This week in the Georgia Dome all the Bulldogs get a unique opportunity to prove just how good their conference is. The Chick-fil-A Bowl, in its first year after dropping the traditional Peach designation from its name entirely, provides an interesting challenge for the SEC participant.
This year, of course, that’s Georgia (8-4, 4-4 SEC), which will take on No. 14 Virginia Tech (10-2, 6-2 ACC) on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Georgia Dome. The Hokies finished second in the ACC this season, behind only champion Wake Forest, which Virginia Tech beat 27-6 at Wake Forest.
Georgia, meanwhile, finished sixth in the SEC. The disparity in those finishes reflects the pecking order of the Chick-fil-A Bowl in each conference. Thanks to a first-year deal with the ACC, the game gets the first selection from the ACC after the BCS matchups are determined. In the SEC, the game picks fourth among non-BCS bowls, and since two SEC schools went to BCS bowls this year, it was essentially left with the sixth-most attractive choice.
The Bulldog players are not concerned by what on paper is a mismatch, several said this week.
“We like to think we play in the best conference in the country so you put a lot of the teams in the ACC in our conference, and it’s a different story,” senior defensive tackle Ray Gant said. “I know it’s how a lot of us feel and a lot of people feel like that, that SEC teams are a lot stronger than a lot of other teams from other conferences.”
The bowl games monetary payout reflects the difference in conference standing. Virginia Tech and the ACC will receive $3.25 million of the bowl’s total payoff of $5.65 million in exchange for allowing the Chick-fil-A Bowl to move up in that league’s hierarchy.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl would like to pick higher in the SEC rotation, bowl president Gary Stokan said, but he and his staff couldn’t reach an agreement with the SEC office, he said.
“We made a big play for that, it just didn’t happen,” he said. “We were trying to do both simultaneously. Maybe next time around.”
The next set of bowl negotiations probably will begin in 2009, but the entire BCS system could be changed or even gone by that point, Stokan acknowledged.
This season, the matchup works in the Bulldogs’ favor, Coach Mark Richt said. Georgia still is on the outside of the Top 25, and a third straight victory over a ranked team would almost guarantee the Bulldogs a spot in the final national polls.
“Let’s say we were sitting at nine wins and already in the Top 15 or something, and we were like all we need is a win to get 10, I might be saying, ‘Man, I’m not sure this is the best thing that could happen to us,’” Richt said. “But we need to play a good football team to gain some of our respect back.”
The monetary discrepancy doesn’t bother Richt, he said.
“I think it makes sense,” he said.
In terms of this game making a statement about overall conference strength, that will have to wait until the outcome is decided, Georgia junior Paul Oliver said.
“I think everyone thinks that (the Hokies) are the best team in the ACC,” he said, “and I think everyone is pretty sure we’re not the best team in the SEC, so we’ll just have to wait until after the game to see how it goes.”