ATLANTA — Coach Luke Fickell believes No. 6 Cincinnati has a lot on the line in its Peach Bowl game against No. 6 Georgia, even though the Bearcats didn’t land in the College Football Playoff.
Fickell said the Jan. 1 bowl game is a chance for the Bearcats to show they deserve the same respect given to such Power 5 teams as Georgia in future playoff deliberations.
“It’s huge for our program,” Fickell said Sunday.
“If you want to claim you deserve an opportunity or a shot, this is an opportunity, this is a shot.”
Cincinnati (9-0) was only No. 8 in Sunday’s CFP ranking, so the Bearcats were not close to becoming the first non-Power Five team to make the playoff after beating No. 20 Tulsa 27-24 on Saturday night for the American Athletic Conference championship.
Even so, Gary Barta, who chairs the CFP selection committee, says his group “felt strongly” the Bearcats deserved to be picked over another unbeaten team, No. 9 Coastal Carolina, as the top Group of Five team when making a choice for the New Year’s Six bowl game in Atlanta.
“The committee just believed that Cincinnati was a better team,” Barta said.
Fickell lobbied for his team following Saturday night’s game and said he then told his players they’d have to back up the talk, no matter the bowl game.
(asterisk)You say those things and put yourselves out there like that, it means you’ve got to turn around and put it up,” Fickell said. “You say those things and you’ve got to go play the game. That’s part of. It’s exciting for all of us but it’s a huge measuring stick for me and for all of us in what we’re trying to build here.”
Some other things to know about the Peach Bowl mathcup:
Barta mentioned dual-threat quarterback Desmond Ridder as one reason the committee liked Cincinnati. Ridder rushed for 609 yards and 12 touchdowns and passed for 2,090 yards with 17 TDs.
The Bearcats relied on their strong defense. Cincinnati ranks No. 7 in the nation with its average of 16 points allowed per game.
Georgia (7-2) saw its streak of three consecutive appearances in the Southeastern Conference championship game end this season. The Bulldogs have not played since a 49-14 win at Missouri on Dec. 12.
Georgia’s scheduled home game against Vanderbilt on Dec. 19 was canceled after the COVID-19 issues cut into the Commodores’ available players. Georgia could not schedule a replacement game for what was expected to be their senior day.
The bowl game in Atlanta, a short drive from Athens, gives Georgia seniors a new opportunity for a final game with their families in the stands.
“I’m super excited for it to be in Atlanta,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “We ended up with only three home games for the whole year and we ended up where we didn’t get to have a kind of final wave or sendoff. They’ll get an opportunity to play in front of a lot of parents and families and fans.”
Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan said approximately 18,000 fans will be allowed to attend the game, which is about 25% capacity at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Bulldogs have had three players start at quarterback. D’Wan Mathis opened the season as the starter before former walk-on Stetson Bennett took over.
Finally, Smart switched to Southern Cal transfer JT Daniels and suddenly the Bulldogs found balance in their offense. Georgia has averaged 41.9 points and 498 yards in three games, all wins, with Daniels at quarterback.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Smart will have his players begin bowl practice before giving his team a “three- or four-day break” for Christmas. Players will return for a final week of practice. With COVID-19 numbers on the rise, some coaches are keeping teams on campus through the holiday. Smart acknowledged numbers are on the rise in Athens and said players would need to make good decisions during the break.
WINLESS VS THE DAWGS
Georgia was No. 9 in Sunday’s CFP ranking, one spot behind the Bearcats.
Georgia is 2-0 against Cincinnati but the teams haven’t played since 1976, when the Bulldogs took a 31-17 home win.