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The Belk Bowl (?) and Why Georgia’s Going There, Explained

Photo Credit: Wes Blankenship

Well, it beats Shreveport.

Georgia fans, of course, are complaining about having to go to scenic Charlotte, NC, to play what they feel is an inferior team, No. 21 Louisville, in the Belk Bowl, which is a thing I, like many, only found out exists yesterday.

The Belk Bowl, founded in 2002, doesn’t really have a prestigious pedigree, with past matchups featuring such national powerhouses as Boston College versus Navy and Pittsburg versus North Carolina. But it gained new prominence this year when the NCAA instituted a four-team playoff. Under the new system, there are six top-tier bowls and six second-tier bowls.

So how did Georgia end up in this Belk Bowl? Like everything else in college football, it’s illogical, arbitrary, arcane and complicated to the point of being incomprehensible.

The Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach bowls rotate hosting the two playoff semifinal games. This year, that’s the Rose and Sugar bowls. The other four bowls get their choice of the remaining teams, but some bowls have contractual tie-ins with certain conferences, and spots are reserved for the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 champions, as well as the highest-ranked team outside those Power Five conferences. No. 7 Mississippi State will play No. 12 Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, and No. 9 Ole Miss will play No. 6 TCU in the Peach Bowl. Both are ranked ahead of No. 13 Georgia.

Now. Below the first-tier New Year’s Day bowls are six other bowls that the NCAA considers equal: the Pool of Six bowls. As the SEC not-so-helpfully explained:

The selection process for the Pool of Six bowls was based on preferences expressed by the SEC’s bowl eligible schools, input from the SEC’s affiliated bowls, travel considerations, attention to previous matchups and other pertinent factors.

“The new Pool of Six bowl process gives us the best opportunity to address several issues that impact SEC fans, including the creation of intriguing matchups, the accommodation of travel for fans and a variety of assignments to help prevent repetitive postseason destinations,” said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. “We took into account the preferences expressed to us by the participating teams and had conversations with our bowl partners to create a compelling lineup of bowl games featuring SEC teams.”

The Pool of Six bowls are the Citrus, Outback, Taxslayer, Music City, Texas, Liberty and Belk. The Citrus (a traditionally decent bowl) is supposed to get the best SEC team that’s not in a first-tier bowl. Ordinarily, that would be Georgia. But the Citrus is required to take an SEC division champion at least once every six years, and opted to take No. 16 Missouri, who won the East in spite of being shut out by the Bulldogs this season. So Georgia is going to the Belk Bowl

Clear as mud, right? There’s another way to look at it that makes more sense: Georgia lost to a South Carolina team that would go on to finish 6–6, crapped the bed against Florida and couldn’t put away the Yellow Jackets at home. A win in any one of those three very winnable games would have put the Dawgs in a marquee bowl game, and if Georgia had won two, they’d have faced Alabama for the conference championship and a potential playoff berth.

But the Belk offers some interesting storylines—which is why the powers that be chose this matchup. Louisville’s once and current coach is the villainous Bobby Petrino, who famously fled the Falcons in the middle of the night to take a job coaching Arkansas, then left under dubious circumstances.

UGA’s much maligned defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, joined Petrino on the Cardinals staff after last season and threw a little shade in the process—a favor nice guy Mark Richt is not likely to return. 

Then several Georgia players—including cast-off safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, cornerback Shaq Wiggins and receiver JaQuay Williamsfollowed Grantham up north. (Correction: Williams transferred from Texas A&M.)

Dawgs fans who lived through years of “third and Grantham” will rightly wonder how he put together a stingy defense at UL, but that will only increase their giddiness when Nick Chubb shreds it for 200 yards.

In other trash-talking news, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher left Georgia off his final Top 25 ballot, which AJC columnist Jeff Schultz attributes to Richt (who got his start under FSU legend Bobby Bowden) poaching Jeremy Pruitt to replace Grantham.

So now that you know why to watch, when is this Belk Bowl? Tuesday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN. You might have to work that day, but hopefully you’ll be home by then.