Guidera: Bulldogs Over Any Sugar Bowl Blues - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

12/30/07

Guidera: Bulldogs Over Any Sugar Bowl Blues

By Tim Guidera

NEW ORLEANS, La. - It took a fifth-year senior four words to dismiss countless concerns about Georgia's mindset heading into their game against Hawaii Tuesday night.

"It's the Sugar Bowl,'' said safety Kelin Johnson.

And that's all anybody should have to say to explain how the Bulldogs feel about being where they are, which is in one of college football's biggest games for the third time in the last six seasons.

The perception initially was that it wouldn't be big enough, that the disappointment of not getting a chance to play for the national championship game would diminish where and when the Dogs did play, even in a BCS bowl against the nation's only undefeated team.

And several players admit to that letdown, at least in the first few days after they learned they would be coming to New Orleans for a game on Jan. 1 and not Jan. 7 when LSU and Ohio State will play in the title game.

But having arrived here, and at the realization that they can still achieve more of their goals for this year than once seemed possible, the Bulldogs have changed their outlook as dramatically as they changed the season that led them to this point.

"Any bowl game in January is a good bowl game,'' said senior flanker Percy Croffie. "Just being in New Orleans and being at the Sugar Bowl speaks volume for the team and what we accomplished this year. It's going to be a great game and a great experience.''

"It's always good to be in a BCS bowl and to wear that G on your helmet one more time, representing Georgia,'' added Johnson. "You can see the guys are upbeat, having fun. We're enjoying each other, we're enjoying New Orleans and we're getting down to business.''

The business of football was probably the best cure for UGA's hurt feelings, returning to practice after a month-long break turning attention away from any fleeting disappointment and back to what this team still has ahead of it.

And players saying they are now looking at the Sugar Bowl as a reward rather than a consolation prize should remove any fear Georgia fans had about the team not being as prepared psychologically as they will have to be against Hawaii.

Those were legitimate worries when they were hatched. They just didn't add up when you consider everything Tuesday's game should and does mean to the Bulldogs, how playing in the Sugar Bowl and on New Year's Day is everything Georgia usually wants or could want.

Any of them would have taken this opportunity if it was offered before the season, which started with three freshmen starting on the offensive line, a sophomore quarterback and a defensive with several holes to fill. They would have snapped it up faster than it takes the ball to get from center to quarterback after getting blown out in Knoxville, when the Dogs were 4-2, lacking direction and seemingly as likely to play a bowl game in the third week of December as on the first day of January.

And it can get even better now, a win Tuesday not only capping the remarkable turnaround that will define this season but also setting the framework for next season, when Georgia could start out as one of the top five teams in the country with a real chance to contend for a national championship.

Of course, that can only happen one way. And it is by the Bulldogs not wishing they were playing in a different game against a different team at a different time, none of which is a factor anymore according to Johnson.

 "I think it's going to be awesome for Georgia to beat an 11-0 team, the only undefeated team in the nation,'' he said. "It's probably going to be the No. 1 watched game in America. ''

So why wouldn't it be the only game on UGA's mind now?

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