Georgia finished the season 6-6, third in the SEC East. UCF enters the contest 10-3 and fresh off a victory over SMU Saturday to earn the Conference USA title.
The two teams will meet in Memphis in the 52nd Liberty Bowl, the seventh oldest bowl in college football.
"I'm very thankful and excited about this opportunity," coach Mark Richt said on a teleconference Sunday afternoon.
The matchup offers a unique coaching twist.
George O’Leary, UCF's current head coach, coached at Georgia Tech for eight seasons, leaving in 2001. O’Leary won the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the year Award in 2000.
Before Richt arrived at Georgia in 2001, O'Leary had beaten the Bulldogs three straight times.
"George is a hard nose football coach," Richt said. "Every team he’s ever put out there has played a physical brand of ball."
In 2001, O'Leary's final season at Georgia Tech, Richt's Bulldogs beat the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta 31-17.
“I’ve always respected the program at Georgia,” O’Leary said. “I think they get terrific athletes and they’re well coached. They play a full 60 minutes. I know what to expect.”
Georgia has been to the Liberty Bowl twice before, both while Vince Dooley was head coach.
In 1967 North Carolina State beat Georgia 14-7. Wolfpack quarterback Jim Donnan was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Donnan later coached the Bulldogs in the late 90s, compiling a 40-19 record in five seasons.
Georgia won it’s return trip to the Liberty Bowl in 1987. Bulldogs’ kicker John Kasey kicked a field goal as time expired to beat Arkansas 20-17. Razorbacks quarterback Greg Thomas was named MVP in the losing effort.
Georgia’s history of playing in the game—though only twice—made the Bulldogs attractive to Liberty Bowl executives.
“We’ve been talking about Georgia for basically all season,” Steve Erhart, the Liberty Bowl’s executive director, said. “One because we’ve got a lot of tradition and pride with the Liberty Bowl.
“We are delighted with the selection of our team to represent the
Southeastern Conference in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl,” said UGA Director of Athletics Greg McGarity. “It’s an opportunity to return to Memphis after 23 years and play a conference champion in Central Florida. The Liberty Bowl has 50-year tradition in the bowl business dating back to its first game in
1959. We look forward to bringing our team and fans to Memphis over the holidays.”
UCF is enjoying the most successful season in program history. The Golden Knights are 10-3, and are nationally ranked (No. 24 in USA Today Poll) for the first time ever.
"Memphis will be really nice. Four days in Memphis, having a chance to play an SEC team will be really nice and we look forward to it,'' UCF Athletics Director Keith Tribble said in a press release. "When I saw the kids working out in spring ball and in the summer they had their minds set on wanting to represent this conference as champions. They wanted to get to this (C-USA title) game and win it and they did it. Very few times in life do you get a chance to follow out our dreams and goals and they did it. Now, they want to go to the Liberty Bowl, play a good opponent from the SEC and win the game, and we think we can do it.''
The Golden Knights have history in Memphis as well.
UCF played Mississippi State in the 2007 Liberty Bowl, losing 10-3.
This marks the Bulldogs' 46rd bowl game?sixth most of any team in the country. Georgia's bowl record is 26-16-3.
The Bulldogs will hold a practice this Saturday, Richt said, before taking next week off during final exams. The team will resume practice and continue work up until Dec. 21, Richt said.
"The chance to practice a few more times is important," Richt said. "I think some people like to practice for the future. I personally like to practice to try to make sure we send our seniors out on a high note, and all of our preparation is really for trying to win the game."
The team will report to Memphis Dec. 26.
Although this season has been a disappointment according to Georgia players, the chance to lock in a winning record is important, Richt said.
“I think it’s just important to win period,” Richt said. “Again I’m most concerned about how our seniors feel in that locker room after that last game, because there’s going to be that scene after the game where you’re going to say goodbye and thanking them for everything that they’ve done. You want to be able to do that when you’re celebrating, not licking your wounds. I want a great memory for those guys.”