I was on vacation much of this week. Got most of my Christmas shopping done, and spent a fun day in Athens with my daughter, which included visiting the Vince Dooley and Athens rock exhibits at UGA’s special collections library (not really much to either one, which was disappointing) and a fabulous lunch at the Last Resort Grill (where, way back when, I listened to a folk singer or two).
Anyway, besides Nick Chubb rightly being named the SEC’s freshman of the year, Chris Conley not surprisingly being selected as the conference’s scholar athlete of the year, and little-used J.J. Green being lured over to the dark side by the prospect of more playing time as an A-back, the biggest news during my time off was UGA’s bowl destination: Charlotte.
The Dawgs landing in the Belk Bowl seems to have drawn a pretty meh reaction in the Bulldog Nation, despite the prospect of going against everyone’s favorite former defensive coordinator (emphasis on the word former), Todd Grantham, and Falcons fans’ favorite villain, Bobby Petrino.
So, let’s dive into a sampling of some of the irate or disappointed Junkyard Mail that has come in this week concerning Georgia’s assignment by the SEC to face Louisville in the Queen City. …
DawgLove writes: Well, that just caps it. What a season! Lost to South Carolina. Again. Lost to Florida. Lost to Tech! No SEC East. And now not even a decent bowl game! Bill, tell me, how the heck do Tennessee (barely bowl-eligibile with a 6-6 record) and Auburn (8-4) get New Year’s Day bowl games while Georgia winds up going to the not so balmy climes of Charlotte!!??
Also, Matt Mashburn writes: Bill, why did we get jumped by Tennessee for the Gator Bowl, LSU for the Music City Bowl, and Auburn for the Outback Bowl? Admittedly the Belk Bowl scored a gigantic coup in getting the two highest ranked teams of all the SEC “pool” bowls. Is it because folks are tired of the Outback Bowl and the Music City is seen as somewhat of an insult and we just went to the Gator Bowl? It would be interesting to get our list that we submitted to the conference.
And Tony Bagnulo writes: Hey Bill, So my thoughts on the Belk Bowl are as follows: I’m sad. Obviously. I mean it’s clearly reflective of the season that we’ve had, which has been all together disappointing and an emotional roller coaster. … But, seriously? Belk Bowl? We’re going to a bowl named after a low-market, regional department store? …That being said, I do think that it will be a good game, when it comes to the X’s and O’s. It’ll be a good matchup and the story basically writes itself. Richt/Bobo v Petrino/Grantham, Good vs Evil. The Saint and His Disciple v The Philanderer and the Traitor. And I know he ain’t playing, but don’t get me started about Josh Harvey-Clemons. Now if you’re like me and you’re ALSO a Falcons fan, the potential for heartbreak is substantial. Given the fact that I’m a UGA, Falcons, Braves fan, I’m fully assuming that we will lose in the most painful way possible. All of that being said, I may actually make the trip. Charlotte is a pretty cool town and it is UGA Football, after all.
Once it became clear (after the loss to the Jackets) that Georgia wasn’t likely to get one of the “access” or Big Six bowls, I’m not sure there was any outcome that could have been anything but disappointing for many UGA fans. Before the bowl selections were announced, I was hearing from fans lamenting that the Dawgs were probably going to be “stuck” in another New Year’s Day bowl in Florida against a who-cares Big 10 opponent.
However, when that didn’t work out, the cry suddenly became “what happened to my Florida holiday vacation?”
OK, Charlotte isn’t a tropical paradise, by any stretch of the imagination, but neither are Nashville or Memphis or Houston. And, for that matter, recent Bulldog Nation trips to Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville for bowls didn’t exactly draw rave reviews from UGA fans.
As for the perceived lack of prestige in the Belk Bowl, it should be noted that, under the new SEC bowls arrangement that took effect this season, once you get past the Citrus (formerly Capital One), which actually gets to choose its SEC team, the next tier, a “pool” of six postseason games — the Outback, Texas, Music City, Taxslayer (formerly the Gator), Liberty and Belk bowls — are now considered equal, and the SEC assigns teams to them based on a variety of factors. (Georgia apparently made it known that it definitely did not want to go bowling in Jacksonville again or meet Nebraska for a third consecutive year.)
The Citrus (now sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings) could have taken 9-3 Georgia but opted instead to go with 10-3 Missouri. The bowl is obligated by its new deal with the conference to take the loser of the SEC Championship Game one year out of six, so they’ve now crossed that off their list.
Alright, so the SEC might look at the next six bowls as equal, but the perception is that the Belk Bowl, in its first year of association with the conference after previously pairing teams from the ACC and American Athletic Conference, isn’t a big-time bowl. It does, in fact, have the smallest per-team payout of the six pool bowls, but that’s not really as big a deal as it might seem since bowl payments are split equally among all the SEC’s teams.
If it helps, think of it this way: The Belk Bowl (which only started in 2002 and previously was known as the Continental Tire Bowl and then Meineke Car Care Bowl) is essentially taking the place of Atlanta’s bowl in the SEC vs. ACC hierarchy now that the Chick-fil-A Peach has graduated to the Big Six (and regained its historic name in the process). Georgia is the highest ranked SEC team not in the Big Six (higher ranked than Mizzou) and I’m thinking the conference braintrust wanted to send a traditional power like the Bulldogs to Charlotte to send a message that it’s not the Weedeater Bowl East.
I also think they concluded that the Dogs and their fan base were a bit burnt out on trips to Florida — UGA only sold about half its allotment of 15,000 tickets for last year’s Gator Bowl. Charlotte is within easy driving distance for Georgia fans, which might not thrill the hotel industry in that North Carolina city, but makes for a less expensive outing.
On top of all that, only 10 bowl matchups — including the Big Six — feature ranked teams, and the Belk Bowl is one of them (for the first time in its history). Meanwhile, Auburn gets the Big 10 loser Wisconsin in the Outback (the spot so many UGA fans were griping about dreading) and the Vols face a 7-5 Iowa team (yawn).
Some fans were hoping to see Georgia vs. Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish (who will face an 8-4 LSU in the Music City) are only 7-5 and not that exciting an opponent this season. On the other hand, Georgia vs. Louisville is one of the more attractive pairings outside the top tier of bowls. Both are 9-3 and ranked.
And then there’s the whole Grantham-Petrino angle. The Dawgs will be facing their former defensive coordinator, renewing the Mike Bobo-Grantham rivalry that sometimes got kind of heated in scrimmages and G-Day games. And the Bulldog Nation is also largely Falcons land, where everyone loves to hate Petrino — both enticing storylines for reporters covering the bowl and ESPN, which will telecast it.
Plus, while this won’t be the hottest-selling ticket on the bowl scene, Georgia and Louisville only get 8,000 tickets each for the game at 73,000-seat Bank of America Stadium, and you’ve got to figure, as one fan said to me this week, that 8,000 UGA fans could stumble across this game by accident, considering the proximity.
So, all things considered, the Bulldogs have fared about as well in the bowl sweepstakes as the second-place team in a weak SEC East could hope for at the end of a season where the SEC West ruled.
Besides, think how much fun it’ll be watching Chubb and Sony Michel show up Grantham’s No. 3-ranked rushing defense.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.