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NON-BCS BOWL OUTLOOK: UGA headed to Liberty Bowl vs. UCF; Ga. Tech gets Air Force in Independence Bowl; FSU vs. S.C. in Chick-fil-A Bowl

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Georgia Bulldogs are looking for the salvation of a winning season, and Conference USA champ Central Florida wants a big chunk of history when the teams meet in the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve.

The Bulldogs (6-6) had to win their final regular-season game against rival Georgia Tech to become bowl-eligible. Central Florida (10-3) clinched its berth with the Knights' second league title in four seasons, beating SMU, 17-7, on Saturday. But the Knights have yet to win a bowl game heading into their fourth attempt.

Bowl officials announced the matchup Sunday afternoon. This will be Georgia's third Liberty Bowl appearance and first since 1987 when John Kasay kicked a 39-yard field goal to beat Arkansas, 20-17, on the final play of the game. The Bulldogs also played in this game in 1967.

It will be the 46th bowl for the Bulldogs, which ranks sixth most in the country. But the Bulldogs also have a chance to finish with a winning record after a 1-4 start.

"We definitely want to have a winning record, there's no doubt about that," Georgia coach Mark Richt said on a conference call Sunday. "We also have a chance to practice a few more times. That's important."

The Bulldogs turned the season around after receiver A.J. Green was suspended for the first four games for selling a bowl jersey to an agent.

"We averaged a lot more points with him than without him, that's for sure. But everybody got better as we went along. We also had a freshman quarterback playing with Aaron Murray. I know Central Florida has a freshman quarterback, as well. Those freshmen quarterbacks tend to get better as the season goes along," Richt said. "But A.J. definitely had a big part in that jump in point production when he got back in the fold."

This will be UCF's first Liberty Bowl berth since 2007 when the Knights lost, 10-3, to Mississippi State. UCF is coached by George Leary, who beat Georgia three straight times while at Georgia Tech. That helped lead to the firing of Jim Donnan and Richt's hiring.

"This is awful big for Central Florida," Richt said. "They feel like they can take their team to a new level of excellence. They can make an even greater statement by beating an SEC team. We know what we're up against with George's team and their motivation, too."

O'Leary told Richt on the conference call that he's always enjoyed Georgia football and knows what his Knights can expect. Richt beat O'Leary in his last season coaching at Georgia Tech.

"Mark has done a great job. They don't know how good they have it right now with Mark Richt," O'Leary said.

UCF also has a freshman quarterback in Jeff Godfrey, and O'Leary said they tried not to overfill his plate.

"We spoon-fed him each and every week so he could handle the fieldsmanship and the huddle and make the right decisions when he's behind center," O'Leary said. "He's a talented kid who can make some hay with his feet. He can get out of a lot of bad plays and make good plays out of them. But he's a true freshman. He's still making a lot of mistakes we've got to correct (before the bowl game)."

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GEORGIA TECH DRAW AIR FORCE IN LIBERTY BOWL:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Georgia Bulldogs are looking for the salvation of a winning season, and Conference USA champ Central Florida wants a big chunk of history when the teams meet in the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve.

The Bulldogs (6-6) had to win their final regular-season game against rival Georgia Tech to become bowl-eligible. Central Florida (10-3) clinched its berth with the Knights' second league title in four seasons, beating SMU, 17-7, on Saturday. But the Knights have yet to win a bowl game heading into their fourth attempt.

Bowl officials announced the matchup Sunday afternoon. This will be Georgia's third Liberty Bowl appearance and first since 1987 when John Kasay kicked a 39-yard field goal to beat Arkansas, 20-17, on the final play of the game. The Bulldogs also played in this game in 1967.

It will be the 46th bowl for the Bulldogs, which ranks sixth most in the country. But the Bulldogs also have a chance to finish with a winning record after a 1-4 start.

"We definitely want to have a winning record, there's no doubt about that," Georgia coach Mark Richt said on a conference call Sunday. "We also have a chance to practice a few more times. That's important."

The Bulldogs turned the season around after receiver A.J. Green was suspended for the first four games for selling a bowl jersey to an agent.

