Orange Bowl preview: How Georgia, Florida State match up

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UGA, FSU both have something to prove in Orange Bowl (1:18)

As the No. 6 Bulldogs and the No. 5 Seminoles narrowly miss the CFP, the Read & React crew emphasize the opportunity for each team to prove itself. (1:18)

This year's Capital One Orange Bowl could just as easily be called the Consolation Bowl. Or the Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Bowl. Or maybe even the Hornet's Nest Bowl.

While the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida State Seminoles were left to lick their wounds after not being included in the four-team College Football Playoff field, each can make a compelling case for why they should have had a shot at the national title and might enter the game with chip on their shoulder and intent to show they belonged.

Florida State, the first unbeaten Power 5 conference champion to not make the playoff in CFP history, has made its ire with the selection process clear. Georgia, which had a 29-game winning streak snapped in a three-point loss to Alabama in the SEC title game, was the first team ranked No. 1 by the CFP entering the conference championships to fall out of the final top four.

Asked if he would be entering a hornet's nest when facing the Seminoles, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said his group in none too pleased either.

"We have a hornet's nest around here, too, of players that are disappointed. That works both ways," Smart said. "The good news is we got each other to go play. I know they'll be up for us and we'll be up for them."

No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 6 Georgia

Capital One Orange Bowl

When: Saturday, Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ET

Where: Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Florida)

How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App

Opening line: Georgia -14


Georgia (12-1)

Key player: QB Carson Beck

Beck waited three years to take over as Georgia's starting quarterback. It has been worth the wait, as he led the Bulldogs to the brink of a third straight CFP appearance in his first season as the starter. The Bulldogs won back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022 before falling to Alabama this season in the SEC championship game. While Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo seemed to bring Beck along slowly at the start of the season, he has been among the most accurate passers in the FBS. He was 4-1 against AP top-20 opponents, completing 74.1% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in those games. Even more impressive, Beck did much of his damage while playing without star tight end Brock Bowers and receivers Ladd McConkey and Rara Thomas, who missed multiple games because of injuries. Georgia's offensive line has been one of the sport's best, giving Beck plenty of time to work in the pocket. Smart has credited Beck's intelligence in reading a defense and checking into the correct plays as some of his strengths.

X factor: WR Ladd McConkey

McConkey was supposed to be one of Georgia's most experienced and reliable receivers, but he was plagued by back and ankle injuries. He missed the first four games with a back injury and didn't make his debut until the Bulldogs' 27-20 victory at Auburn on Sept. 30. He came up big with six catches for 135 yards and one touchdown in a 43-20 win against Florida, then had seven receptions for 95 yards in a 30-21 win against Missouri. McConkey sprained his ankle in a 52-17 rout of Ole Miss and didn't do much down the stretch. He's a great route runner, has excellent hands and is quick out of the gates. The break should give him an opportunity to get healthy before the game as he was clearly limited in the loss to Alabama (three catches for 38 yards). Georgia's offense has been as explosive as any in the FBS when Bowers and McConkey were both on the field.

How Georgia wins: Do what it's done for all but one of the past 30 games

Even in the loss to Alabama, Beck didn't look overwhelmed by the big stage, and he has been helped by a solid running game and offensive line. He will be going against a Florida State defense that is tied for third nationally with 45 sacks and has gone nine straight games without giving up more than 20 points. The key will be not turning the ball over and giving FSU short fields on offense. Georgia's defense dealt with key injuries at linebacker and cornerback late in the season, but the Bulldogs have outmuscled teams and will look to make the Seminoles one-dimensional on offense. Georgia is No. 1 nationally in third-down defense, and even in the loss to Alabama, held the Tide to 3-of-13 on third down. In other words, the Bulldogs are going to dare the Seminoles to beat them by throwing the ball. -- Chris Low


Florida State (13-0)

Key players: RBs Trey Benson and Lawrance Toafili

The quarterback position has been the focus of this team over the past few weeks, and we'll get to that shortly. But the difference in a matchup against Georgia could be the Seminoles' ability (or inability) to run the ball, and Benson and Toafili are the guys they will lean on (assuming Benson -- currently the No. 2 RB in Mel Kiper's NFL draft position rankings -- plays). Benson leads the team in scrimmage yards with 1,132, having 905 out of the backfield, and 227 through the air. Toafili was great against Louisville in the ACC championship game with 118 yards on just 10 carries with a touchdown. If Florida State is able to keep its backs fresh and effective on the ground, which should help open up the passing attack, it should be a fun game in Miami Gardens.

X factor: QB Tate Rodemaker

Assuming Rodemaker is in good health, his performance will be key. While his showings against North Alabama and Florida might not inspire a ton of confidence, the Seminoles have showed in they can win without ACC Player of the Year Jordan Travis (and even without Rodemaker, as they did against Louisville). If Rodemaker limits turnovers and has a solid run game behind him, there should be plays to be made on the outside with Keon Coleman (currently No. 9 on Mel Kiper's big board) if he opts to play.

How Florida State wins: The defense has one last stellar performance

Georgia is a more complete opponent than the Cardinals were, but the Seminoles' defense would hope to have a similar impact as we saw in the ACC championship game. Florida State's defense took away downfield passing from Louisville quarterback Jack Plummer, who went 0-for-13 with an interception on passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield. Achieving that kind of shutout against Georgia won't happen, but it doesn't mean this defense can't make the Bulldogs' life on offense difficult. The Seminoles also sacked Plummer seven times after he hadn't been sacked more than four times in a game previously. Again -- with the caveat of everyone playing -- guys like Jared Verse, Kalen DeLoach, Braden Fiske and others can show how pressure creates diamonds. -- Harry Lyles Jr.