We've all seen the commercial where the kid gets really excited about receiving Gator Bowl tickets. This, after all, is at least the second year it's run in the local market.
Every time I see it, I find myself laughing. In reality, what kid would be excited over any Gator Bowl matchup, especially this year's?
The not-so-hidden secret is that no one gives a healthy damn about the Georgia vs. Nebraska matchup on New Year's Day. But then again, what did they expect, given where the Gator Bowl falls on the pyramid of college bowl games these days?
The days when the Gator Bowl could front like it belonged high atop the second tier are a distant memory, joining toll booths on the Fuller Warren Bridge and two daily papers in Jacksonville.
An indication of where the Gator falls in the pecking order these days:
The Big Ten bowl selections, after Michigan State to the Rose Bowl and Ohio State University to the Orange, are as follows: Wisconsin to the Capital One Bowl; Iowa to the Outback; and Michigan to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. (That's a real thing, by the way.)
After all that, the Gator Bowl ended up with Nebraska — and as great a Springsteen album as "Nebraska" is, it doesn't add up to football that you care to watch.
For one thing, everyone who wanted to see this matchup would've seen it a year ago, when Georgia and Nebraska locked up in the Capital One Bowl. Aaron Murray lit up the scoreboard last New Year's Day, throwing for five touchdowns and nearly 500 yards as Georgia drove to victory. On the other side of the ball, Taylor Martinez threw for two TDs, and Nebraska kept the game competitive for three quarters and some change. As meaningless New Year's bowl games go, this one was at least diverting.
Will this year's Gator Bowl be as good as last year's contest between these two squads? Possibly. Maybe. But I'm not counting on it.
Murray tore his ACL, and it was just one of many injuries to bedevil the Bulldogs this year. The Bulldogs also lost their two best (arguably) wide receivers — Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell — to injury this year, and injuries affected two best tailbacks as well. If the Bulldogs had managed to keep those guys healthy, they wouldn't be schlepping to Jacksonville on New Year's Day. Many prognosticators, in fact, thought they could have made a title run.
That said, no matter the personnel problems the team from Athens has had, at least they've had a reliable presence on the sideline in the form of Mark Richt, who was more than diplomatic when addressing the team's selection for the Gator Bowl, for the benefit of the media:
"Oh, I don't know, I think it's becoming a good rivalry," Richt told ESPN. "… It was a great battle last year and we'll see what happens this year."
It could be worse, 'Dawgs fans. At least they aren't coached by Bo Pelini.
Not to be confused with his brother Carl, who lost his job at Florida Atlantic University earlier this year amid allegations of illicit drug use and horrible coaching (the team had a 5-15 record during his time there, which puts him in the dreaded Gabbert Zone), Bo has had some, um, issues with anger management.
During the Nebraska-Iowa game a few weeks back, Pelini went ape-shit on a referee after a pass interference call he didn't like, and "nearly hit the official with his hat during the tirade," as ESPN put it. The school was hit with a $10,000 fine. After the loss, Pelini struck a pugnacious pose before the assembled media.
"If they want to fire me, go ahead," he told reporters after the embarrassing three-touchdown defeat. "I believe in what I've done. I don't apologize to you."
If nothing else, at least the Gator Bowl might gin up a decent post-game presser.