The Bulldogs and Cornhuskers were paired in the Gator Bowl on Sunday night, setting up a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl.
Georgia won that meeting 45-31, getting five touchdown passes from Aaron Murray. The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs (8-4) won’t have Murray in the Jan. 1 rematch. The Southeastern Conference’s all-time passing leader tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Nov. 23 against Kentucky.
Junior Hutson Mason will make his second start. Mason completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, in a 41-34 win in double overtime against Georgia Tech.
“We think Hutson is going to be a heck of a ball player,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It’s good that he got a little experience against Georgia Tech.”
Still, the postseason pairing raised some eyebrows.
“Nebraska again? You kidding me?” Georgia receiver Michael Bennett posted on his Twitter page.
There had been speculation that Michigan would be the Big Ten representative opposite Georgia in the Gator Bowl. But the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl took seven-win Michigan — the Wolverines are one of the top television draws in college football — over the eight-win Cornhuskers, who beat the Wolverines earlier this season in Ann Arbor.
So the Gator Bowl ended up with a hardly anticipated rematch.
“It was a great battle last year,” Richt said. “We’ll see what happens this year.”
Georgia is no stranger to Jacksonville. The Bulldogs play their annual rivalry against Florida at EverBank Field.
But this will be Georgia’s first Gator Bowl since 1989, a 34-27 win over Michigan State in legendary coach Vince Dooley’s final game. Georgia also played two other times in the Gator Bowl, tying Maryland in 1948 and defeating North Carolina 7-3 in 1971.
“I know that Georgia people love Jacksonville,” Richt said. “There’s no doubt about that. We’ve been playing in Jacksonville for about 80 years, so everybody really enjoys that, understands the area and is looking forward to spending more time there.”
Nebraska (8-4) last played in the Gator Bowl in 2009, beating Clemson 26-21.
“We had a great experience at the Gator Bowl when we played there in my first year here,” Pelini said. “We have some familiarity with Georgia having played them last year in the bowl game, but these are two different football teams. This will be a great challenge for our football team, and we look forward to the opportunity.”
The Cornhuskers haven’t had much postseason success since that win, losing their last three bowl games.
Nebraska looked bound for a better postseason destination, but lost two of its final three games — both at home. The slide raised speculation about embattled coach Bo Pelini’s future. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst has publicly backed Pelini despite the coach’s run of blowups in his six years.
Pelini has issued two apologies for his conduct just this season. He came under fire in September after an audio of a profane tirade against fans went public. The rant came shortly after his team came from behind to beat Ohio State and was directed at fans who left the game early.
He also was publicly reprimanded and fined $10,000 for comments about officiating in a loss to Iowa on Nov. 29. Pelini used an expletive at his postgame news conference while discussing a pass-interference penalty against his team. Pelini was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct during the game for swiping his hat at, and nearly hitting, the head linesman.