No. 8 Baylor and No. 5 Georgia will attempt to bounce back from losses in their respective conference championship games when they meet in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in New Orleans.
Both teams watched their hopes for reaching the College Football Playoff end Saturday. Baylor (11-2) fell 30-23 in overtime to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, while Georgia (11-2) lost the Southeastern Conference championship game 37-10 to LSU.
Georgia is trying to avoid a repeat of last year when the disappointment of missing the playoffs created a hangover effect that carried into bowl season. Georgia followed up its 35-28 SEC championship game loss to Alabama last year by falling 28-21 to 12 ½-point underdog Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
“I know that we’ve got a lot of players that I got to meet with today who want to get the bad taste out of their mouth from last year with the loss," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
Smart said Georgia's coaches and support staffers took notes after last year's Sugar Bowl to get some insight on how they can better prepare for bowl games in non-playoff situations.
“The bottom line is it's your job to go play in a football game, and you get a great opportunity,” Smart said. “There's a lot of teams across the country that would be dying to play in a game like this. We're going to sell it that way, that it's a great opportunity to be Sugar Bowl champs. None of the players on our team have ever been Sugar Bowl champs. They're going to get an opportunity to do that.”"
Baylor’s Sugar Bowl berth continues this program’s remarkable resurgence under second-year coach Matt Rhule. Baylor went 1-11 the year before Rhule’s arrival and is the first Power Five team to win 11 games within two seasons of losing 11 games.
Rhule called the opportunity to coach in the Sugar Bowl a “bucket-list” item. Rhule, a former Penn State linebacker, grew up rooting for the Nittany Lions and remembers watching his future alma mater clinch the 1982 national championship by beating a Herschel Walker-led Georgia team in the Sugar Bowl.
“Watching Gregg Garrity catch a diving touchdown down the left sideline from Todd Blackledge, just having that be one of my earliest memories of football, of what the bowl games mean, when families and friends come together to root their teams on, whether it's in person or (from) far, far away,” Rhule said. “To me, it will be just an amazing opportunity on a very personal note.''
Some things to note about the Sugar Bowl matchup.
Baylor will be hoping quarterback Charlie Brewer makes a successful comeback after getting knocked out of the Big 12 championship game in the first half. Brewer appeared to hurt himself while bulling over a defender at the end of a 7-yard run early in the second quarter.
Rhule said Sunday there's no immediate update on Brewer's status.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm has been struggling lately. Fromm has completed less than half his passes in five straight games. He went 20 of 42 for 225 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions against LSU.
Fromm might be working with a shorthanded receiving corps. Lawrence Cager missed the SEC championship game with an ankle injury and is “very doubtful” for the Sugar Bowl, according to Smart. Georgia receier Dominick Blaylock's status also is in doubt after he injured his left knee against LSU.
This will mark the first time Georgia and Baylor have faced each other since a 15-3 Georgia victory on Sept. 16, 1989. Georgia leads the series 4-0.
LONG TIME COMING
Although this is the second straight year that Georgia will end its season in the Sugar Bowl, Baylor hasn’t played in this game since beating Tennessee 13-7 on Jan. 1, 1957.
STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH
Baylor has 34 touchdown runs to tie for 10th among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Georgia has allowed only one touchdown run all season.
NOT THE TYPICAL BIG 12 TEAM
Big 12 teams have a reputation for being soft on defense, but Baylor has allowed just 4.85 yards per play to rank 20th among all FBS teams. Baylor’s defense is led by James Lynch, who has 18 ½ tackles for loss and 12 ½ sacks.
Georgia’s defense is even better. The Bulldogs are allowing 4.34 yards per play to rank third nationally. Georgia also ranks second in scoring defense and fourth in total defense.