Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Georgia’s Orange Bowl Win Highlights a Broken Bowl System

Georgia made history on Saturday night in their 63-3 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Breaking the record they set in last year’s 65-7 win over TCU in the national championship game. That happens when a team has won 29 of their last 30 games and has almost a full complement of players at their disposal. And the team they are playing is missing over 20 players from its two-deep. Kirby Smart summed up the game and the challenge facing college football in his postgame comments. “People need to see what happened tonight, and they need to fix it. … It’s really unfortunate for the guys on that sideline who had to play in that game when they didn’t have their full arsenal.” We’ll recap some of the game in a moment. First, we’ll dig into the deeper meaning of Georgia’s 59-point victory.

Bowl Season State of the Union

Bowl season is unique in college football. For teams, it means 15 more opportunities to practice and improve together. You might get on a trip to a warmer location, or maybe you get to have one more “home” game in front of your hometown fans. For fans, it’s an opportunity to brag about how much better your conference is and get you excited about the possibilities to come after the season. Think about it: when did you last get excited about Mayo or Pop-Tarts? Those feel-good stories grow dim with Saturday night’s result.

Opt-outs and the Transfer Portal are two words that have entered the college football lexicon in the last couple of years, and their impact is fundamentally altering the game and bowl season. It’s been difficult to avoid or not hear about the two in any bowl game or postseason coverage this year. The opt-outs came for one of the biggie bowls in college football this year. The Orange Bowl is historic, crowning five national champions and part of the New Year’s Six.

“New Year’s Six” refers to six major college football bowl games considered prestigious and traditionally played around the turn of the new year. It’s one thing to opt out of a bowl game if your team is 5-7 or 6-6, but the New Year’s Six is unique and different. At least, that is what we are told and sold. The Orange Bowl result showed that it has no extra or special meaning, and for teams and players, it is now just playoffs or bust.

Some Teams Are More Equal Than Others

Florida State had a historic year. Mike Norvell turned around a Seminoles program that was backsliding from the prominent spot it held in the sport in the late ’90s and early 2000s and that had not been relevant or in the College Football Playoff discussion since the mid-2010s. Florida State won the ACC Championship, was a perfect 12-0 on the season, and defeated two SEC teams away from home. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, that wasn’t enough to get them into the College Football Playoff. When the seeding was announced, 12-1 Alabama leapfrogged Florida State into the final spot in the four-team playoff.

Some on Twitter and message boards will argue that Georgia’s historic victory vindicated the committee. Those folks should probably either (both?) delete their accounts or think beyond just the score. The committee’s announcement sent anger and hurt across the Seminole nation. Norevell spared no punches in his response. “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.”

Florida State: A Case Study

The committee effectively told the players that their 13 wins and games didn’t matter as much. Alabama’s wins matter more, and we won’t mention their loss. Sure, there is more to it. The Seminoles lost quarterback Jordan Travis to injury and were limited on offense after he could no longer return. The players were hurt, the fans were hurt. There was even talk about the Seminoles boycotting the game, which, in essence, they did. Twenty players decided to opt-out or hit the Transfer Portal rather than finish the season.

Some have seen or called the player’s choice selfish, and others have questioned their toughness. Instead, the decision is an unintended consequence of the emphasis placed on the College Football Playoff. The College Football Playoff is the gold standard. It has relegated any of the bowls not in the semi-finals as afterthoughts.

It’s just not the players who are skipping out, either. Look at the coaching carousel two short years ago. The head coaches at Notre Dame and Oklahoma bolted their programs for “greener” pastures when their teams were eliminated from consideration. These are not Group of Five jobs, but two blue bloods in college football. Smart was correct in saying Georgia’s win highlighted a problem in college football; one cannot be sure, though, if it can be fixed.

