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Hawaii - Georgia Sugar Bowl Preview..


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Only in a topsy-turvy season like this could a team with two losses be upset it's not playing for the national championship while major college football's lone unbeaten is just happy to be taking the field in January.

Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan and Hawaii, undefeated and thrilled to crash a BCS party normally reserved for traditional powers, make the 4,000-mile trek to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day, when they will take on a two-loss Georgia team some feel should be playing for a title.

Not surprisingly, many of those people can be found in the Bulldogs locker room.

"We feel like we got shafted a little bit," safety Kelin Johnson said. "The numbers don't add up. The numbers do not add up. The numbers do not lie. That's what is confusing. I don't know what's going on."

What's going on is Georgia lost 16-12 in the second week of the season to South Carolina and, even more damaging, was manhandled 35-14 at Tennessee on Oct. 6. However, since that defeat, the team has regained its stride by winning six straight while the ranked landscape around it has fallen to pieces.

The No. 4 Bulldogs (10-2) seemed positioned to move into a top-two spot when No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia lost in the season's last week. Voters, though, gave more credence to the fact LSU - which Georgia did not play this year - won the SEC championship, and thus jumped the Tigers over the Bulldogs in the polls.

"Two teams lost ahead of us," coach Mark Richt said just prior to the release of the final BCS standings. "Everybody knew going in we were not going to play for a conference championship and still they voted us there. They voted us there for a reason and I don't know why that should change right now."

But change it did, and as a result Richt will turn his attention to the record-setting Brennan and another WAC team looking to play the role of BCS buster - and make its own case, albeit in vain, for a national title.

With late-night starts and second-rate competition, the Warriors (12-0) have quietly been on the outside of the BCS bubble looking in for most of the season. But in a year marked by unprecedented parity and monumental upsets, one thing has remained true from start to finish: Hawaii victories.

And if Georgia is struggling for motivation in what could potentially be seen as a letdown game, it need only look back at last year's Fiesta Bowl, where WAC champion Boise State defined the term "BCS buster" and took down unsuspecting perennial heavyweight Oklahoma.

It was a 39-27 win Nov. 23 against that same Broncos team that showed the Warriors were for real. Along the way, they displayed resilience against Nevada, winning despite their gunslinging quarterback being sidelined by a concussion, and grit against Washington, rallying from a three-touchdown deficit in the season finale to preserve perfection.

Yet, an unmarred campaign has the team ranked only 10th, due mostly to a poor strength of schedule it played little role in choosing.

No one can criticize how tough its opponent is now, though. An undefeated season capped by a win over a marquee opponent like Georgia in a BCS bowl could have a lot of people questioning the system, especially if LSU beats Ohio State in the title game, resulting in a two-loss national champion.

The key in New Orleans is likely to be Brennan, college football's all-time leader in touchdown passes. In three seasons, the senior has thrown for 14,024 yards and 131 touchdowns playing in coach June Jones' run-and-shoot offense.

This year, Brennan was third in the Heisman voting and second in total offense while helping make Hawaii the nation's highest-scoring team at 46.2 points per game. Three of the team's wideouts - Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullen and Jason Rivers - rank among the top eight in the nation in receptions per game and each of the three eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season.

"I'm not sure coach Martinez will sleep tonight," Richt said of his defensive coordinator, Willie Martinez, after the bowl matchups were released. "The numbers are very, very impressive and imposing even."

The Bulldogs will need to overcome an interesting bit of BCS history as well. Hawaii is the third team from a non-BCS conference to make a BCS bowl and the other two both won, with Boise State's victory last January and Utah beating Pittsburgh in 2005's Fiesta Bowl.

"If we're having success and doing things right, it really can put a defense in a bind, no matter who you are," Brennan said. "We've never been stopped. We only have stopped ourselves. If we make the right reads and the right adjustments, I don't think anybody can stop us."

Of course, the Warriors defense will have its own hands full, but its challenge will be in stark contrast to Georgia's. Instead of focusing on a senior passer, Hawaii looks to contain a freshman runner.

Following injuries to senior running backs Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin, Knowshon Moreno came out of nowhere to become the focal point of the Bulldogs offense. He finished the regular season with 1,273 yards rushing - second in the SEC behind Arkansas' Darren McFadden - and lit a spark under his team when it was needed most.

"I was just trying to help my team in any way possible," said Moreno, who joined Herschel Walker as the only freshmen in Georgia history to go over 1,000 yards on the ground.

Matthew Stafford will try to keep the Warriors defense honest through the air, and he knows his team will have to put up some points to take the pressure off the Bulldogs defense. He also admitted that his quarterbacking counterpart is something to behold.

"He's awesome," Stafford said of Brennan. "He's got a great release, a quick release. He does it really well. It looks good because he runs it and makes it look good."

Hawaii, which has never faced Georgia, will be playing its first bowl game outside the Aloha State since the 1992 Holiday Bowl and Brennan couldn't be more giddy.

"Sugar is definitely sweet," Brennan said. "We're going to do it Hawaiian style."

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