Be prepared for an onslaught of the hot take Seth Emerson ($$) somewhat snarkily describes as “Motivated Angry Group of 5 Team vs. Unmotivated Blueblood Team“.
Read, for example, this, from ESPN:
Key player: QB JT Daniels. The USC transfer gave Georgia’s offense a much-needed boost after he took over the starting job in the past three games. Sidelined while recovering from knee surgery at the beginning of the season, Daniels has completed 66.7% of his passes with nine touchdowns and just one interception. With Daniels under center, the Bulldogs have been able to throw the ball down the field more than they did previously, getting George Pickens and others involved in the passing game.
Storyline to watch: Georgia has already had three seniors opt out of the bowl game, linebacker Monty Rice, tight end Tre’ McKitty and cornerback DJ Daniel, and there might be more coming. Last season, junior offensive tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson and senior safety J.R. Reed skipped the Sugar Bowl, but the Bulldogs were able to rally for a 26-14 victory over Baylor.
Key player: QB Desmond Ridder. He was named AAC Offensive Player of the Year after running for 609 yards with 12 touchdowns and completing 66.4% of his passes for 2,090 yards with 17 scores and six interceptions. Ridder will have to make some plays with his arm against a Bulldogs team that led the FBS in run defense, allowing only 69.3 yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry.
Storyline to watch: The undefeated Bearcats felt slighted by the CFP selection committee, which didn’t elevate them higher than No. 7 after the initial rankings, even after teams ranked ahead of them lost. Cincinnati defeated then-No. 22 Army, No. 16 SMU and No. 23 Tulsa this season, but knocking off Georgia in Atlanta would give the Bearcats a stamp of legitimacy.
It may be a little subtle, but it’s a variation on the same theme. I await the earnest, dulcet tones of Kirk Herbstreit pushing a similar story.
For what it’s worth, it’s still a football game and that means matchups matter. I haven’t watched a ton of Cincinnati football, obviously, but two things that jump out initially are that the Bearcats run a 3-3-5 defense and Ridder does a lot of damage with his legs. With regard to the former, it’s a defensive scheme the Dawgs have previously faced this season. I would expect Georgia to come out trying to establish the run, because it will have a physical advantage on the lines. (Tulsa did some real damage that way in the AAC Championship Game.)
If that works, Cincinnati is going to have to make the hard choice about bringing another safety in the box, which is going to give Daniels an opening to exploit with the pass. Which I expect he will do, based on recent history.
On the flip side, it’s going to be up to Georgia’s outside linebackers to contain Ridder and keep him bottled up in the pocket. And, yes, I know sometimes that’s been easier said than done. (Also, it would be irresponsible not to speculate on how well Cinci runs the wheel route. But I digress, at least I hope so.)
And that’s before we get to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, recruiting. Here’s a chart sent to me by a loyal reader (thanks, Scott).
I don’t care how motivated you are, that’s an enormous talent gap you somehow have to make up if you’re Cincinnati. And before you give me, “well, South Carolina did it”, note that Carolina’s averages are closer to Georgia’s than Cinci’s. Sure, it’s football and any given Saturday applies, but that’s a lot of Jimmies and Joes to overcome, even if the Dawgs have the expected number of opt-outs.
All of which is to say that Cincinnati is a good team and I expect Georgia to be in for a tough fight. But it won’t be because Kirk Herbstreit says so.