Gator Bowl breakdown: Nebraska vs. Georgia
Nebraska (8-4) vs. Georgia (8-4)
Jan. 1, Noon ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Because you missed Nebraska and Georgia square off in a New Year's Day bowl in Florida last year? While Cornhuskers fans don't seem particularly excited about traveling to watch their team face the Bulldogs for a second consecutive postseason, this matchup carries plenty of intrigue. Georgia and Nebraska feature two of the most dynamic running backs in the country. The Huskers' Ameer Abdullah led the Big Ten in rushing (1,568 yards) and ran for more than 100 yards in all but two regular-season games. The Bulldogs' Todd Gurley missed three games with an ankle injury, but he still finished with 903 rushing yards and 10 touhchdowns and helped Georgia win four of its last five games. Neither team will have its starting quarterback for this one -- both the Bulldogs' Aaron Murray and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez suffered season-ending injuries -- so both should lean heavily on their tailbacks. Though Abdullah is eligible to declare for the NFL draft, both players are expected to return to campus in 2014.
• Keep an eye on: Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini, who came under intense scrutiny earlier this fall as speculation swirled about his job security. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst voiced his support for Pelini after the coach gave an impassioned statement following a season-ending 38-17 loss to Iowa on Nov. 29. "If they want to fire me, go ahead," Pelini said at the time. It's worth pointing out that the last embattled Big Ten coach to see his team blown out by an SEC foe in the Gator Bowl was former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez after the 2010 season. Rodriguez was dismissed four days after Mississippi State thrashed the Wolverines 52-14.
• Did you know? Four of Georgia's offensive players suffered season-ending ACL tears: wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell (Aug. 31 vs. Clemson) and Justin Scott-Wesley (Oct. 5 vs. Tennessee), running back Keith Marshall (Oct. 5) and quarterback Murray (Nov. 23 vs. Kentucky). The unit bears little resemblance to the group that started the season. Redshirt junior quarterback Hutson Mason will be making only his second career start.
• Final analysis: Gurley closed the season by rushing for 122 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs back from a 20-point deficit in a 41-34 double-overtime victory at Georgia Tech on Nov. 30. The Huskers' improved defensive line -- which features pass-rushing end Randy Gregory (8.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss) -- could struggle to slow Georgia's star back, who should build off his late-season momentum. Abdullah, who ran for 123 yards against Michigan State's top-ranked rushing defense on Nov. 16, should keep Nebraska within striking distance. However, he likely won't do enough to prevent the Cornhuskers from suffering their second straight postseason loss to the Bulldogs.
• The pick: Georgia 34, Nebraska 30