By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
After selection Sunday, No. 7 Baylor football is set to take on No. 5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on New Years’ Day. The Bears are seeking their first win against the Bulldogs, having lost the previous four.
With both the SEC and Big 12 champions heading to the College Football Playoff, the second-place finishers take their automatic bids into the New Year’s Six bowl. It’s Baylor’s first trip to the Sugar Bowl since 1957, a win over Tennessee.
The final game of the season is also Baylor’s third BCS/New Year’s Six bowl in program history, after losing the Fiesta Bowl to UCF in 2013 and the Cotton Bowl to Michigan State in 2014. The 11-2 Bears are also in search of their first 12-win season in program history.
While Baylor has been the insurgent into the national conversation this year, Georgia has been at the top of the polls for years. The Bulldogs also played for the chance to make the playoff this week as the No. 4 team, but instead, they lost to No. 2 LSU and fell out of the playoff picture.
Georgia plays a southern brand of ‘smashmouth’ football, with a hard-nosed offensive line and strong play in the backfield. RB D’Andre Smith leads the team with 1,216 rushing yards on average 6.2 yards per carry.
The offensive line has also only given up 12 sacks this season. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said in his press conference after the LSU game that they define their team by the guys they have.
“You have an offense that’s built around the players you have,” Smart said. “So you take the players you have, and you use your strengths. With the players we have, we have certain strengths. We usually have good pass protection. We have a good offensive line. We’ve got good backs.”
In the SEC Championship game, the Bulldogs managed to gain just 286 yards, nearly 200 less than the Tigers gained. Georgia was also held to just 61 rushing yards and a 2.4 yards average on the ground. Smart said it wasn’t the fault of the scheme that lost the game Saturday.
“Our ability to run the ball has not been consistent this year … It’s not a matter of what is your offensive philosophy. It is what is the best way to win the game. I honestly think that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Last year, Georgia played in the Sugar Bowl against Texas, and the Longhorns went to New Orleans and stole the game from a higher-rated Bulldogs squad that had also just missed the playoff. Many speculated Georgia may have been less focused going into the game, and Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said during a teleconference today there wouldn’t be that issue with his team.
“Where we came from in the past three years ago to where we are now, I know our guys are going to play their best game and give our best effort.
After going 1-11 just two years ago, the Bears on the verge of their best season in the history of the program. Rhule said despite the loss to Oklahoma, the team can still make a lasting mark this season.
“Whatever bowl people ask us to play, let’s go play one more game together, let’s finish as a top-10 team, and let’s get to 12 wins, which has never been done,” Rhule said. “And more importantly, we’ll be back.”