CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Although Georgia fell short of its goal of reaching the College Football Playoff, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt says there is still a chance to end an "up and down season" on a high note.
"We have a chance to finish in the top 10 in the country, which is where I think a lot of people would like to be," said Richt, now in his 14th season at Georgia.
That first means the 12th-ranked Bulldogs (9-3, 6-3 SEC) would need to beat No. 20 Louisville (9-3, 5-3 ACC) on Dec. 30 in the Belk Bowl.
Richt and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino were on hand Wednesday in Charlotte to promote the game, which will be the first ever between the two schools. It's also the first time in its history the Belk Bowl will feature two teams ranked in the top 20.
Georgia has certainly had its highs and lows this season.
They defeated then-No. 16 Clemson 45-21 to open the season, only to lose to then-No. 24 South Carolina in the next game. There was a 34-0 win over then-No. 23 Missouri, only to fall 38-20 to an unranked Florida team, a game in which the Bulldogs inexplicably got steamrolled by Gators ground attack.
Running back Todd Gurley looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate before an injury and later off-the-field problems sidelined him for the season. Richt said Gurley is expected to attend the game with his teammates but won't play.
The Bulldogs have also suffered from inconsistent quarterback play and Richt had to remove few players from the team.
"There were some ups and downs for sure, but the season isn't finished yet," Richt said. "There were certainly some emotional highs and lows throughout."
Petrino knows all about ups and downs.
The first-year coach has been trying to find an answer at quarterback ever since Teddy Bridgewater was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. They have rolled through three different quarterbacks while battling injuries and inconsistent play.
Petrino said the season was a learning experience for his players moving to the ACC.
"It was an exciting year for us and kind of what told our players it would be... most games are going to come down to the fourth quarter," Petrino said.
The Cardinals closed the season strong, beating Boston College, Notre Dame and Kentucky to vault back into the Top 25.
This is the first year the Belk Bowl has featured a game between ACC and SEC schools.
It's a major step up for the bowl that hasn't always hosted one ranked team, let alone two in the top 20.
"We wanted to make this one of the best bowls," said executive bowl director Will Webb. "For us to have the two top 20 teams is quite a testament to what Belk has helped us do and that was the vision for this bowl. It is what we have worked for all of the years."