Georgia appeared down and out at the midway point, licking its wounds after a listless 21-point defeat at Tennessee. Coach Mark Richt wouldn't even talk about goals such as conference championships or major bowls, figuring both were out of reach.
Not so fast. Georgia (10-2) hasn't lost since and might be the hottest team in the country.
Five time zones west of Athens, Hawaii put together perhaps the most neglected perfect season in college football history. The Warriors (12-0) played most of their games after the rest of the country went to bed; when everyone finally woke up, they found an unlikely member of the Bowl Championship Series.
Tonight, these two disparate teams will meet for the first time, a traditional Southeastern Conference powerhouse taking on an up-and-coming program.
It just might be the most intriguing game on the postseason schedule.
"They're undefeated, so I know they're approaching this as a championship game," Georgia defensive end Marcus Howard said.
Even without a national title on the line, it's a fascinating story line:
l Can the Warriors, who went undefeated against an unimpressive schedule, cope with an opponent that knocked off defending national champion Florida and three other bowl-bound teams during its six-game winning streak?
l How will Georgia's defense fare against Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan and the rest of Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense?
l Will the Bulldogs take offense when Hawaii does its traditional Polynesian war dance before the game? Can the Warriors counter the emotional boost Georgia expects to get from donning its black jerseys?
"I really don't have a good feel for how it's going to go," Richt said Monday. "We haven't played them before. We haven't played anybody like them. ... I imagine we're a lot different from most people they've played."
The Warriors are eager to show that they can hang with the nation's best.
"No one gave Boise a chance. They thought Oklahoma would overpower them," Hawaii linebacker Solomon Elimimian said of last year's Fiesta Bowl. "It didn't happen like that. The team that wanted it more and had the most heart came out on top."