Georgia and Cincinnati began the 2020 season with aspirations of spots in the College Football Playoff.
A Peach Bowl meeting in Atlanta on Jan. 1 is expected to draw a lot of attention nationally and represents a worthy consolation prize.
Cincinnati won the American Athletic Conference title to finish the regular season 9-0. The Bearcats remain the subject of debate as to whether the undefeated conference champions were deserving of finishing among the top four teams in the CFP after Notre Dame was soundly defeated by Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
The Bearcats finished No. 8, well out of the running to become the first non-Power 5 team to make the playoff. They were the highest Group of 5 team, ahead of unbeaten and No. 12 Coastal Carolina (11-0), so the Bearcats received the opportunity to play in a New Year’s Six game.
“It’s huge for our program,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “If you want to claim you deserve an opportunity or a shot, this is an opportunity, this is a shot.
“Our guys are incredibly excited. I want to make sure everybody knows, there’s no disappointment over here. We are incredibly happy and excited to be where we are.”
Cincinnati defeated then-No. 23 Tulsa, 27-24, on a game-winning field goal in the AAC championship game on Saturday, giving the Bearcats their third win over a ranked team. Cincinnati also beat then-No. 22 Army, 24-10, and then-16th-ranked SMU, 42-13.
The Bearcats are led by quarterback Desmond Ridder, the AAC offensive player of the year who has 2,090 passing yards, with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has rushed for 609 yards and a team-high 12 scores. Seven Bearcats have at least 186 yards and a touchdown receiving, led by Josh Whyle’s 318 yards and five scores. Gerrid Doaks has rushed for a team-high 673 yards.
A New Year’s Six game is nothing new for No. 9 Georgia (7-2). This is the fifth consecutive year under coach Kirby Smart that the Bulldogs will play in a New Year’s Six Bowl or the CFP.
Georgia, which saw its streak of playing in three straight Southeastern Conference title games end this year, was essentially eliminated from CFP consideration with a 44-28 loss to then-No. 8 Florida on Nov. 7. Georgia also lost at then-No. 2 Alabama, 41-24, on Oct. 17, though the Bulldogs are the lone team to lead the Crimson Tide at halftime this season.
“I’ll be honest, when your intention is to win the game, that’s not going to change between his guys and your guys,” Smart said. “Every coach is going to try to find an angle that gives their guys an edge or competitive advantage, whether that’s them being ranked ahead of us or whatever. I don’t know Group of Five, Power 5, all those languages, that’s for (media). My language is football, and they’ve got a good team. They haven’t been beaten.”
The Bulldogs played quarterback carousel this season.
Georgia opened with D’Wan Mathis, shifted to Stetson Bennett and settled on JT Daniels, a highly touted transfer from Southern California. Daniels has energized what had been a stagnant offense that relied too much on its rushing attack led by Zamir White (730 yards, 10 TDs), James Cook (303 yards, three TDs) and Kenny McIntosh (234 yards, one TD).
Starting in the past three games, Daniels has thrown for 839 yards, nine touchdowns and an interception in wins over Mississippi State, South Carolina and then-No. 25 Missouri. Georgia averaged 41.6 in those games after the Bulldogs scored at least 40 just once in the previous six games.
Daniels will be challenged by a Cincinnati defense that finished the regular season No. 7 in points allowed (16.0) and 10th in yards (310.8).
“This gives a well-rounded Cincinnati team their chance to dance against a Power 5,” Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan said. “As we’ve seen in our two previous matchups, Houston won against Florida State from the ACC and UCF won against Auburn from the SEC. But on the other side, I really think Georgia’s hitting its stride and is getting some high-scoring offense and playing great on defense.”
–Field Level Media