Top 4 non-BCS Bowls, No. 3: The OutBack Bowl


The next bowl game in Reign of Troy’s countdown of non-BCS bowls to watch is one between two teams that are often overshadowed by bigger names in their respective conferences: The Outback Bowl, starring the Michigan State Spartans and the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

Both of these teams saw a surprising amount of success in their conferences this season, but had their major post-season dreams cut short by some of the more traditional powerhouses. For Georgia, it was a loss to LSU that sends them down to Tampa for this bowl. This came as no surprise, as Georgia was somewhat underwhelming at times this season, and because LSU is LSU. Prior to that loss, Georgia was riding high on a ten-game winning streak. Michigan State, on the other hand, finished alone in the Big 10 with the conference’s best regular season record, a feat they had not accomplished since the 1987 season. Last season, their in-conference record of 7-1 would have given them an automatic BCS bowl berth, but with the new realignment, Michigan State’s fate was changed. They lost to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big 10 championship, and just like that, the BCS dreams would not become a reality.

For obvious reasons, both teams are coming into this game hungry, looking for some respect.

These teams statistically match up, which suggests that this will unfold beautifully come kick off. Both are averaging more than 30 points per game, while also surrendering less than 20 per contest. Unlike some of the other bowls thus far, both teams are coming into this game with balance: potent offenses AND stable defenses. The Spartans are lead by Kirk Cousins—the winningest QB in Michigan State History—who ended the regular season with 3016 yards and 24 touchdowns. Supporting Cousins is B.J. Cunningham, a record-setter in his own right. He is the all-time leader in receiving yards in school history, with 72 receptions for 1240 yards, averaging more than 17 yards per receptions, and 12 touchdowns. The two of them balled out of control during the Big 10 title game, putting on very impressive performances. Cousins went 22 for 30 with 281 yards and season high-tying three touchdowns, all of which were to Cunningham, who had five-catch, 115-yard game.

If Cousins and Cunningham can get into that kind of rhythm during this game, then it could mean trouble for the Georgia Bulldogs.

But then again, maybe not.

The Bulldogs finished third in the FBS, giving up only 268.5 yards per game. Their defense is led by consensus first-team All-American and former USC athlete linebacker Jarvis Jones and first-team safety Baccari Rambo. They—and the rest of the Georgia defense—will need to slow down the Spartans offense, one that has averaged 38.6 points and 433.2 yards over the last five games.

As said before, the Georgia offense often left more to be desired this season, and that showed in their stats: the Bulldogs finished with season lows in points, rushing yards, and total yards. This was shown during their showdown with LSU, when they gave up 42 unanswered points and couldn’t get anything going offensively. If this team has not mentally moved past that crushing defeat, Michigan State’s defense—that finished fifth in the country, surrendering just 272.7 yards per game—could pick apart Georgia’s offensive attack.

The Outback Bowl marks Georgia’s 15th consecutive bowl appearance. They lost last season to Central Florida, but beyond that, the Bulldogs have won 11 of their last 14 bowl games. The Spartans have made it to the post-season for the fourth time in five years under head coach Mark Dantoni, but they are looking for their first win in that time period as well. Michigan State has lost five bowl games in a row. In school history, Georgia and Michigan State have faced each other twice and both times, Goergia was victorious. If Michigan State can find a way to swing things in their favor, then it will not only shut up all the diehard SEC fans out there who swear up and down that SEC teams are God’s gift to mankind, but it will also give even more cred to this Michigan State team, often left in the wake of programs like Michigan and Ohio State.

With that said, something tells me that Michigan State will give an inspiring performance, and outshine a Georgia team that doesn’t seem to know what to do with what it has offensively. It will be a good game, but the Spartans will win, 35-28.

Kick off is set for 10 a.m. Pacific Time with coverage on ABC, so be sure to be up bright and early for this SEC/Big Ten Showdown!