The No. 8 Bulldogs (10-2) officially accepted a bid to the Nokia Sugar Bowl on Sunday, one day after winning their 12th SEC title with a 34-14 trouncing of LSU. Georgia will play Big East champion West Virgiia, which is 10-1 and ranked No. 11.
It will be the team’s third straight game in Atlanta and second straight in the Georgia Dome. The Bulldogs probably will stay in Atlanta from Dec. 27 until the Jan. 2 game. The Sugar Bowl will kick off at 8:30 p.m. and be televised by ABC.
“I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Coach Mark Richt said. “I’m going to have a lot of guys who are very familiar with the town so we have to make sure we keep a close eye on them. I’m sure their are going to be a lot of friends and a lot of distractions.”
The 72nd Sugar Bowl is being played in Atlanta rather than its traditional New Orleans home due to damage suffered by the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. The decision to move the game was made on Oct. 7, and bowl organizers have been scrambling ever since to stage their game in a strange city.
“We are hell bent on making sure this Sugar Bowl is equally as good as any we’ve put on,” said Paul Hoolahan, the bowl’s executive director. “Hopefully, both coaches and teams will say unanimously after the game that this Sugar Bowl was every bit as good as the ones they’ve played in in New Orleans.”
The game will be the first meeting between the Bulldogs and Mountaineers.
Georgia (10-2) comes into the game having just won its second conference title in the last four seasons. The Bulldogs, who finished seventh in the final BCS rankings of the regular season, also assured themselves of their fourth straight season with 10 or more wins by beating LSU.
“We’ve set the standard for all the underclassmen,” senior offensive lineman Max Jean-Gilles said.
Georgia also won the SEC in 2002, Richt’s second season on the job.
“I’d say I’ve probably enjoyed this year more, maybe because I knew our players better,” said Richt, whose staff signed every player on this year’s team other than defensive end Will Thompson. “They were brought up in our system. They bought into what we were trying to teach, and they led beautifully. It was probably more gratifying for me to watch these guys enjoy the spoils of victory.”
West Virginia (10-1, 7-0 Big East) finished its regular season Saturday with a 28-13 win over South Florida. Its only loss this season came to Virginia Tech on Oct. 1.
The Mountaineers were second in their conference in scoring offense (31.5 ppg) and first in scoring defense (16.3 ppg allowed). They were third in total offense (378.6 ypg) and first in total defense (293.5 ypg allowed).
West Virginia’s offense is led by freshmen. Quarterback Pat White is seventh in Big East in passing (64.4) and sixth in rushing (79.5). Classmate Steve Slaton is third in the Big East with 102.7 rushing yards per game. The Mountaineers get almost 70 percent of their yards on the ground.
Defensively, defensive back Mike Lorello and linebacker Kevin McLee share the team lead with 74 tackles.
Like Georgia, West Virginia wasn’t a team expected to compete for its conference title before the season began.
“Our guys have exceeded our expectations so far, and we know they have a tremendous battle ahead,” Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said.