Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Sunday, December 4, 2011
Outback Bowl

By Adam Rittenberg and Chris Low

Michigan State Spartans (10-3) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (10-3)

Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)

Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The Spartans are still dealing with the heartbreak from the Big Ten championship game, as they came so close to securing their first Rose Bowl appearance in 24 years. While the sting might linger for a bit, Michigan State still has an excellent opportunity to take another step toward becoming an elite program.

Coach Mark Dantonio has things pointed in the right direction, as Michigan State has recorded consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in team history. About the only thing Dantonio hasn’t done is win a bowl game, as his teams are 0-4. The Outback Bowl gives Michigan State the chance to get over the hump.

After being snubbed for a BCS bowl in 2010, the Spartans looked like anything but a BCS-worthy team in the Capital One Bowl, getting pounded 49-7 by Alabama in the most lopsided result in the bowl’s history. They will look for a stronger performance against Georgia in a rematch of the 2009 Capital One Bowl.

The Spartans’ offense has surged since an Oct. 30 loss at Nebraska, averaging 38.6 points in the past five games. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins and his receivers are in a groove, and running back Le’Veon Bell has emerged as of late. The offense will face an excellent test from a Georgia defense ranked third nationally. Michigan State’s defense is no slouch, either, ranking fifth nationally, but the Spartans' secondary will need to contain talented Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.


Georgia take by SEC blogger Chris Low: The Bulldogs were left for dead back in September after losing their first two games of the season to Boise State and South Carolina. Senior cornerback Brandon Boykin went as far as to say they were thrown out with the trash.

With everybody on the outside wondering whether coach Mark Richt was going to make it, the Bulldogs came storming back and reeled off 10 straight wins to clinch the Eastern Division and make it to the SEC championship game, where they lost 42-10 on Saturday to No. 1 LSU.

Georgia will be looking to make amends for a woeful performance in its bowl game last season. The Bulldogs lost 10-6 to UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, which only elevated the unrest coming into this season.

This season’s team has been the picture of resiliency and has leaned on a defense that made major strides in the second year in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme. The Bulldogs are ranked fifth nationally in total defense and feature one of the country’s best pass-rushers and big-play defenders in sophomore outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray played his best football during the second half of the season and was able to spread the ball around. He threw touchdown passes to 10 different players on his way to setting the school record with 33 scoring tosses.