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Orange Bowl Preview: Georgia vs. Florida State

Orange Bowl

The Orange Bowl is iconic. It has crowned five national champions, is a New Year’s Six Bowl, and in more recent times pits the top teams from the SEC and ACC. This year’s Orange Bow will celebrate its 90th year and pits Georgia and Florida State. The teams are a combined 25-1 and spent most of the season ranked in the Top 5. While all that sounds really good, this year’s Orange Bowl has a different feel. Instead of crowing a national champion, the Orange Bowl will host the first two teams left outside the College Football Playoff this year.

Close, but No Playoff

Georgia spent the entire season ranked first or second in the nation up until the season’s final week. The Bulldogs are the defending back-to-back national champions but saw their hopes of a third straight title dashed at the hands of Nick Saban and Alabama in their loss in the SEC Championship Game. Despite the loss, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey argued that both teams should get in the playoffs on College GameDay. “We have a third (of the top-15 teams), and the reality is that no one has experienced our success in the playoff. So when you actually put us against the teams rather than in the committee rooms, we stand alone.” 2023 is one of the few times Sankey didn’t get his way, leaving Georgia on the outside looking in.

Florida State lived up to the preseason hyped, knocked off two SEC teams, and won the ACC championship. That resume should provide them one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, a season-ending injury to quarterback Jordan Travis cast doubt on the Seminole’s worthiness of one of the four spots. The College Playoff Committee agreed as Alabama bypassed the Seminoles in the final rankings. The decision rocked college football media and fans on whether it was right or a total screw job by the committee. While both teams may look back at what would have been, we can look ahead and preview the game.

Orange Bowl Preview: Georgia vs. Florida State

Bowl Details

Location: Hard Rock Stadium | Miami Gardens, Florida
Date: Saturday, December 30
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Television: ESPN
Line: UGA -17.5
Over/Under: 44.5

Georgia Preview

Despite the fact they will not win the third straight national championship, the 2023 season was impressive. Georgia cemented themselves as one of the top programs in college football. The team set two SEC records this season; in addition to its 29 straight wins, Georgia set an SEC record for Most Consecutive Weeks at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, spending 24 weeks at No. 1. Kirby Smart and Georgia make its 27th consecutive bowl appearance, the nation’s longest streak, winning six of its last bowl/CFP appearances.

Georgia and Florida State have seen their players take two different approaches to opting out of the Orange Bowl. Georgia has 20 players in the transfer portal, most of them backups. Florida State has seen 21 players out of the Orange Bowl, many listed as starters or backups. Despite this high number, Smart told the media on Tuesday that the Bulldog’s focus is not on the Seminoles but on themselves. “We’ve taken the approach of, it’s not about them, it’s about us. We’re trying to play to our standard and always trying to play to our standard.”

Georgia will likely be without two players for the Orange Bowl: Tackle Amarius Mims and Tight End Brock Bowers. Both are recovering from injuries and are likely preparing to enter the 2024 NFL Draft. Wide Receiver Ladd McConkey has been practicing with the team, and Smart said he will likely play in the Orange Bowl. McConkey is one of Georgia’s top receivers but has battled injuries for most of 2023, including one sustained in the SEC Championship game.

Georgia’s Offense and Defense

At the start of the 2023 season, Georgia faced the task of replacing both their offensive coordinator and quarterback. Some questioned whether Mike Bobo was a suitable replacement for Todd Monken and if Carson Beck could fill the shoes left by  Stetson Bennett. It’s fair to say that both men passed the test. This season, Georgia averaged over 38 points a game, scoring 40 or more points six times and over 50 points twice (both against SEC opponents). Beck threw for over 3700 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just six interceptions on the season. Bobo trusted the offense in the right arm of his quarterback. Beck had an embarrassment of riches at receiver and became the first Bulldogs quarterback since 2013 (Aaron Murray) to record three consecutive games with at least 300 yards passing.

Georgia’s calling card under Smart has been their defense, especially in the last two seasons. 19 Georgia defenders have been drafted in the previous three seasons, eight of which have gone in the first round. Despite being ranked ninth in scoring defense, this year’s Bulldog defense has been good but not great. They showed a knack for letting opponents score on opening drives, but Glenn Schumann has been masterful at making adjustments to limit opponents as the games go on. Defensive back Javon Bullard has been one of the highlights for the Georgia defense in 2023. While he has not said if he will enter the draft in 2024, he said he will play in the Orange Bowl. He has also had a message for Georgia fans and Florida State. “We’ve got a chip on our shoulders. We want to prove something.”

Florida State Preview

The College Football Playoff committee’s decision not to include Florida State seems to be a seminal moment in college football and the 2023 season. Head Coach Mike Norvell’s comments after the announced rankings summed up but also appeared to cast a shadow over the Seminole’s program. “I am disgusted and infuriated with the committee’s decision today to have what was earned on the field taken away because a small group of people decided they knew better than the results of the games. What is the point of playing games?” In addition to the opt-outs mentioned above from the players, Florida State’s board of trustees voted unanimously to sue the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The lawsuit challenges the ACC’s grant of rights that prevents the Seminoles from leaving the ACC and looking to go to another conference.

With so many players opting out and most of the media focusing on the upcoming legal challenge, the Orange Bowl has become seemingly an afterthought for Seminole fans and the football program. Norvell said the right things on Tuesday, trying to keep his focus on the players who remained. “Life is full of choices. The last month has been really challenging; coming off the championship game, there was a lot of emotion, and the guys had to make tough and challenging decisions. But the guys here are excited about it and looking forward to the week of preparation and the competition ahead.” The Orange Bowl will be the next opportunity for plenty of young Seminoles, but one can’t help but think it might be more than they will be ready for.

Orange Bowl Prediction

This game comes down to motivation and available personnel. The edge leans to Georgia. Georgia had a handful of games where they overwhelmed opponents early and put the game away before halftime. Look for this one to follow suit.

Georgia 42,  Florida State 10

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