|· Complete Standings|
|The Fan Pick|
|82.9% of Bowl Pick'em players predict Georgia will win this game.|
|In Close Games (7 points or less. Since 2001)|
|WVU||6 - 6|
|UGA||13 - 6|
|Record When Scoring... (Since 2001)|
|20 OR MORE||30 OR MORE||40 OR MORE||50 OR MORE|
|LESS THAN 20||LESS THAN 30||LESS THAN 40||LESS THAN 50|
|TEAM AVERAGES & NCAA RANKS|
|OFFENSE||TM||PER GAME AVERAGE / NCAA RANK|
|Full Team Stats: West Virginia | Georgia|
|Full Player Stats: West Virginia | Georgia|
Welcome back, Georgia Bulldogs.
With the Sugar Bowl forced out of flood-damaged New Orleans, the No. 8 Bulldogs get the benefit of playing 11th-ranked West Virginia just 75 miles from their Athens campus.
These are certainly familiar surroundings for Georgia, which will be playing its third straight game in Atlanta. The Bulldogs closed the regular season with a 14-7 victory at Georgia Tech -- just north of the Dome -- and returned a week later to rout LSU in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Georgia (10-2) is treating the Sugar Bowl like a home game, right down to the "Dawg Walk" that precedes all contests at Sanford Stadium. The players will march into the Georgia Dome through a cauldron of red and black Monday night. The only thing missing will be the hedges.
"Playing in the Dome will be great for us," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "We have had some great experiences in the Dome. Our fans have been fantastic in there. We will have a 'Dawg Walk' before the game, so we will try to mirror what we did in the SEC championship."
The Big East champion Mountaineers (10-1) realize what they're up against.
While a sizable contingent from West Virginia has descended on Atlanta, there's no doubt that Georgia is the de facto home team. The oddsmakers certainly feel that way, making the Bulldogs a solid touchdown favorite.
West Virginia quarterback Pat White summed it up best, saying he expects to find "a sea of red" when he trots on the field.
"It's pretty much a home game for them," the redshirt freshman said. "We like the underdog role. They're an SEC school. Nobody expects us to do anything against them. We know we can go out and play with anybody on any given day."
The Sugar Bowl will finish off a three-games-in-four-days run for the Georgia Dome.
After LSU blew out Miami in the Peach Bowl on Friday night, the stadium crew hustled to get things ready for Sunday's game between the Falcons and Carolina Panthers. The end zones and 50-yard line were repainted in Atlanta colors. The narrower pro hashmarks were laid out. The facades and railings were decorated for the NFL team.
As soon as Carolina finished off a 44-11 rout of the Falcons, it was time for another makeover -- with only about 28 hours to get things ready for the Sugar Bowl, which will be played outside of New Orleans for the first time in its 72-year history.
The Sugar had to find a new home after New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, causing major damage to the Superdome. Bowl officials wanted to keep the game in Louisiana, but there weren't enough hotel rooms in Baton Rouge to support the influx of fans.
Atlanta stepped into the void, volunteering to host the game even though it fell on a busy weekend with the Peach Bowl and the Falcons' season finale.
The move certainly worked out well for Georgia, which won its second SEC championship in four years after going two decades without a title.
"It has been a little different with it being so close to home," said kicker Brandon Coutu, who grew up in the Atlanta suburbs.
For players such as Kregg Lumpkin, this most unusual Sugar Bowl provides a chance to get a jump on 2006. Coming back from a knee injury, he spent most of this season as Georgia's third-string tailback but came on strong in the last two games. Now, he's looking forward to competing with Thomas Brown and Danny Ware for the starting job.
"I have picked up a lot of positive momentum since the Georgia Tech game," Lumpkin said. "In 2006, I have to play every snap I can. I have to train harder and get faster and stronger in the offseason. There will be a lot of competition for the No. 1 spot next year."
West Virginia knows that a victory over the Bulldogs would provide a much-needed boost for the Big East, which caught a lot of flak about its automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series after powerhouses Miami and Virginia Tech bolted for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Personally, I think it would be a big statement," freshman running back Steve Slaton said. "A lot of people have us as underdogs. We proved ourselves so far this year, so we're ready to do it again."
The Mountaineers rely heavily on their two star freshmen. Slaton has 924 yards rushed and 14 touchdowns; White has run for 708 yards, passed for 875 and accounted for 14 touchdowns in all.
"They just stepped right in and kind of kept the ball rolling," fullback Owen Schmitt said. "Stuff they pull out on the field, it's really exciting to watch. Even when you're on the field, you kind of almost stand still for a second and you're like, 'Wow."'
But Slaton and White haven't faced a defense with Georgia's speed, which begins up front and extends all the way through the secondary.
"They're freshmen," All-American safety Greg Blue said. "We've just got to introduce them to how we play in the SEC."