The Cougars will be playing to gain a little respect and put something positive on an otherwise disappointing season. Houston has enjoyed a rich football past, but the Cougars are winless (0-10) this year. In fact, the 2001 Houston team may be the worst in school history.
Georgia (7-3) will be playing to win at least eight games for the fifth consecutive season. The Bulldogs have jumped into the Bowl Championship Series rankings at No. 15, the last spot in the rankings. Georgia must beat Houston to have a chance of keeping, or improving on, its BCS spot.
If the Bulldogs beat Houston, they are a longshot to be invited to the Citrus Bowl to play Michigan or to the Cotton Bowl to face probably Oklahoma. However, Georgia has a great chance to wind up in the Outback Bowl against Ohio State. If Houston upsets Georgia, the Bulldogs are very likely to play North Carolina in the Peach Bowl or Boston College in the Music City Bowl. There is a slim chance the Bulldogs could end up in the Independence Bowl against either Iowa State (likely) or maybe Texas A&M or Kansas State.
Either Georgia, Auburn, LSU or Mississippi will represent the Southeastern Conference in the Peach Bowl. If North Carolina doesn't play in the Peach Bowl, N.C. State will.
The Peach Bowl may still be Georgia's most likely bowl destination even if the Bulldogs defeat Houston. It's also probable Georgia would play North Carolina in the Peach Bowl because the Tar Heels beat N.C. State. The Gator Bowl has picking priority over the Peach Bowl and chose Florida State over North Carolina and N.C. State. The Seminoles will play Virginia Tech.
The SEC will have at least eight, maybe nine bowl teams. The scenarios will become clearer on Saturday. If No. 2 Florida (9-1 over-all, 6-1 conference) and No. 5 Tennessee (9-1, 6-1) both go to the BCS, No. 15 South Carolina (8-3, 5-3) is expected to get the Citrus Bowl bid. That probably would leave Georgia (5-3 SEC), No. 25 Auburn (7-3, 5-2) and No. 22 LSU (7-3, 4-3) to get the remaining two Jan. 1 bowls with SEC tie-ins--the Cotton and Outback.
Florida hosts Tennessee and Auburn plays at LSU on Saturday. The winners will be champion of the SEC Eastern and Western Divisions, respectively.
Several things must be determined before bowls with SEC ties can start making their selections, mainly whether one or two SEC schools will be invited to BCS bowls. The winner of the conference title game on Dec. 8 in the Georgia Dome will definitely go. If Florida beats Tennessee and then wins the championship game, it's expected to play for the national title. That would make it possible for Tennessee, even with a loss to the Gators, to earn a BCS bowl bid. If either Florida or Tennessee falls out of the BCS, it will knock everybody else in the league down one spot in the bowl rotation.
Even if the SEC sends two teams to the BCS, the Bulldogs could beat Houston and drop below the Outback Bowl if LSU beats Auburn then loses the SEC Championship game and goes to the Cotton Bowl. Auburn, which beat Georgia 24-17 on Nov. 10, could bump the Bulldogs from the Outback Bowl in that scenario. That would all but assure Georgia would play in the Peach Bowl.
Bulldog head coach Mark Richt offered the following comment about the post-season: "I don't know what bowl game we're going to get. I think the big thing is the players in this program know that we're moving in the right direction. We've had a good season and a bowl invitation will further personify that fact."
For now, Georgia's first priority is to get past Houston. The Cougars must face a Georgia team that has played two of its best games of the season the past couple of weeks in winning at Mississippi (35-15) and at Georgia Tech (31-17). The win over Georgia Tech was particularly meaningful to the Bulldogs as they snapped a three-game losing streak to the hated Yellow Jackets and improved their chances for a higher-echelon bowl. It also helped them move up to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll.
Georgia outgained Georgia Tech by two hundred yards (442-242) at Grant Field/Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. For the second week in a row, and only the second time all season, the Bulldogs gained more yards on the ground (232) than through the air (210). Senior fullback turned tailback Verron Haynes rushed for 207 yards, becoming the first Georgia back to surpass 200 yards since Garrison Hearst rushed for 246 in 1992 against Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech didn't consistently stop the Bulldogs' offense the whole game. Except for Georgia Tech's two touchdowns and for a few more plays, Georgia's defense shut down the Yellow Jackets vaunted offense. Georgia limited Georgia Tech to just 88 yards rushing. Nearly half (37) came on Joe Burns' third-quarter touchdown run.
Ironically, Houston is one of the few schools that Georgia has never beaten. The Bulldogs lost 15-14 at Houston in 1967 and 31-24 to the Cougars in 1974 at Athens. Houston battled the 1968 Georgia National Championship team to a 10-10 tie at Sanford Stadium.
Keys to a Georgia victory over the Cougars include:
* Not looking past Houston and toward a Bowl game.
You talk about ending the regular season on the sourest of notes. That's exactly what will happen if Georgia falls to Houston. The Bulldogs have never lost to a 0-10 team in 109 years of playing football. Georgia's players must stay focused and remember they NEED to win the game to enhance their New Year's Day bowl opportunities. They NEED to beat Houston first, and then concern themselves about what bowl invitation they will receive after the game. Richt must preach the point over and over to his players that any team can beat another on a given day.
* Putting the Cougars away early.
Georgia has a much better team than Houston and needs to prove it on the scoreboard early in the game. Quarterback David Greene should have a field day throwing the ball to Fred Gibson, Terrence Edwards and the rest of the deep Georgia receiving corp. Also, tailback Haynes could break his yardage total from the Georgia Tech game against a Houston defense that is weak against the run. Georgia's offensive and defensive lines are much better than their Houston counterparts.
If the Bulldogs play well, the game could all but be over midway through the third quarter, or even earlier.
* Defend the pass well.
Despite its record, Coach Dana Dimel's squad has one of the nation's more explosive offenses. Cougar Quarterback Jason McKinley has completed 249 of 426 passes for 2,686 yards. He has a 58.5 completion percentage. McKinley has thrown 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Like Georgia, Houston has a talented cast of receivers, including two with more than 700 yards. Brian Robinson has 75 catches for 870 yards and six touchdowns and Keykowa Bell has 54 receptions for 722 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cougars have a mediocre running game at best, so Georgia should expect an air raid from Houston. The Bulldog secondary will be tested and needs to turn out a stellar performance. Maybe cornerback Tim "Mighty Mouse" Wansley can return an interception for a touchdown a second consecutive week.
* Avoiding turnovers.
Always a perquisite. The best way for Houston to win the game is for Georgia to lose i