Motivation abounds for both Georgia, Cincinnati in Peach Bowl

112120 Athens: Georgia quarterback JT Daniels throws for a first down Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. The Georgia quarterback threw for 401 yards in his debut, a 31-24 win over Mississippi State. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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112120 Athens: Georgia quarterback JT Daniels throws for a first down Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, at Sanford Stadium in Athens. The Georgia quarterback threw for 401 yards in his debut, a 31-24 win over Mississippi State. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

There will be plenty of motivation to go around for everybody.

That’s the word you get from the opposing sides as Georgia and Cincinnati prepare for Friday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

ExploreGeorgia-Cincinnati: TV, online, radio information

The eighth-ranked Bearcats (9-0), overlooked by the College Football Playoff selection committee despite their undefeated record, come in seeking national respect. No. 9 Georgia (7-2), finally healthy and settled at quarterback, arrives wanting to prove it’s better than those midseason losses to Alabama and Florida would indicate and that it hasn’t lost its footing amid the peaks of college football.

The matter will be settled sometime after Friday’s noon kickoff and before the national semifinals get underway later in the evening.

“They talk about this as big guys versus little guys, and we’re always out to prove everyone wrong,” Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder said. “We go out and play with a chip on our shoulder every game, and that won’t change this game. We’re going up against one of the big guys in the country, and we’re going to see and feel that unlike we have all season.”

Georgia players insist they’re not looking at it that way. They claim to see the Bearcats like they do every other team they play. In this pandemic-altered season, that just happened to be nine SEC opponents in a row.

The Bulldogs’ only losses were to No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 Florida. Since then, Georgia went to sophomore transfer JT Daniels at quarterback and won its past three games by an average of 27 points.

“They have to put their uniform on just like we have to put our uniform on,” Georgia wideout Kearis Jackson said. “They’re humans as well. We just so happened to be fortunate enough to get (a scholarship) offer to this type of school. We’re all football players. It’s like it’s going to depend on who wants it more. Power 5 has nothing to do with nothing.”

It won’t be the first time the Peach Bowl has pitted a Power 5 powerhouse program against the nation’s best Group of Five team. The supposed “little guy” is 2-0 in those games, with Houston beating Florida State 38-24 in 2015 and Central Florida defeating Auburn 34-27 at the end of the 2017 season.

Lack of motivation was cited in the case of those ACC and SEC teams. Georgia players insist they’re suffering no shortages in inspiration.

“I feel like it’s a big deal,” senior defensive end Malik Herring said of playing in the Peach Bowl. “We want to dominate, dominate as a defense. Don’t let them get past the 50, that’s what we’re thinking. A blackout.”

Perhaps Herring was offering a hint when he shared those thoughts earlier this week. Georgia is indeed going to dust off its black jerseys and break them out for this game. The Bulldogs wore them earlier this season for the first time since 2016, but haven’t worn them in a bowl game since playing Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2007 season.

Cincinnati hasn’t lacked for bold talk either this week.

“I believe we’re tougher than a lot of Power 5 teams in the country,” said sophomore cornerback Ahmad Gardner, a second-team All-American. “Winning this game definitely would put on the map.”

Indeed, the Bearcats aren’t going to be intimidated. While they failed their past two times on a big postseason stage (20-7 in the 2008 Orange Bowl and 51-24 to Florida in the 2009 Sugar Bowl), they’ve made a point of measuring themselves against the Power 5 as often as possible. Cincinnati was scheduled to play Nebraska this season before the pandemic scrapped everybody’s plans, and it has played Power 5 opponents five times the previous three seasons under coach Luke Fickell. They’re 3-2 in those games, with a 42-0 loss to Ohio State last year serving as the only embarrassment.

“Yeah, it’s always a measuring stick,” Fickell said of playing Power 5 teams.

A former Ohio State player and longtime defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, Fickell has tempered his complaints about being left out the playoffs. He did say Thursday that he believed the field should be expanded to accommodate more teams.

But rather than whine about being passed over, Fickell said it’s important that his team make whatever statement it wants to make with its play on the field.

“If you want to claim that you should have an opportunity, that you should have a shot, well, this is an opportunity, this is a shot,” Fickell said of playing Georgia. “It’s exciting for those guys, for all of us. But it’s a huge measuring stick for me, what we’re trying to build here.”

Georgia has its usual group of postseason opt-outs, with five in all. But that’s less than a year ago, when a dozen players sat out the Sugar Bowl.

Meanwhile, several other premier players with promising NFL careers ahead of them have opted in. They insist they’ll be sufficiently fired up to play in Friday’s game, championship implications or not.

“We’re here, so we’re all in,” junior nose guard Jordan Davis said. “Motivation doesn’t have to be said. It’s understood. We’re coming in with one goal and that’s to win. We always want to win.”