Athens, GA—Every time Nick Chubb is asked to share his thoughts about the Rose Bowl the same word keeps coming back.
“Opportunity,” Georgia’s senior running back said of next Monday’s College Football Playoff semifinal with No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1). “We have to put it in the young guys’ heads what an opportunity this is and you don’t know when (or if) you’ll ever get it again.”
Here, briefly stated, is just a little of what No. 3 Georgia will be playing for on Jan. 1 when the Bulldogs take the field in the most iconic venue in college football history:
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**--A victory puts Georgia into the CFP National Championship game in Atlanta, just an hour from the UGA campus. The ticket demand (with a face value of $475), will be among the greatest ever for a sporting event in Atlanta, a city that has hosted a couple of Super Bowls and the 1996 Olympics.
**--With a win in Pasadena, Georgia will play Alabama or Clemson at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where a month before the Bulldogs beat Auburn (28-7) for the SEC Championship.
**--Georgia will be playing for its first national championship since 1980, when Herschel Walker was a freshman. He is now 55 years old. In that respect the game, if Georgia makes it, will be among the most important since the football program was founded in 1892.
Simply put: A national championship game for Georgia in Atlanta would be a game the players will remember for the rest of their lives. Those don’t come along very often.
That fact is not lost on Chubb and the other seniors who deferred their NFL hopes because—in their heart of hearts--they thought a dream season like this was possible.
“It’s kind of what we envisioned,” said Chubb, the No. 2 rusher in SEC and Georgia history (4,599 yards) behind the aforementioned Walker. “We all thought about a great season like this. I just know that if I hadn’t come back I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity. That’s why young guys have to understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Georgia is a veteran team in every sense of the word. There are 15 seniors on the two-deep for the Rose Bowl, a high number in this age of college football. There seven who played this season as graduate students and nine others who received their degrees on December 15.
Kirby Smart, Georgia’s second-year head coach, said the seniors who chose to come back for 2017 have impacted this team “Probably more than they have been given credit for.”
Smart’s point is that the decision of the seniors to return in 2017 sent a rippling effect throughout the entire roster.
“It gave the younger players confidence (in our coaching staff), “ said Smart. “These guys (the seniors) were willing to stay having been with the staff (only) one year. Then came the leadership of those seniors. It’s the value of experience.”
That experience has led Georgia to its first SEC championship since 2005 and the chance to play for a national championship for the first time since 1982, when the Bulldogs lost to Penn State in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the Sugar Bowl.
But Smart, whose voice was hoarse from yelling at practice, believes that Georgia’s biggest enemy at this point is complacency--believing that the Rose Bowl is a destination and not just another step in the journey.
“We’re trying to make them understand that you can’t acknowledge the pats on the back,” said Smart. “You can’t feel good about yourself. Obviously in their home towns and communities they are getting a lot of praise. They won the SEC championship. That’s a great accomplishment. But they can’t be satisfied.”
To that end Smart and his staff have brought in various speakers to hammer home the importance of finishing the task at hand.
“We are using every resource we have to make sure they are taking advantage of this opportunity,” said Smart.
Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, one of six seniors on the Georgia defense, had this message for Smart: “Hey coach. We got this.”
“Our reality has gone above and beyond anything we could have dreamed,” said Carter. “We’re not done yet and everybody around here knows it. We will put in the work. We will put in the time.”
Chubb, whose playing career seemed in jeopardy after a horrific knee injury at Tennessee in 2015, summed up the mood as Georgia prepared to fly to the world of Disneyland, ‘Where dreams come true.’
“You have to practice hard and play hard for it,” said Chubb. “You have to go out there and play as if it were your last game.”