DEC. 30, 6:30 P.M. ET, BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM, CHARLOTTE, N.C. (ESPN)
Season highlights: The Bulldogs looked like the SEC East’s most talented team for just about the entire season and showed that the young depth brought to Athens has a bright future. The loss of Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley should have discouraged Georgia fans, but the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat with freshman running back Nick Chubb, who finished the regular season second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The Bulldogs made a late-season playoff run by shutting out eventual SEC East champion Missouri 34-0 and routing Auburn 34-7.
Season lowlights: Even with the most complete team in the division, the Bulldogs still fell short of winning the East. An early-season loss to South Carolina proved devastating because the Gamecocks finished the season 6-6 and won just three SEC games. But the nail in the Bulldogs’ SEC coffin came when they were trounced by underwhelming Florida 38-20 to kick off the month of November. The Bulldogs watched as the same Missouri team they routed in October strutted into the SEC championship game. To add to this season’s woes, Gurley was suspended by the NCAA then tore his ACL in his return. Georgia also ended the regular season with a loss to rival Georgia Tech.
Player to watch: Quarterback Hutson Mason has to shake off his game-clinching overtime interception against the Yellow Jackets. His team needs him to play better in the bowl game, which will be his final game with the Bulldogs. Mason, who sat for four seasons before becoming the starter in 2014, had an underwhelming year at Georgia. He threw for just 2,019 yards and passed for more than 200 yards in a game once all season. Georgia hasn’t needed him to be elite, but with the Bulldogs reeling, coaches will look to him to gather this team.
Motivation factor: Getting 10 wins is important. It helps in recruiting and helps with confidence for this team going forward. Mason is out to end his career the right way after playing backup for so long. I think this Georgia team as a whole wants to prove that it’s better than what it showed in three bad games during the regular season. And coach Mark Richt is once again feeling some heat from fans. A bowl win won’t erase the failure of not winning the East, but it will be a much-needed positive end to the 2014 season.
-- Edward Aschoff
Season highlights: Finishing 9-3 in Year 1 in the ACC qualifies as a major success for the Cards and Bobby Petrino in his second stint with Louisville, especially when you consider the injuries this team suffered at quarterback and to game-changing receiver DeVante Parker. The highlight has to be a 31-28 win at Notre Dame in which freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon scored three touchdowns in a game the Cardinals were not favored to win. Gerod Holliman tied an NCAA single-season record with 14 interceptions.
Season lowlights: There are plenty of “what could have been” moments for Louisville. Which loss was toughest? Was it to 5-7 Virginia on the road, when James Quick's fumbled punt led to the Hoos’ game-winning field goal? Was it at Clemson, when Will Gardner spiked the ball on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line and then threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal with a chance to win the game? Was it at home to Florida State, when the Cards blew a 21-point lead and lost 42-31? Opportunities were there to win all three games.
Player to watch: Parker. It really is a shame that Parker missed the first seven games of the season with a broken foot. If not, he would be talked about as one of the best players in the country. Parker has been dominant in the five games he has played, racking up 735 yards to lead the team in receiving. That ranks seventh in the ACC, against receivers who have played a full set of games. His 21 yards per catch is second in the ACC behind Phillip Dorsett. This will be Parker's final game at Louisville before moving on to prepare for the NFL draft, where he is projected as a first-round pick.
Motivation factor: Louisville has a chance to win at least 10 games for a third straight season, something that would hold even more significance considering how much tougher the schedule was this year than the previous two in the Big East/American. This team is losing some terrific seniors who laid the foundation, such as Parker, Lorenzo Mauldin, Michael Dyer, Eli Rogers, Gerald Christian and potentially Gerod Holliman, so you can bet their teammates are going to want to send them out the right way.
-- Andrea Adelson