GRAPEVINE — Scouting a junior college football game in Waterloo, Iowa, Texas coach Tom Herman could only make a guess about how his team felt about landing a spot in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
By virtue of Oklahoma making the College Football Playoff, No. 15 Texas (9-4) got the Big 12 champion’s slot in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in New Orleans. The Longhorns will face No. 5 Georgia (11-2), which had CFP dreams of its own dashed Sunday morning.
“I certainly don’t want to put words in their mouth,” Herman said, “but considering what this senior class has gone through as a group, to know that they’re the class that led Texas back to a New Year’s Six Bowl game, I’m sure there’s a lot of pride and excitement with that senior class.”
Turns out Herman knows his team pretty well. Despite day-after emotional baggage from a 39-27 loss to the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game, the Longhorns were embracing the opportunity.
This year’s seniors had started with consecutive 5-7 records in 2015 and ’16, spending bowl season at home.
Even a win over Oklahoma, while far more gratifying, would have meant the same exact bowl destination.
“It’s going to be a ton of fun,” tight end Andrew Beck said. “Our senior class has made it our mission to get this program back to where it needs to be, and this is a reward and justification for all of the hard work.”
Texas hasn’t faced Georgia since the Cotton Bowl following the 1983 season when Georgia rallied to beat a previously unbeaten Texas 10-9.
Herman and Smart know each other well. Herman was offensive coordinator at Ohio State opposite Smart, then defensive coordinator at Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, won by the Buckeyes. The two have stayed in contact.
The Longhorns have recently announced a home-and-home series with Georgia for 2028 and ’29, continuing a trend of future non-conference games against SEC schools including LSU, Arkansas and Alabama.
But the future is four weeks away for the current team.
“It’s really big for our team and us seniors,” defensive lineman Chris Nelson said. “To have a chance to leave a legacy on the program and get it back to the level that Texas needs to be at is special. To end our careers playing in the Big 12 Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl is something we will never forget.”
While doing their best to put the Oklahoma loss behind them, Georgia may have something even more difficult which with to deal.
For the second consecutive season, the Bulldogs had No. 1 Alabama on the ropes before watching the Crimson Tide exit with a win the SEC title game.
Afterwards, coach Kirby Smart said Georgia was “definitely one of the best four teams in the country” and went on a media offensive including SportsCenter. When the College Football Playoff was unveiled Sunday morning, the Bulldogs were at No. 5, behind OU.
“These kids recover faster than you think they do,” Smart said on a Sunday teleconference. “There’s disappointment in last night’s result, but there’s also the opportunity to move forward with a really young team and a chance to go on a national stage to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl.”
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