Motivation for Dawgs? To Win

MEMPHIS – The relative difference in motivation for Georgia and Central Florida was on display at an Embassy Suites Hotel in the days leading up to the Liberty Bowl.

When they came in for interviews, Georgia players spent much of the time fielding questions about whether they would go pro. Head coach Mark Richt was asked how he motivated his team.

But Bruce Miller, perhaps UCF's best player, talked about not being recruited by the team he grew up rooting for – Georgia. And head coach George O'Leary was actually asked if a win in the Liberty Bowl would vault his school into contention to be in a BCS conference.

So against that backdrop, the top team from Conference USA meets the ninth-best from the SEC, at least as far as the bowl pecking order.

UCF has a better record (10-3) and is ranked No. 25 in the final BCS standings. And yet Georgia (6-6) is about favored by about a touchdown.

Georgia senior defensive end Demarcus Dobbs admitted he was a bit surprised by that.

"We hadn't been favored much throughout the whole season in any of our games," Dobbs said.

A few historical factors might at work in the betting line: UCF has never won a bowl game since it became a Division I-A team (now FBS) in 1996. Georgia, under Richt, is 7-2 in bowls.

But another record is the main rallying cry for the Bulldogs this week: They don't want to finish 6-7.

"I can't remember the last time I've seen Georgia lose a bowl game," junior linebacker Justin Houston said. "It's important for us to have a winning season. Coach Richt has had a winning season every season since he's been here, and we're trying to keep that going."

There's reason to believe the Bulldogs.

After a 1-4 start, their prospects of playing in any bowl seemed bleak. After rallying, they still had to knock off Georgia Tech – O'Leary's former team – in the regular season finale to get bowl eligible.

Coming from behind, in a season sense, is what players point to when they say there's no danger in this team not being up for Friday's bowl.

"We came a long way this season, we had so many ups and downs," Dobbs said. "It was big for us, that everyone was looking forward to getting in the bowl."

As for UCF, it might seem a ridiculous notion that a win would put it in BCS conference contention. But O'Leary, after the requisite statement that he was happy in Conference USA, didn't deny it.

"I think it would put you on the lips, or keep you on the mind of those people that talk about us moving up," O'Leary said.

Richt, who played at Miami and coached at Florida State, said he could see that state becoming a five-school power soon, including UCF and South Florida.

"I think they're in great position," Richt said of UCF, pointing out the strength of talent in Florida.

In the meantime, it's Georgia that has the five-star and four-star recruits. It's Georgia that has the possible NFL draft picks, including star receiver A.J. Green. And it's Georgia that plays in the SEC, probably the nation's top league.

So Richt was asked Thursday how he made sure his players didn't take a non-BCS conference team lightly.

"I think our guys understand winning, I think they understand a championship team, that winning is a habit," Richt said. "And UCF is in a habit of winning right now."

O'Leary had to engage in his own bit of propping up the opponent, pointing out that Georgia is 5-2 since Green came off suspension, adding that in his opinion, "they're not a 6-6 team."

The official record says otherwise. But the Bulldogs hope that, after a bleak season, they can at least finish it right.

"Our motivation is to win," linebacker Christian Robinson said. "We wanna have a winning record."

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