ATHENS — Kendall Milton, Georgia’s touchdown leader, has already announced he will play in the Orange Bowl rather than break away to prepare for the NFL combine and ensuing draft.
The No. 6-ranked Bulldogs (12-1) will play an undefeated No. 5-ranked Florida State (13-0) team that’s hell-bent on proving a point in the Orange Bowl at 4 p.m. on Dec. 30.
Seminoles coach Mike Norvell issued a scathing statement claiming he was “disgusted and infuriated” his team was “cheated” out of a playoff spot.
“We have one more opportunity to define this 2023 team in the Orange Bowl,” Norvell said, “and I believe in how our team will respond.”
Milton flexed the “togetherness” Coach Kirby Smart has preached with his firm commitment to play in a non-CFP bowl game mere moments after his two-TD effort in the heartbreaking 27-24 loss to Alabama.
“One-hundred percent,” Milton said on Saturday night, asked by a DawgNation reporter if he would play in a bowl game even if the Bulldogs didn’t make the four-team CFP field.
Some fans and media have downplayed the relevance of non-playoff bowl games since the addition of the CFP, but that’s not how Smart has approached it and certainly not how Milton feels.
“There’s no way I would abandon my brothers,” Milton said. “I’ve been through hell and back with these boys, so there’s no way that I won’t take every opportunity that I can to be able to play with them.”
Georgia has several players projected to be selected in the NFL Draft again this season.
There have been a few occasions in the past when some UGA players dealing with injuries — or carrying elite first-round grades — have opted out of non-playoff bowl games.
But the vast majority of Smart’s players have opted to play and improve their NFL draft stock while finishing something they started, capping their legacy on a high note with teammates.
Milton noted how fellow Georgia stars Ladd McConkey and Brock Bowers showed what this UGA team all about by playing injured in the 27-24 loss to Alabama last Saturday.
“Credit to those guys, personally I know what those guys have been through and the adversity they faced,” Milton said. “I know the pressure they felt they had on their back.”
Indeed, both Bowers and McConkey have been rated among the top five players at their respective positions by NFL draft analysts.
“But those guys just always kept the team first,” Milton said. “I think everyone knows Ladd and Brock didn’t have to keep playing …. If they wanted to make a selfish decision, they could have called it quits, but it just shows how much of team players those guys are.”
Milton said it’s that sort of dedication that has set this 2023 version of Georgia football apart.
“Mission, team, self,” Milton said. “That’s what we preach in the facility, and those guys showed that with their actions playing in games like this.”