In head coach Luke Fickell’s four-year tenure at the University of Cincinnati, he says his team has never played a team as talented as the Georgia Bulldogs.
Fickell has faced a second-ranked Ohio State and an eighth-ranked Michigan team during his career with the Bearcats. But he said UC’s Peach Bowl matchup against Georgia on Jan. 1 will be even more difficult.
“That's why even for our guys, it's an incredible challenge for them,” Fickell said. “How else are you going to measure yourself to see where you are?”
Since 2017, Georgia has a 43-9 record, and they have played in a New Year’s Six bowl game every season. Also, in each of the last four seasons, the Bulldogs have had a top-three recruiting class in the country.
UC junior quarterback Desmond Ridder said that talent and experience showed up when he watched Georgia on film.
“I would say (it’s) a huge challenge,” Ridder said. “They talk about us as big guys versus little guys. We always have to prove everyone wrong. We go out and play with a chip on our shoulder every game. That won't change this game. But we're going to go out and play football. Doesn't matter who it's against, where it's at. Once the ball is down, we're going to go play.”
Our first look at the Georgia Bulldogs
Record: Georgia is 7-2, with its only losses coming against No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Florida.
After entering the season as the fourth-ranked team in college football, the Bulldogs won their first three SEC games by at least three touchdowns. Georgia struggled against Alabama and Florida, but since then the Bulldogs have found a new identity with a new quarterback, JT Daniels.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said the Bearcats will be one of the most well-rounded teams he has faced this season.
“(Fickell) has done an incredible job with his staff, their team,” Smart said. “I've talked repeatedly about the fact they're one of the winningest teams in all of college football over the last three years. They're a complete team.”
Ranking: The Bulldogs were a top-5 team for most of the season, but they enter the Peach Bowl at No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
This year, Georgia has beaten two teams that were ranked at the time of the game, Tennessee and Auburn. But none of the Bulldogs’ wins this season came against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25.
“We're all just Xs and Os on the board,” UC sophomore tight end Josh Whyle said. “It's going to come down to preparation, toughness, and competitive spirit. I think the team that has that is going to really show out.”
Head coach: Kirby Smart has a 51-14 record at Georgia after arriving in Athens in 2016. The former Alabama defensive coordinator inherited a program that had only won more than ten games in a season once since 2007.
Following Smart’s first season, the Bulldogs have never lost more than two games in a season.
“This is a game going against those two great coaches,” UC offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said. “In particular, coach Smart obviously from his well-chronicled history of being a great defensive coordinator and running great defenses. We've got to have just as many answers as they've got to what we're doing.”
Before Daniels became Georgia’s starting quarterback, the Bulldogs averaged just 209 passing yards per game. After Daniels became the starter, the Bulldogs averaged 280 passing yards per game.
Daniels, a transfer from USC, is 3-0 at Georgia.
“I know he can spin it,” Fickell said. “He's got some great weapons. I still don't think he's unleashed all he can do. When you run the ball (and) you got as good an offensive line as they have, you don't have to sit your quarterback back there and do all those different things.”
The Bulldogs’ difference maker on defense is defensive tackle Jordan Davis. A six-foot-six, 330-pound tackle, Davis is a potential first-round pick.
“Obviously, (he) is a big deal,” Fickell said. “That's probably the one thing in our league, this year, that we probably haven't faced. We faced really good football teams, good speed, good talent, all the different things. Sometimes you don't quite see those guys up front that are that big of difference makers.”
Series history: This is the second matchup between Cincinnati and Georgia. The Bulldogs won the lone matchup in 1976, 31-17.
Fun Fact: Josh Whyle received a scholarship offer from Georgia when he was at La Salle High School. Instead of becoming a Bulldog, Whyle stayed home and committed to Cincinnati.
“To be honest with you, I don't remember much at all,” Whyle said. “I committed to Cincinnati pretty early. Other than that, I didn't get involved with too many other schools.”