"We averaged a lot more points with him than without him, that's for sure. But everybody got better as we went along. We also had a freshman quarterback playing with Aaron Murray. I know Central Florida has a freshman quarterback, as well. Those freshmen quarterbacks tend to get better as the season goes along," Richt said. "But A.J. definitely had a big part in that jump in point production when he got back in the fold."

This will be UCF's first Liberty Bowl berth since 2007 when the Knights lost, 10-3, to Mississippi State. UCF is coached by George Leary, who beat Georgia three straight times while at Georgia Tech. That helped lead to the firing of Jim Donnan and Richt's hiring.

"This is awful big for Central Florida," Richt said. "They feel like they can take their team to a new level of excellence. They can make an even greater statement by beating an SEC team. We know what we're up against with George's team and their motivation, too."

O'Leary told Richt on the conference call that he's always enjoyed Georgia football and knows what his Knights can expect. Richt beat O'Leary in his last season coaching at Georgia Tech.

"Mark has done a great job. They don't know how good they have it right now with Mark Richt," O'Leary said.

UCF also has a freshman quarterback in Jeff Godfrey, and O'Leary said they tried not to overfill his plate.

"We spoon-fed him each and every week so he could handle the fieldsmanship and the huddle and make the right decisions when he's behind center," O'Leary said. "He's a talented kid who can make some hay with his feet. He can get out of a lot of bad plays and make good plays out of them. But he's a true freshman. He's still making a lot of mistakes we've got to correct (before the bowl game)."

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GAMECOCKS HEAD BACK TO GEORGIA DOME TO PLAY FSU:

ATLANTA -- This used to be a matchup that got Steve Spurrier's blood boiling.

Not anymore.

One day after being routed by top-ranked Auburn in the Southeastern Conference championship game, Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks accepted a consolation prize Sunday: a New Year's Eve matchup against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

During Spurrier's 12 years at Florida, he always circled Florida State as the team to beat. It was one of college football's most bitter rivalries, and often played a big role in the national championship race.

But those days are over. Spurrier left his alma mater after the 2001 season, and he said any hard feelings have faded away. Heck, he even called up former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden a few years ago to say he was rooting FOR the Seminoles in a game (he wouldn't say which one, not wanting to offend the other team).

"My wife said, 'You're actually pulling for FSU?'" Spurrier recalled, chuckling. "I told her they were the underdogs in the game. I don't have any hatred for those guys anymore. I used to. It was a nice rivalry."

In true Spurrier fashion, he couldn't resist dredging up a bit of the past.

"There were some years when they tried to hurt our quarterback, which was irritating," he said. "But that was a long time ago. I really admire (first-year Seminoles coach) Jimbo Fisher and what they're doing there. They run a first-class program. They're going to be pretty good. They had a nice year, a year that was almost the same as us."

Indeed, this will be a matchup between division champions coming off losses in their respective conference title game. No. 19 South Carolina (9-4) will be returning to the Georgia Dome, where it was routed by top-ranked Auburn 56-17 for the SEC crown Saturday.

No. 23 Florida State (also 9-4) lost to Virginia Tech 44-33 in the ACC title game, settling for a spot that Chick-fil-A officials had already said would go to the league runner-up.

"We were disappointed about the ballgame," said Fisher, who brought a winning attitude back to Florida State after the program fell on hard times in Bowden's final seasons. "We had a chance to win a championship. It came down to a few plays here and there if we could've hung on. We were very disappointed, but we're very excited to be going to the Chick-fil-A Bowl."

Fisher isn't sure if quarterback Christian Ponder will be able to play against the Gamecocks. He was held out of the ACC title game because of a sore throwing elbow that has plagued him most of the season.

"With the amount of time between now and the bowl game, he should be OK," Fisher said. "But we have to evaluate any procedures that may need to be done. It's still too early to make that call."

South Carolina was in the mix for two Florida bowls affiliated with the SEC: the Capital One in Orlando and the Outback in Tampa. But Spurrier said he doesn't mind returning to Atlanta for one of only four non-BCS bowls featuring a pair of Top 25 teams.

"If we're ever going to win the SEC championship, which we want to do ... we need to learn to play in the Georgia Dome," he said. "I told my athletic director, 'If we get a chance to go back to the Dome, let's do it.'"