ATHENS — The Georgia-Cincinnati game is technically the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in the New Year’s Six Bowl rotation, but the Bearcats might ultimately view it as more than that.
The No. 9-ranked Bulldogs (7-2) play the No. 8-ranked Bearcats (9-0) at noon on Jan. 1 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium with both programs angling to finish this season with momentum and build toward next year.
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell didn’t rule out the Bearcats claiming a share of the national title if they can remain unbeaten with a win over Georgia — just as UCF claimed the 2017 title after finishing an unbeaten season by beating Auburn in this very same bowl game three years ago.
“We all do things to try to promote our programs, and if it helps in recruiting, there’s a lot of things that all of us will do,” Fickell said on a Sunday night Zoom call, asked if the Bearcats would take a page out of the playbook of fellow American Athletic Conference member UCF.
“I know that we played at UCF this year and saw that (national championship) post along their press box, and nobody would take it away.”
The Knights are in the NCAA record book as co-national champions with Alabama for the 2017 season via Colley Matrix ranking them No. 1 in its final poll.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who is 9-5 against Top 10 teams and has led his program to four consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl appearances, said every coach looks for a motivational edge.
“Every coach will try to build their angle where it gives their guys an edge or a competitive advantage,” Smart said. “Whether that’s them being ranked ahead of us, or us being a Group of 5, Power 5, all of those languages that’s for you guys, my language is football.
“They have a good football team, and they haven’t been beat, and they’ve beat some really good teams.”
Smart said he hasn’t looked at game film of Cincinnati, which beat Tulsa 27-24 on Saturday night in the AAC Championship Game.
But he did say it would be harder to judge the level of competition than ever.
“The hardest thing to judge this year is nobody really played across conference,” Smart said. “So if you didn’t really play across conference, you really can’t judge a lot of things, because all you know is your conference.”
Smart said he will soon release the Georgia players for “three or four days” over the Christmas break to spend time with their families before having a week of preparation leading up to the bowl game.
The Bulldogs are expected to be without at least eight former starters: Monty Rice, Eric Stokes, Jermaine Johnson, Richard LeCounte, Mark Webb, Ben Cleveland, DJ Daniel, Tre’ McKitty, per UGAsports.com reports.
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