ATLANTA -- Georgia is heading back to the Nokia Sugar Bowl, which
is essentially another home game this season.
After winning the Southeastern Conference championship with an
upset of LSU, the eighth-ranked Bulldogs were formally invited to
the bowl on Sunday for their first-ever meeting against No. 11 West
Normally held in New Orleans, the Jan. 2 bowl was transplanted
to Atlanta's Georgia Dome after the Louisiana Superdome was
severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina and overrun by thousands of
flood victims seeking refuge in the storm's aftermath.
"It's going to be a little bit different because it's in a
different city, but we love Atlanta," Georgia coach Mark Richt
said. "We would have been excited to go back to New Orleans,
because we love it there, but of course that's not going to
Making their second Sugar Bowl appearance in four years, the
Bulldogs (10-2) will only have to travel about 75 miles from their
Athens campus to meet the Big East champion Mountaineers (10-1). It
will be Georgia's third straight game in Atlanta, following a 14-7
victory over Georgia Tech and the 34-14 rout of LSU in the SEC
championship game Saturday night.
"It's going to feel real good to come back to Atlanta," said
cornerback DeMario Minter, a native of the city's sprawling
Georgia will be playing in its eighth Sugar Bowl, far more than
it's been to any other postseason game. The Bulldogs' most
memorable trip to New Orleans came at the end of their perfect 1980
season, when they clinched the national championship with a victory
over Notre Dame.
With Georgia in its transplanted game, the Sugar Bowl should
find it easier to sell out the 75,000-seat stadium. The game had to
completely revamp its ticket-selling program after deciding to move
out of Louisiana this season.
"The demand for the tickets now is very, very high," said Paul
Hoolahan, executive director of the Sugar Bowl. "We are in a
situation where we are not trying to sell tickets, we're trying to
West Virginia will be making its first BCS appearance and
playing in its third Sugar Bowl. The Mountaineers lost to Georgia
Tech in 1954 and Florida in 1994.
"We're very excited," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "With a
young team, we didn't know what was going to happen this year and
the expectations certainly weren't very high."
The Mountaineers got big contributions from quarterback Pat
White, a redshirt freshman, and first-year running back Steve
Slaton. White rushed for 875 yards, scored seven touchdowns and
threw for seven more. Slaton led the team with 924 yards on the
ground, scoring 14 touchdowns in just nine games.
"We lost a lot of guys to graduation last year, so we realized
there wasn't going to be a lot of talk about us winning the Big
East this year," Rodriguez said. "It was neat to watch them come
Georgia overcame low expectations, as well. Picked to finish
third in the SEC East, the Bulldogs won their first seven games and
built up enough of a cushion to overcome back-to-back losses -- by a
total of five points -- to conference foes Florida and Auburn.
"The guys were a little bit hurt that nobody gave us much of a
chance," Richt said. "They took it a little personal."
Georgia already is assured of its fourth straight 10-win season,
matching the most successful run in school history.
"I would like to think we've had enough success in the last few
years that people at least know we're putting a pretty good team on
the field," Richt said. "I think our fan base understands that
winning the Southeastern Conference is difficult to do."
West Virginia had tied for the Big East championship the last
two years, but didn't get the league's BCS spot. The Mountaineers
made it this year in the downgraded league, which suffered a major
blow to its football prestige when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston
College fled to the Atlantic Coast Conference in recent years.
West Virginia's only loss was to Virginia Tech, its former Big
East rival. The Mountaineers closed the regular season with a
six-game winning streak, including a 46-44 thriller against
preseason favorite Louisville.
Rodriguez knows that Georgia will likely have a noticeable crowd
advantage, although West Virginia has a loyal fan base that travels
in big numbers.
"I'm sure the place will be sold out, and it will be loud and
exciting," he said. "I'm sure it will get our guys juiced up."