ATHENS -- It’s not the BCS, but Georgia is at least back in the kind of bowl it wants to be in: warm weather, a big city and another high-major opponent.
The Outback Bowl will match Georgia and Michigan State on Jan. 2, in a game that will kick off at 1 p.m. Not only is that a rematch of the 2009 Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won, but it lines up two teams with a lot of similarities:
Both teams are coming off a loss in their conference’s championship game.
They have identical 10-3 records.
And both have highly ranked defenses: Georgia is No. 3 in the nation, and Michigan State is No. 5.
For Georgia, the bowl bid is a sign of improvement. Two years ago it was relegated to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., and last year it was in a cold-weather Liberty Bowl, where it lost to Central Florida.
Now it’s back to Tampa, where it won the 2005 Outback Bowl.
“I’m really excited for our team and especially our seniors with the opportunity to play in Tampa, which is one of the premier January bowl games,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said in a statement. “We were fortunate to play in this game back in 2005 and had a terrific experience. This will be the first time the members of our team have the opportunity to play in Tampa and playing a top quality opponent like Michigan State will be a challenge we’ll look forward to.”
It also will be a homecoming for two of Georgia’s key offensive players. Quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Orson Charles each played at Tampa’s Plant High School.
“It’s a great destination for our student-athletes and our fans -- warm weather, wonderful attractions, a first class stadium, and we look forward to competing against a great Michigan State team,” Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said in a statement. “Our fans have been a big part of our success this season, and I’m confident they will support the team with their attendance in this bowl game.”
The Bulldogs were basically locked in to the Outback once the Capital One Bowl decided it would take South Carolina. According to the SEC’s order of bowl selection, the Outback and Cotton bowls pick next, with the Outback getting the preference for the next East team. And SEC bylaws prevented the Outback from reaching past Georgia for a team with at least two more losses.
Georgia finished last season in poor fashion, falling 10-6 to UCF in Memphis. This year it will enter the bowl after a 42-10 loss to No. 1 LSU in the SEC championship game in a game it led at halftime.
“We have some great leaders on this team, and we’re not gonna let this team sulk and be too upset and not understand that we still have one more game to finish this off,” Murray said on Saturday night.
But the Spartans will also be trying to recover from a tough loss from Saturday.
Michigan State (10-3) fell 42-39 to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. It led for much of the game.
The Spartans’ two regular-season losses came on the road, at Notre Dame (31-13) and Nebraska (24-3). Their signature victories were back-to-back home games against Michigan (28-14) and Wisconsin (28-14).
So Georgia, which has been criticized for not beating a very good team, will match up with a team that has defeated two teams that were picked for BCS bowls.
The Spartans are ranked 12th in the AP poll and 13th in the coaches’ poll. The Bulldogs are ranked 18th in the AP and coaches’ poll.
There’s another connection between the two teams. Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was an assistant at Michigan State from 1996-98, working under then-Spartans head coach Nick Saban.