Cincinnati will have a full roster for Peach Bowl meeting with depleted Georgia
After the college football regular season ended, seven schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference, five from the Big Ten and six from the Pac-12 announced they didn’t want to participate in a bowl game this season.
Since then, among the 29 bowl games scheduled to take place, more than 50 players reportedly have opted out of playing in their postseason game.
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In the Peach Bowl on Friday between the University of Cincinnati and Georgia, the No. 9 Bulldogs could be missing as many as eight players, including their best pass rusher, defensive back and offensive lineman.
No. 8 Cincinnati, however, hasn’t had a single player choose to opt out.
“I think that they know that it’s a reward,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. “They know what they’ve sacrificed for. They want to finish.”
On Sunday, Fickell called a team meeting to discuss the upcoming Peach Bowl. He told UC’s players that there were nearly 120 college football teams that would want to trade places with the Bearcats, heading into a New Year’s bowl game matchup against one of the best programs in the Southeastern Conference.
“(We) have an opportunity ... to play on Jan. 1, to play against the Georgia Bulldogs, a historic obviously blue-blood team, one of the greatest traditions in the country,” Fickell said. “How many people wouldn’t trade places with you?”
That message resonated across the team.
“It means a lot, just being able to have this chance in the Peach Bowl against a great team,” sophomore tight end Josh Whyle said. “We’ve been so close the past couple years, just being able to be here is going to be really a dream come true.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he is more concerned about positive COVID-19 results among his team than all of the reported “opt-outs” — the trendy word to describe players who voluntarily pull out of competition to avoid the risk of illness or injury.
It’s a growing issue among Power Five teams with draft-eligible players who aren’t interested in playing a game without championship implications.
However, Smart said there has been “misinformation” about the number of Georgia players planning to skip the bowl. There have been published reports that as many as nine players who otherwise would be eligible to play in the game have opted out.
Smart disputed that number, but confirmed that linebacker Monty Rice, offensive lineman Ben Cleveland, tight end Tre McKitty and cornerback Eric Stokes were going to skip the game. Contrary to some reports, he said linebacker Azeez Ojulari and defensive backs Mark Webb and Richard LeCounte intend to play.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and I don’t really know where it’s coming from,” Smart said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are going to play. And the guys that aren't, they have a particular reason, and I leave it up to those guys.
“Some of them have been injured throughout the year. I’m focused on Cincinnati and COVID — those are the opponents right now.”