They reconvened on Wednesday for the first time since that 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, participating in their first practice for a date with Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl -- a much-needed form of therapy for the numerous players who will play their final college game on New Year’s Day.
“I really think [it’s therapeutic], especially when you have time to rest,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “Our bodies aren’t as sore. Guys had time to heal up. As a senior, you only have a few more opportunities. You never know when your last chance to play is after this, so you’ve got to take advantage of the time. I want to be with these guys and this is a special team to me.”
The Bulldogs were third in the BCS standings, just behind No. 2 Alabama, with a spot against top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS championship game looming when their final drive stalled at the Alabama 5-yard line.
If Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley hadn’t tipped Aaron Murray’s final pass to Malcolm Mitchell, the Georgia quarterback believes it would have produced a touchdown that would have allowed them to play for a national title. Instead, the Bulldogs (11-2) dropped out of the BCS bowls altogether, slipped to No. 7 in the BCS and will face No. 16 Nebraska (10-3) in Orlando, Fla.
The stakes are decidedly different for the matchup with Nebraska, but the Bulldogs have other goals to strive for -- like removing the sour taste that still remains from their last game.
“It’s just another chance to finish the season off strong. I know me personally, I want to win a bowl game. I haven’t won one as a starter, so I know I’m going to be working extremely hard to win this game,” said Murray, who started the Bulldogs’ 2010 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl and last season’s overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. “And this senior class has just meant so much to this program, bringing us back to where Georgia needs to be. I know myself and the rest of the underclassmen really want to send them off on the right note.”
The senior class has the same objective. Having restored the Georgia program to national relevance following back-to-back SEC East championships, they see the Nebraska game as an opportunity to finish on a positive note.
“When I came here, the program was a little different,” said defensive lineman John Jenkins, who signed with Georgia prior to last season out of Mississippi Coast Community College. “It wasn’t the program that we all see today, but at the same time, we all fought. I gave my word when I signed here that I was going to do whatever I can to help change the program around and that was my job for two years. And now for me to leave here and see the program ... from three years ago till now, it’s a whole turnaround.”
That is the message that Georgia’s coaches plan to send to the team throughout the remaining bowl practices in Athens and Orlando, as well. This already ranks among the winningest seasons in program history -- only two Georgia teams have ever won 12 games (1980 and 2002) -- and even without a spot in the BCS title game, the Bulldogs can secure a claim as one of coach Mark Richt’s best teams by finishing with a victory.
“I will be challenging our leadership to finish better than we did a year ago and to solidify the job that they’ve done, because I think they’ve done an outstanding job to this point,” Richt said. “I think they need to put an exclamation point on it or at least finish strong in a manner worthy of the way they led the entire offseason from January until now. That will be a big part of it.
“I’ll be talking a lot to the younger guys -- the guys who know they are going to be coming back -- to honor those guys with the way they play.”