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Orange Bowl or consolation game? Florida State, Georgia have plenty to prove

Seminoles, like Bulldogs, wanted something greater, but they'll settle for showdown at Hard Rock Stadium
Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and Florida State Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell shake hands after Orange Bowl coaches news conference, Dec. 29, 2023
Posted at 2:50 PM, Dec 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-29 14:50:44-05

DANIA BEACH, Fla. — The Orange Bowl just hits differently this year.

Typically, a date in South Florida between two-time defending national champion Georgia and undefeated Florida State would be seen as a stellar bowl pairing.

But this year's edition has the undertones of a consolation bowl.

That's because both teams feel like they were unjustly denied an opportunity to compete for the top prize in college football – all because of the opinions of a 13-member panel that decided neither team was worthy of inclusion.

For No. 6 Georgia (12-1, No. 6 CFP), the Bulldogs don't have the chance to become the first three-peat national champion in the poll era.

Then there's the fourth-ranked Seminoles (13-0, No. 5 CFP), who became the first undefeated Power 5 conference champions to be left out of either the four-team College Football Playoff or the old Bowl Championship Series.

Georgia Bulldogs and Florida State Seminoles helmets on display before Orange Bowl coaches news conference, Dec. 29, 2023
Georgia and Florida State helmets sit on display before the start of an Orange Bowl coaches news conference, Dec. 29, 2023, in Dania Beach, Fla.

There are plenty of hurt feelings and emotions to go around, but fourth-year Florida State head coach Mike Norvell, as he has all season, spoke Friday about "control the things you can control." That starts by focusing on the task at hand – preparing to play Georgia on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The shorthanded Seminoles, who have won 19 consecutive games, will be down nearly two dozen players, including their star quarterback Jordan Travis, who suffered a season-ending injury in November, and backup Tate Rodemaker, who decided to transfer just before Florida State's players and coaches left for South Florida.

True freshman quarterback Brock Glenn will be making just his second career start. Sure, he's 1-0 as a starter, but it was largely the defense that came up big for the Seminoles in their 16-6 victory over Louisville to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game.

Being snubbed by the College Football Playoff selection committee no doubt was a contributing factor in the mass exodus of star Seminoles who either opted out of the bowl game or bolted for the transfer portal. Notable Florida State departures include top wide receivers Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, running back Trey Benson, tight end Jaheim Bell and defensive end Jared Verse.

That leaves Florida State with a depth chart that includes walk-ons, players listed in different positions and plenty of unfamiliar names to casual fans.

"You work for opportunity," Norvell told reporters during a joint coaches' news conference Friday morning. "That's what the greatest thing about football is that you never know when that moment's going to show up, you never know when your number's going to be called, but you've got to be prepared for it. So, you know, there's guys on this team that are going to make major contributions in this game that have been preparing for this for their entire life."

WATCH: Mike Norvell on untested players in bowl game

Mike Norvell says untested players will get opportunity in Orange Bowl

This will be the first meeting between Florida State and Georgia since the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day in 2003.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has a close connection to both programs. He's got degrees from both schools.

"We've recruited more and more against them as they've returned to prominence, and having grown up where I grew up, 30 minutes from Tallahassee, I grew up watching Florida State play and went to a lot of their games," Smart said. "So, I have a lot of respect. And I think it's great for college football when Florida State is always in the conversation."

That Sugar Bowl was also Smart's first time coaching in a bowl game as a member of the Florida State staff under the late Bobby Bowden. The Seminoles, who were down to their third-string quarterback in that game as well, lost 26-13.

Smart praised his time at Florida State, crediting the coaching staff as why he left Valdosta State, where he was defensive coordinator.

"People would say it was a step down, but to be in a room with Mickey Andrews, Odell Haggins, Joe Kines, Jody Allen, Kevin Steele, a lot of really good minds in college football, it helped shape me," Smart said. "To be sitting in the staff room with coach Bowden for two years, getting to see how he ran the team and how he commanded the respect of the team, was really instrumental in my upbringing as a coach."

WATCH: Kirby Smart on coaching at Florida State

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart reflects on time coaching at Florida State

Georgia will have most of its key players participating, including quarterback and Florida native Carson Beck.

But the Bulldogs also have some question marks, among them the status of John Mackey Award-winning tight end Brock Bowers, who has battled injuries throughout the season.

Smart wouldn't say if Bowers will play in the game.

The Bulldogs – who had their 29-game winning streak snapped in the Southeastern Conference title game – also have a challenge ahead of them, preparing to face a team with players who haven't seen the field much this season.

"It's hard to prepare for the unexpected," Smart said. "That's what I've learned in coaching. I mean you can't really prepare for it. You're better off spending your time blocking and tackling and getting better at fundamentals, and that's what we've tried to do."

The possibility of a split national championship, albeit slim, still exists for the Seminoles, which might hold more weight given the cast of characters who will be playing. But Norvell is just focused on getting better.

"I know we're going to go out tomorrow, we're going to fight with everything that we have to put our best on that field and, you know, I'm excited we get to do it against a great opponent," Norvell said.