Looking to the future

The 2024 college football season is about to alter the sport as we know it fundamentally. Conference realignment enabled the SEC and Big Ten to distance themselves from the other conferences, leaving a Power Two and everyone else to fight for the scraps. The Pac-12, one of the most historic conferences with over 100 years of tradition, will all but cease to exist, no offense to Oregon State and Washington State. The College Football Playoff will expand from four teams to 12. It is the playoff expansion that has everyone clamoring.

An expanded playoff will give greater access and reward teams like Missouri and Ole Miss for a solid and successful season. Both teams used big bowls wins and key Transfer Portal additions to build on the momentum and position themselves for 2024. An expanded playoff also may “fix” Florida State and Georgia’s “2023 problem.” Both teams would be in the expanded playoff, with Florida State securing a first-round bye. The emphasis will shift in 2024 to those 12 teams that make the playoffs. The symptoms, though, coaches leaving for greener pastures and players opting out, will probably remain and may grow in number. While one can still look forward to the Mayo, Pop-Tarts, and Cheeze It Bowls in 2024, one can’t help but wonder what is also being lost.

Orange Bowl Recap

Georgia came into the Orange Bowl with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. The 2023 season they have ended with a bad taste in their mouth. The loss to Alabama snapped its 29-game winning streak and ended their chances of winning a third straight national championship. Unlike Florida State, Georgia did not have to worry about opt-outs from its two deep. Amarais Mims and Brock Bowers did not play due to injury, but both supported their team on Saturday night in Miami Gardens.

The game turned into a route early. Georgia fans breathed a little easier when Florida State did not score on its first possession, bucking a season-long trend that seemed to haunt the defense. After turning the ball over on downs in its first possession, Georgia scored touchdowns on its next nine possessions to comfortably put the game away. The offense racked up 673 yards and had a healthy balance of the running and passing game. Here are a few of the key highlights and players of the game.

Quarterbacks put on A Show

Georgia played four quarterbacks on Saturday night. Carson Beck got the start and finished with 203 yards passing and two touchdowns. Gunnar Stockton also got some playing time with Brock Vandagriff off to Kentucky. Stockton completed six of nine passes and also added two touchdowns. Nobody was more excited to see Jackson Muschamp pick up a first down for Georgia than his dad, Georgia’s Co-Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp. The Elder Muschamp excitedly signaled a “first down” after the play, an incredible moment for both of them to cherish.

Take a Bow

Two offensive stars that may have been playing in their last game shined for Georgia on Saturday night. Senior Kendall Milton took the first couple of handoffs of the game and showed he was ready to go out on top for Georgia. The senior running finished with two touchdowns and averaged 11.3 yards a rush. Milton was also named the Orange Bowl MVP. He will now prepare for the NFL Draft.

Wide Receiver Ladd McConkey’s future is uncertain. The junior has battled injuries all season but has been one of Georgia’s most trusted receivers. McConkey is weighing his options on whether to enter his name in the NFL Draft or return for his senior season. McConkey caught just one ball for 22 yards, but his 27-yard “rush” turned all the heads.

The Young Guys Shine

The future is bright in Athens, and Georgia had one young player on offense and defense shine in the Orange Bowl. Wide Receiver Dillon Bell had five catches and averaged 17.2 yards a catch. Bell has shown to be a dynamic threat in the rushing and receiving game. Look for the Sophomore role to continue to grow and for Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo to find new ways to get Bell the ball next season.

Linebacker C.J. Allen had a nice night for the Bulldogs. The Freshman had six tackles Saturday night to lead Georgia. Allen came in after Jamon Dumas-Johnson’s season ended against Tennessee with an upper-body injury. Allen was a more than adequate replacement, being named the SEC Freshman Player of the Week for Week 11 after his first start against Ole Miss. With Duman-Johnson off to Kentucky, Allen’s role in the defense will continue to grow.

Better Never Rests

Smart spoke all season about how Georgia’s most significant competition was themselves and complacency. The Bulldogs could have come out flat and uninspired, especially with all the negative news of Florida State. Instead, the win demonstrated a hallmark of the culture that Smart has built in Athens.

Photo Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message