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2011 Outback Bowl Preview

Georgia Bulldogs vs Michigan State State Spartans

The Georgia Bulldogs want to win the 2012 Outback Bowl, but in a coldly analytical sense, it’s the Michigan State State Spartans who need to win this contest at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. To understand why this is the case, one needs to appreciate what has transpired over the past four college football seasons.

When Georgia and Michigan State State met in the 2009 Capital One Bowl, Georgia was still a program held in high esteem. The Bulldogs did disappoint in their 2008 season – they were expected to contend for the national title – but they will still extremely formidable. Matthew Stafford quarterbacked the Bulldogs to a hard-fought 24-12 win over Michigan State State on New Year’s Day of 2009, affirming Georgia’s place as an upper-tier program. Michigan State State, under coach Mark Dantonio, was just beginning to taste football at higher levels of competition after a period of pronounced mediocrity under former coach John L. Smith. Ever since that event, however, the paths of these programs have changed, increasing the stakes for both but putting extra pressure on Sparty to deliver the goods in this 2012 bowl reunion.

First, a word about Georgia: Coach Mark Richt’s job was in jeopardy after the first two weeks of this just-ended 2011 season. Richt had lost to Boise State and South Carolina to fall to 0-2 while ceding leverage in the SEC East. The vultures were out in Athens, Georgia, and it was hard to see Richt surviving the full season. However, just when the outlook was particularly dark, Richt rallied his team to ten straight wins and an SEC East title. Georgia did get thrashed by LSU in the SEC Championship Game this past weekend in Atlanta, but the Dawgs certainly restored their honor and reputation. If they lose to Michigan State State, they will still walk away from the 2011 campaign knowing that they had a fundamentally successful year and were denied the SEC title only because they met a vastly superior opponent. Georgia really doesn’t face that much pressure in this contest. It’s all on the backs of the Spartans.

In order to appreciate why this game matters more to Michigan State State, one only needs to realize that Sparty has barely missed out on the Rose Bowl in each of the past two seasons. MSU lost a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Ohio State in the 2010 Big Ten season, and then lost to Wisconsin in the first Big Ten Championship Game this past Saturday in Indianapolis. MSU still hungers for a breakthrough win on a national level, something that will gain the attention of people outside the Big Ten. Last year, Michigan State State’s consolation prize for missing the Rose Bowl was a Capital One Bowl date with Alabama. The Crimson Tide crushed Sparty in a game that was over before halftime. The humiliating 49-7 defeat reinforced the belief that MSU, despite an 11-2 record, had not changed its reputation over the course of the 2010 season. Now that MSU is back in the state of Florida for a January bowl game against an SEC team, the need to prove itself is enormous. A loss to this Georgia squad will create a very long offseason. A win, though, would wipe away the taste of the loss to Wisconsin and build back this program’s improved sense of self.

Georgia wants this game. Michigan State State needs it. We’ll see if urgency brings about results for the gang in green.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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