Georgia battles Baylor on New Year’s night at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Both the Bulldogs and Bears were vying for tickets to the College Football Playoff, but those aspirations were denied in league title tilts, as Baylor fell to Oklahoma 30-23 in the Big XII Championship Game and Georgia lost to top-ranked LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
In another Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Yes, Georgia is trying to buck a string of indoor losses in stadiums named for the famed German car-maker. Since beating Auburn in the 2017 SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs have lost a pair of gut-wrenching national and conference title games against Alabama, last year’s Sugar Bowl to Texas and last time out to LSU.
The fifth-ranked Bulldogs, though disappointed not to be in the national championship picture this postseason, are in the midst of one of the most successful runs of success in program history. Under the watch of fourth-year head coach and Georgia graduate Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs posted three straight 11-1 regular seasons and became the first East Division team to go to three straight SEC Championship Games since Florida went to the first five from 1992-1996. Along the way over these past three seasons, Georgia has compiled a cumulative 14-1 record against Tech, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, and Notre Dame.
But with expectations sky high, not being in the playoff is a disappointment. That was the case a year ago, and Georgia looked uninspired in a 28-21 loss to Texas in New Orleans – a game the Longhorns dominated and led 28-7.
Baylor, hit by scandal, had fallen to the bottom of the Big XII. But Matt Rhule, in his third season at the helm of the seventh-ranked Bears, has this program back amongst the Big XII’s best, in a major bowl for the sixth time, and in their first Sugar Bowl since a 13-7 win over Tennessee on January 1, 1957.
This will be Georgia’s 11th Sugar Bowl appearance. Only Alabama with 16 trips and LSU with 13 have been to more. The Bulldogs are 4-6 all-time in the game – including a 1/1/2006 loss to West Virginia in Atlanta, where the game was played due to devastation in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. Georgia has had its highest of highs, the 1980 national championship and perfect 1946 season, and some of its most painful losses, Pitt and Penn State, in New Orleans on New Years.
The Sugar Bowl marks the fifth all-time meeting between Georgia and Baylor, with the Bulldogs winning the previous four in 1972, 1978, 1985 and 1989. For Georgia to secure a fifth Sugar Bowl win, a fifth straight victory over Baylor and avoid a two-game losing streak to sour a sensational 11-1 season for a second straight year, here are the critical questions:
What players will play?
Will Georgia’s hearts be in it?
Because despite the disappointment of not being in College Football’s final four, a season with victories over Tech, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Notre Dame capped by a Sugar Bowl championship would be extra sweet.