LINCOLN — Nebraska will try to stop a three-year bowl skid against the team that handed the Huskers the last of those defeats.
The Gator Bowl on Sunday night paired Nebraska and Georgia for its Jan. 1 game in Jacksonville, Fla., reuniting opponents with lower rankings and worse records than they carried into their Capital One Bowl meeting a year ago.
The then-No. 7 Bulldogs won that game 45-31 in Orlando to complete a 12-2 season that nearly included an upset of national champion Alabama in the SEC championship game.
This Georgia team, however, will be without four-time 3,000-yard passer Aaron Murray (torn ACL) and is 8-4 overall after finishing third in the SEC East behind Missouri and South Carolina. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 24 in the coaches poll.
Nebraska is 8-4 and unranked as it heads to a Florida bowl game for the third straight year. The Huskers lost 30-13 to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl after the 2011 season.
NU's current bowl skid started with a 19-7 loss to Washington in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.
Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett said in a phone interview after a Sunday night teleconference that there were no reservations with pairing the Huskers and Bulldogs for another New Year's Day. Nebraska has not faced the same bowl opponent in back-to-back years since playing Florida State in Orange Bowls following the 1992 and '93 seasons.
“While we would not want to bring back a team or teams from the year before, we don't see any issue at all with bringing two teams back that played in the Capital One Bowl last year,” Catlett said. “This is a totally different game.”
Catlett said the Gator went into Sunday with Nebraska and Michigan on its Big Ten list and Georgia and LSU on the SEC side. Catlett realized after discussions Sunday morning with Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Executive Director Robert Shelton that Michigan (7-5) likely would be snagged for that Dec. 28 game in Tempe, Ariz.
The Gator still could have taken Minnesota, which beat Nebraska and also finished 8-4, from the Big Ten. Or possibly LSU or Mississippi from the SEC.
“But these are two traditional powers,” Catlett said.
Catlett said the 23,000 fans Nebraska brought to the Gator Bowl to end the 2008 season (a 26-21 win over Clemson) made the Huskers an attractive draw. Georgia fans also know Jacksonville well from playing Florida annually in the city.
“I know that Georgia people love Jacksonville,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “There's no doubt about that. We've been playing in Jacksonville for about 80 years, so I think everybody really enjoys that and understands the area and looks forward to spending more time there.”
Georgia hasn't played in a Gator Bowl since Jan. 1, 1989, its last game under coach Vince Dooley. Richt noted Sunday that it was Dooley who hired him as Bulldogs coach in 2001.
“Hopefully Coach will come down with us and enjoy it,” Richt said.
NU led Georgia 31-23 midway through the third quarter last year before the Bulldogs rallied in the Capital One Bowl. Georgia rolled up 589 yards as Murray passed for 427 and five touchdowns against that Husker team that entered 10-3, played in the Big Ten championship game and was ranked No. 23.
Asked about the rematch on the Gator Bowl teleconference, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the Huskers are just up for playing any good program with good tradition. He said NU will have to study the Bulldogs over the next few weeks.
“But I know they're a well-coached football team,” Pelini said. “I know they have a lot of talent, from having gone up against them a year ago.”
Both teams have been hit hard by injuries this season, including their record-setting quarterbacks. Taylor Martinez has played four games for NU — and none since Oct. 26 — and Georgia lost Murray in the first half of a Nov. 23 game with Kentucky.
Bulldogs junior Hutson Mason played the last six quarters of the regular season in place of Murray.“we're not complaining. We're not crying about it,” Richt said. “Just find out who's next in line and make sure they know what to do, and give them an opportunity to have their day.”