Dogs getting ready for a bowl, but it sure feels different this time

By Paul Newberry AP Sports Writer
Posted 6:53AM on Friday 22nd December 2023 ( 5 months ago )

ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs are getting ready for a bowl game, which is standard routine at this time of year.

Yet it feels so different.

After winning back-to-back national championships and holding down the No. 1 spot in the rankings for nearly the entire season, Georgia's first loss in nearly two years cost it a spot in the College Football Playoff.

So, instead of preparing for a semifinal game in New Orleans or Pasadena and the chance to go for a third straight title, the Bulldogs (12-1) are left to settle for an Orange Bowl matchup with unbeaten Florida State that carries little significance beyond pride.

“It’s definitely not the ideal situation,” offensive tackle Earnest Greene III conceded.

But the Bulldogs insist they're not phoning it in.

They point to an outgoing senior class that could become the winningest in school history with one more victory. They point to the chance to get a head start on another stellar campaign in 2024. And, of course, they point to a desire to get the bad taste out of their mouths from a loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

That defeat knocked the Bulldogs out of the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings, costing them a chance to become the first program in the bowl era to pull off a national championship threepeat.

“The leadership on this team has been absolutely incredible because what I hear from other coaches about these type games, it’s been a nightmare for them,” coach Kirby Smart said. “It has not been a nightmare for us. We have dudes out there practicing. This is their last go-around.”

Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State, which was snubbed by the playoff committee despite a 13-0 record, has had several stars opt out of the Orange Bowl rather than risk an injury ahead of the NFL draft.

So far, no one from Georgia has publicly announced they are sitting out — other that those who entered the transfer portal — though it seems highly unlikely that a projected first-round pick such as tight end Brock Bowers will actually take the field in South Florida, especially after an injury-plagued season.

Still, the commitment from a number of high-profile players to suit up one more time in the red and black has not gone unnoticed by the underclassmen.

“When I look at guys like (fourth- and fifth-year players) Sedrick Van Pran, Xavier Truss or Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, just knowing that we could send them off as the winningest class in Georgia history, that sparks a fire in everybody on this team,” said Greene, a freshman. “Just playing for that will give us a purpose.”

The mood around Athens perked up even more when the Bulldogs landed another stellar recruiting class on Thursday — offsetting at least 18 players who have entered the transfer portal, including star linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson and backup quarterback Brock Vandagriff, who both are headed to SEC rival Kentucky.

Smart said he's got no problem with those who decided to move on, and he doesn't think it reflects poorly on his program. If anything, the departures point to how tough it is to earn playing time with the Bulldogs.

“The portal is a good thing. Let’s don’t make it a negative,” Smart said. “If you’ve been in a program for three years and you’re not playing, and you don’t feel like you’re going to play or you don’t feel like you’re being developed, it doesn’t look great, you might need to look somewhere else. It’s an OK thing.”

The Bulldogs also lost their most prominent recruiter when secondary coach Fran Brown took the head coaching job at Syracuse. Smart moved quickly to fill the opening, hiring Southern Cal secondary coach Donte Williams.

On the flip side, Georgia received a big boost for 2024 when quarterback Carson Beck decided to return for one more season.

After waiting three years for his chance, Beck put up stellar numbers in his first season as the starter. He's eager to further his development — and boost his draft stock — with one more season between the hedges.

“It's huge,” tight end Oscar Delp said. “With a year under his belt, I can't even describe how good he's going to be next year. It's exciting to have him stay.”

The Bulldogs insist they're pumped to get a chance to play one more game this season, even if it doesn't come with a shot at another national title.

“We’re approaching it the same way as any other week,” senior defensive back Tykee Smith said. "We have an opportunity to finish the year out right.”

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) celebrates a touchdown during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Alabama in Atlanta, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.