LINCOLN — Nebraska won't exactly get a chance to lick its wounds after the humbling 70-31 loss Saturday night to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
The Huskers found out Sunday that their next opponent will be the highest-ranked team in the Bowl Championship Series standings that won't be going to a BCS game, accepting an invitation to play Georgia in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1.
“I think it's a great opportunity for us and a great challenge,” Husker coach Bo Pelini said Sunday night. “We're excited to be going and to play the best available opponent out there.”
Georgia (11-2) is seventh in the BCS rankings and would have been playing Notre Dame in the national championship game if not for a heartbreaking 32-28 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference final. With Alabama at No. 2 and Florida at No. 3, the SEC had its fill of spots in BCS games.
So the Capital One Bowl was more than happy to grab Georgia as the other matchups started to fall into place.
“If we weren't going to be in a BCS game, this is the location we wanted to be,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said.
The Capital One Bowl then had to gauge the interest of Nos. 21 and 23 Nebraska (10-3) in returning to Orlando. The Huskers lost 30-13 to South Carolina in the game last Jan. 2 at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Capital One Bowl CEO Steve Hogan said the sense he got from Pelini and Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne was that “those guys want to play the best available.” That led to the Georgia-Nebraska noon matchup on New Year's Day.
“Sometimes you want to keep an open mind, and if they wanted to get a change of scenery, you want to hear that,” Hogan said. “And we didn't hear that.
“Coach Osborne called and said, 'We really want to be there. We hope you'd take us back, and we want that trip.' And when they said that, we looked at a 10-win football team and a team that for most of the season was right there with Ohio State in terms of the best team in the league.”
Nebraska and Georgia have played once before, with the Huskers beating the Bulldogs 45-6 in the Sun Bowl to cap the 1969 season. That started the NCAA-record 35-year bowl streak that NU carried until going 5-6 in 2004.
Pelini has at least a little knowledge of head coach Mark Richt and the Georgia program from Pelini's time as defensive coordinator at Louisiana State from 2005 through '07.
“I know they're going to be athletic, I know they're going to be physical and obviously they're going to be well-coached,” Pelini said on a Capital One Bowl teleconference. “I think Coach Richt does a great job. They're going to challenge us across the board in every way. They're a very talented team.”
Georgia will be making its sixth appearance in the Capital One Bowl and its first since beating Michigan State 24-12 after the 2008 season. Hogan said reports before the weekend that the Cap One Bowl would be taking Texas A&M were erroneous and that bowl executives wanted all possible information before deciding on the game's SEC representative.
When a playoff structure is put in place in 2014, McGarity said, he believes a season like Georgia had will put it in the mix.
“But I'm kind of like Coach Richt: Tell us what the rules are and we'll go play by them, then we'll take things as they come,” McGarity said. “But there's no question — there's absolutely no question — that we are deserving of a BCS bid.”
For Richt, there will be one other element involved with playing Nebraska.
“It's kind of personal for me, in that I was born in Omaha, and my mom and dad grew up in Nebraska,” said Richt, who then moved to Colorado when he was 7 or 8. “All my cousins on that side of the family are big Husker fans. They like the 'Dawgs, too. They call themselves the CornDawgs, actually.”
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>> Video: Jon Nyatawa's postgame analysis:
>> Video: Postgame press conference video with Bo Pelini: