ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia junior defensive end Garrison Smith is from Atlanta, which has a greater metro population of nearly 4.2 million.
Yet Smith believes he could thrive in Nebraska, a state with almost 18,000 more square miles than Georgia but with a population of fewer than 1.9 million. Smith and the rest of the Bulldogs are preparing to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.
"I used to joke when I was little and tell my parents that I was going to Nebraska to get me a cornfield and a farm," Smith said. "I've got a granddad in Maryland, and he hunts a lot. He hunts rabbits, so I used to get into his mindset and turn into a farmer.
"I'm from Atlanta, but I've got family from the country. All I would need is a shotgun."
The Southeastern Conference's bowl structure is set up so that league members will face Big Ten teams in the Capital One, Outback and Gator bowls. That can lead to repetition, as the Bulldogs recently have played Wisconsin twice in an eight-year stretch, Purdue twice in a five-year span and Michigan State twice in four years.
Nebraska last year became the first addition to the Big Ten since Penn State joined in 1990, and it gave the SEC a potential new foe for the holidays. The Cornhuskers earned an invitation last season to the Capital One Bowl, where they lost 30-13 to South Carolina.
No college football program won more championships during the 1990s than the Cornhuskers, who earned national crowns in 1994 and '95 and shared the '97 title with Michigan. Current Georgia players have no recollection of Nebraska's dominance under former coach Tom Osborne, who is stepping down as athletic director after the game in Orlando.
Bulldogs quarterback and graduate student Aaron Murray wasn't an avid follower of football when he was 7 years old, which is when Nebraska won its third national title in four seasons, and freshman tailback Todd Gurley was only 3.
The first memory of Nebraska for most Bulldogs players was the 2001 BCS championship game, when Miami routed the Cornhuskers 37-14 at the Rose Bowl.
"I remember watching them play Miami for the championship," Smith said. "They came up short, but that's when Miami had an NFL team. That whole team went in the first round."
Said junior tight end Arthur Lynch: "I was rooting for Miami when they played, but I always loved being [Nebraska quarterback] Eric Crouch on the NCAA video game."
Nebraska had a 33-5 run from 1999 to 2001 under Frank Solich, but those were the last three seasons in which the Cornhuskers finished in the top 10. They have lost at least three games a season in every year since, including records of 7-7 in '02, 5-6 in '04 and 5-7 in '07.
That hasn't affected the name brand, according to the Bulldogs.
"Just the thought of playing Nebraska is exciting," Murray said.
The Bulldogs worked out for two hours in full pads Wednesday and will practice this morning and Friday morning before breaking for Christmas. The team will reconvene in Orlando next Wednesday.
"It wasn't quite what we've been getting," head coach Mark Richt said. "The bottom line is I thought we got real sloppy today. It was not very good."
Sitting out the workout were senior receiver Tavarres King (strained hamstring) and senior nose guard John Jenkins (concussion).
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...