NEW ORLEANS — Georgia needs to take the Sugar Bowl seriously, and the program needs a win in the nationally televised event on Jan. 1.
The Bulldogs will be performing on the national stage, showcasing the direction the football program is headed after Kirby Smart’s full, four-year cycle as head coach.
A Georgia win would send the seniors out tied for the most wins of any Bulldogs’ class (44). A victory would also reaffirm that Georgia is back to beating teams it’s supposed to beat and improve Smart’s record against Top 10 teams to an impressive 8-4.
Baylor, meanwhile, looks to take a giant step up from its 45-38 win over Vanderbilt last year in the Texas Bowl and set a single-season program record for wins.
For all the kind words Smart has for the Bears, a loss would suggest Georgia didn’t show up for the Sugar Bowl — again — and this time the fans didn’t, either.
Tickets can be had for $6 apiece on StubHub for those interested in attending the tradition-rich Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
“Really?” the Georgia football fan on the flight down to New Orleans said on Wednesday. “They are that cheap, eh?”
Yes, they are that cheap. Did he already have his ticket?
“Nah,” the Bulldogs fan said, “just down here to have fun.”
Remember when going to Georgia football games was fun? When fans were excited about a Top 5 ranking and bowl trips? When every loss wasn’t the end of the world?
Expectations are a monster. But also, the Bulldogs’ no-show last year against Texas at this very same venue left a bitter taste along with an indefinite stream of social media putdowns from Longhorns fans that saw their team earn bragging rights.
Chances are, that game still comes up in living rooms when the Longhorns and Bulldogs go head-to-head on a recruit.
The stench of last year’s Sugar Bowl loss carried over into the 2019 offseason and damaged the Bulldogs’ brand.
How could Georgia have claimed to be a playoff-worthy team in 2018, when it couldn’t even beat a four-loss Texas that had lost to Maryland?
The Bulldogs weren’t close to getting a College Football Playoff invitation this season after losing 37-10 to LSU. But if Georgia had somehow played the Tigers closer, does anyone really believe UGA would have gotten the benefit of the doubt for that No. 4 spot over Oklahoma?
No one wants to hear the Georgia players didn’t want to be at the Sugar Bowl last season, even though the lackluster play at the line of scrimmage on offense and defense was obvious.
D’Andre Swift’s two fumbles and 12 yards on 8 carries certainly suggested something was amiss. The team had a season-low 72 yards rushing behind its vaunted offensive line, manhandled by a Big 12 defense.
The Georgia defense didn’t tackle well, the offensive scheme was stale. Jake Fromm, in a rare moment of visible frustration, admitted the offensive staff was slow to adjust against well-prepared Texas coaches.
So, “No,” a lot of Georgia fans don’t want to make the trip back to New Orleans and sign up for the potential for that sort of performance again.
Smart is as calculated and thorough as any college football coach in the nation, a rising star at 44 years old whose defensive wizardry and recruiting prowess is as authentic as it is undeniable.
Smart bleeds red and black, he believes in his program and proudly and truly trumpets the academics, a former All-SEC safety and four-time academic All-SEC selection.
The idea that Georgia players wouldn’t be excited and proud to represent themselves and the school is incomprehensible to Smart, leaving him in a state of denial.
“I thought we approached it serious last year,” Smart said last week. “We didn’t play real well. But we had a bunch of young guys that got to play on defense, and offensively we had turnovers and when you have turnovers you don’t win football games.”
You don’t win games with a divided locker room and key players missing, either, and that had as much to do with the defeat as anything.
It’s well-documented sacks leader D’Andre Walker was injured and unable to go, and first-round NFL pick Deandre Baker finished his Georgia legacy skipping the game.
2019 Team Leaders
This year projected first-round pick Andrew Thomas, voted a permanent captain by his teammates, decided he was ready to permanently put this season behind and start preparing for the NFL combine. Isaiah Wilson, the starting right tackle, followed suit.
Team leader Ben Cleveland is reportedly academically ineligible, failing to take care of business in the class room, and rumors are swirling another former captain could be out for the game for reasons that are not injury related.
Smart has said several times this season that this Georgia football team has good leadership in the locker room.
But the Bulldogs need to show that on Jan. 1, and this time, they need to collectively show up.
Georgia vs Baylor team recruiting rankings
Texas had a talented team, with 10 Longhorns finding their way onto NFL rosters off last season’s team.
Baylor? Not so much, as the 247sports composite rankings might suggest:
Georgia No. 2
Texas No. 3
Baylor No. 35
Georgia No. 1
Texas No. 3
Baylor No. 29
Georgia No. 3
Texas No. 25
Baylor No. 40
Georgia No. 6
Texas No. 7
Baylor No. 40
DawgNation Sugar Bowl Stories