SHREVEPORT, La. -- A resounding bowl victory can serve as a momentum boost for the following season, but Georgia football coach Mark Richt was keeping Monday night's 44-20 trampling of Texas A&M at the Independence Bowl in the present.
After all, these Bulldogs lived through their share of adventures.
"This wasn't about the future," Richt said. "The only thing I talked with the players about regarding the future is that the next group of seniors -- it's on their watch now, and they've got to decide how they want to lead this team. That's about all I said. The rest had to do with this bunch of seniors."
Georgia wrapped up an 8-5 season by setting a program record in bowl points. The five losses are the most in Richt's nine seasons, but the eight wins were enough to extend the program's nation-leading run of consecutive eight-win seasons to 13.
This season's highs included an explosive win at Arkansas, a fourth straight triumph over Auburn and an upset of No. 7 Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The lows included a second straight beating at Tennessee, a second straight steamrolling by Florida and the first home loss to Kentucky since 1977.
"With the year we've had, it could have ended up a lot worse if we had lost this game," quarterback Joe Cox said. "Being a senior and putting in so much hard work this whole year and it not going the way you wanted it to go, I think it was great to at least go out on a win against a quality opponent. Beating them in the fashion that we did is a great feeling, and it's definitely something that I think every senior on this team is going to be proud of for a long time."
Georgia finished the decade with a 98-31 record and two Southeastern Conference titles after going 72-43-1 with no league titles during the 1990s. The start of next decade appears promising, as the Bulldogs will return 10 offensive starters for 2010, as well as the nation's top kicking combination of Blair Walsh and Drew Butler.
The big question for next season offensively will be whether Logan Gray, Aaron Murray or Zach Mettenberger replaces Cox.
"If we can stay healthy up front, I think we'll be better up front and all the other positions to help that quarterback into his role," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "I think we can be better around him."
Georgia's biggest blows defensively will be the departures of tackles Jeff Owens, Kade Weston and Geno Atkins. Junior linebacker Rennie Curran and junior safety Reshad Jones are debating whether to turn pro early, and there is still that matter of Richt naming a defensive coordinator to replace the fired Willie Martinez.
"Obviously it's going to be a rebuilding year inside, but we should be really strong at the defensive end position," defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. "If Rennie decides to come back, we'll be very strong at linebacker, and if Reshad comes back, we ought to be pretty good in the secondary. There are a lot of ifs, but I think there is a good nucleus in place."
Garner soon could be working under his sixth coordinator at Georgia, having coached with Joe Kines in 1998, Kevin Ramsey in '99, Gary Gibbs in 2000, Brian VanGorder in 2001-04 and for Martinez the past five years. He has been a part of 12 of Georgia's 13 straight eight-win seasons and believes being 8-5 after going 11-2 and 10-3 the previous two years is no cause for shame.
"Under the circumstances, with the guys we lost last year with (Matthew) Stafford and (Knowshon) Moreno and Asher Allen, for these guys to be able to win eight games, I'm very proud of them," Garner said. "I'm very proud of them for not tanking it."
Odds and ends
Georgia is now 26-16-3 in bowl games, 7-2 under Richt. ... Walsh finished 20-of-22 in field-goal attempts this season, including 7-for-7 on tries between 40 and 49 yards, and he made all 92 extra-point attempts. ... Richt is now 38-4 against teams outside the SEC. ... Texas A&M's 92 offensive plays were the most against the Bulldogs under Richt, topping the 88 Vanderbilt ran in 2001. ... "Russ," the substitute mascot following the death of Uga VII on Nov. 19, wound up 2-0 with wins over Georgia Tech and Texas A&M.