You may not be aware of this, but the Georgia Bulldogs are scheduled to take on the Michigan St. Spartans in the Outback Bowl on Monday afternoon in a battle of 10-3 conference runners-up who held halftime leads in their respective conference championship games. For purposes of previewing the matchup, I feel it incumbent upon me to bring you not just a dollop of data or an increment of insight, but, instead, to provide you with . . . Too Much Information:
As of the start of bowl season, Michigan State ranked fifth nationally in total defense, which means the Spartans sport the best defense fielded by a team from outside the Southeastern Conference: Alabama, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina rank first through fourth, respectively. Yeah, that’s right; the ‘Dawgs boast the best defense of any squad not invited to the BCS National Championship Game.
Through December 28, the Bulldogs were better against the pass (seventh nationally, as opposed to the Spartans’ twelfth) and against the run (eleventh nationally, once again as opposed to MSU’s twelfth), but the Green and White were superior in scoring defense (ninth in the country, as opposed to the Athenians’ 16th). However, the gap between the two Outback Bowl combatants in the latter category narrows considerably when we look solely at neutral site and road games: Georgia allows 23.9 points per game when playing outside of Athens, whereas Michigan State surrenders 23.7 points per game when playing outside of East Lansing.
Georgia is better at bowling than Michigan State. Think about that for a moment.
This autumn, for just the second time since 1982, the Bulldogs beat the Florida Gators, the Auburn Tigers, and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the same season. In their whole history, the Classic City Canines have posted a 7-6 bowl record in campaigns that included victories over all three major rivals, but that middling postseason mark includes ledgers of 3-1 when the Athenians went 3-0 through “Hate Season” yet did not capture the Southeastern Conference crown and 2-1 in Sunshine State bowl games.
Georgia has not lost a bowl game in Florida after defeating the Plainsmen, the Saurians, and the Engineers since January 1, 1949, and the ‘Dawgs, who are 10-3-2 overall in Sunshine State postseason tilts, have not lost a bowl game in Florida, regardless of other circumstances, in 25 years.
For a while there, I thought we had this one in the bag, but then I wasn’t so sure.
Isaiah Crowell enters the Outback Bowl with 847 rushing yards to his credit as a true freshman tailback. Crowell is 28 yards shy of matching Thomas Brown’s 875 rushing yards as a freshman in 2004, and he is 43 yards shy of tying Rodney Hampton’s 890 rushing yards as a freshman in 1987. The Bulldogs won their bowl games in Brown’s and Hampton’s freshman seasons, just as they did in the two seasons featuring freshman running backs with more rushing yards than Hampton: 2007 (Knowshon Moreno with 1,334) and 1980 (Herschel Walker with 1,616).
In seasons in which the Bulldogs have lost to the LSU Tigers, the Red and Black have posted a combined 4-1 record in bowl games. Wait . . . 4-1? That’s an .800 winning percentage! How is that the feel bad stat of the week?
It’s the feel bad stat of the week because Georgia’s lone bowl loss in those several seasons came in the 1986 Hall of Fame Bowl . . . in Tampa, Fla.
Michigan State isn’t Ohio State, but the Spartans have had only marginally more success against the SEC in postseason play than the Buckeyes have experienced. In a half-dozen bowls against the Southeastern Conference (1938 Orange, 1989 Gator, 1995 Independence, 2000 Citrus, 2009 Capital One, and 2011 Capital One), Michigan State has gone 1-5, with their lone win being a three-point victory over a Florida squad that ended the autumn on a three-game skid.
Georgia, which was responsible for two of the Spartans’ five bowl losses to the SEC, has gone 8-0 against Big Ten teams since the Bulldogs’ last loss to an opponent from the Midwestern BCS conference in 1957.
Georgia and Michigan State are evenly matched teams whose showdown should go down to the wire. The first time the Bulldogs met the Spartans, in the 1989 Gator Bowl, the Athenians won by seven, carding a 34-27 triumph. The last time the Red and Black faced a Big Ten team in Florida in January after suffering a lopsided loss to a national championship game-bound Louisiana State club in the SEC Championship Game that dropped the ‘Dawgs to 10-3, in the 2004 Capital One Bowl, Georgia won by seven, notching a 34-27 victory. Say, that sounds like a trend, and that’s good enough for me.
My Prediction: Georgia 34, Michigan State 27.