Stop me if you’ve heard this before. In a bowl game, the Spartans will square off against an SEC team with one of the better quarterbacks in the NCAA, who is well on his way to becoming a first-round NFL Draft pick.
Yeah, I’d say that sounds familiar.
In the past four years, MSU has taken on two SEC teams, losing both, one to Georgia, 24-12, and one to Alabama (the Wisconsin loss is difficult enough, I won’t remind you of last year’s score).
In two of those last four, the Spartans have faced the likes of Matt Ryan (third overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft) and Matthew Stafford.
Now, they get Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who as a sophomore is already being regarded as a top prospect. The 2012 Outback Bowl should be an interesting one.
Here is my breakdown:
Murray vs. Spartan defense
For the second straight year, Murray topped the SEC in passing. The sophomore ranked first with 33 touchdowns and second with 2,861 yards. These numbers come in a conference that’s known for thinking defense.
However, at times Murray showed his youth. He threw a league-leading 13 interceptions and, although not his fault, was sacked a league-leading 28 times. Murray also has no playmakers at receiver. Three guys topped 500 yards receiving, but none more than 625.
With that being said, the Spartans will match up pretty nicely, seeing as forcing turnovers and attacking quarterbacks is what they live for.
The No. 5 defense in the country led the Big Ten with 41 sacks and 16 interceptions. Pressure on Murray will clearly be huge, and, as both teams know from their latest games, turnovers will be a deciding factor.
Edge: MSU. Murray is still young, and as long as junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and the defense come “hungry,” as they usually do, I think they have the slight advantage.
Spartans’ emotions vs. Bulldogs’ emotions
It’s not your traditional way to judge the game, but it’s necessary in this case.
The Spartans lost to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. They were dreaming of nothing but roses for the majority of the season. Many times, with these bowl games being so evenly matched, it’s about who wants it more.
On the other side, Georgia seemed to have a chance against No. 1 LSU for about 15 minutes, then the best team in the nation arrived. The letdown wasn’t nearly as bad for the Bulldogs as it was for MSU.
Edge: Georgia. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins and senior safety Trenton Robinson always have their team ready to play. So if you ask me in a few weeks, I might change my mind. But as of now, the Bulldogs have the advantage because the Spartans still are hurting.
Spartans’ offense vs. Georgia’s defense
Georgia finishes right behind Alabama and LSU with the No. 3 defense in the country. However, looking at their schedule, it’s not the impressive SEC dominance you might expect.
Their big wins come against Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Vanderbilt. They didn’t play Alabama or Arkansas and got beat by South Carolina, LSU and Boise State. There’s no win that jumps out.
So the numbers might be a bit skewed, but the Bulldogs still bring sack-machine Jarvis Jones, who led the SEC with 13.5 of them. Cousins also will have to work around safety Bacarri Rambo, who had seven interceptions.
Unfortunately for Jones, Cousins hasn’t hit the ground in four games. And they have enough weapons on offense in senior wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin to keep Rambo guessing.
Edge: MSU. If Cousins plays like he did against Wisconsin, the Spartans will take a game they desperately need to represent the Big Ten. With their bowl results in past years, it’s been said the Big Ten is an overrated conference, so if MSU can find the motivation before Jan. 2, I think MSU head coach Mark Dantonio earns his first bowl victory.