2009 Capital One Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 12/22/2008
No. 18 Michigan State vs. No. 17 Georgia
Conference Matchup: Big Ten vs. SEC
Date: 1 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 1
Location: Florida Citrus Bowl
Odds: Georgia -7.5; Total 54.0
Georgia stinks. Their season was a disgrace. They were complete and total failures. Coaches should be fired; players' scholarships should be revoked. Uga should be flogged.
Yeah, Bulldog fans can be a real tough crowd.
In most circles a New Year's Day bowl game against a fellow Top 20 team from a major BCS conference warrants some enthusiasm. Maybe even some excitement. But when you closed out the previous year as the No. 2 team in the country, brought back to Heisman hopefuls, and opened the present season as the consensus No. 1 team in the land and the favorite for a national title, the Capital One Bowl just doesn't cut it.
Most people realized what myself, and most other handicappers in the country, already knew: the Bulldogs were grossly overrated. Their brutal schedule and some crippling injuries along the offensive and defensive lines hamstrung their chances at real glory. And their preseason hype made them one of the worst bets in the country as Georgia finished the season on a 1-7 ATS slide.
Conversely, Michigan State is a team that started way under the national radar. The Spartans started outside of the Top 25 and were a Big Ten afterthought. However, under the steady hand of Mike D'Antonio they finished 9-3 and were a true threat in the Big Ten. Their only losses came at Cal and against Ohio State and Penn State, as the Spartans were able to avoid the type of dumbfounding upset that normally sabotaged their seasons.
This isn't your older brother's Michigan State team. It wasn't long ago that the Spartans were as shaky as they came, susceptible to stunning upsets - both for and against. Michigan State could always be counted on for moments of exceptional play immediately followed by shocking stupidity. However, under D'Antonio they've been running the straight and narrow and he has this entire program developing a winner's attitude. And nothing would mark their coming out like the scalp of an SEC big shot.
If you ask many casual college football fans they would suggest that the SEC should dominate the Big Ten in head-to-head meetings, and may even point to the last two national championship game blowouts as proof. However, since 2001 the Big Ten is actually 9-7 ATS in 16 meetings with the SEC during bowl season.
While the general public may be dogging the favored Bulldogs because of their 'underachieving' season, this is still a very dangerous team and they are taking a whopping 83-percent of the betting action. Head coach Mark Richt is one of the best in the business. Over the last seven years Georgia is 17-11 ATS in nonconference games - including 7-3-1 ATS in the last three years - and an astounding 27-2 straight up. Also, Knowshon Moreno and Matt Stafford are likely playing their last games for Georgia and you know they want to put a cap on their careers. Finally, this game gives Georgia a shot at one critical thing: salvation for their season.
Michigan State's running attack, led by All-American Javon Ringer, is nothing to sneer at. But the two keys to their success in this bowl game is the play of their defense, which only ranked No. 62 in the country in total yards and No. 72 against the run, and their quarterback, Brian Hoyer, who completed only 50 percent of his passes while throwing as many touchdowns (eight) as interceptions.
Georgia is fast, on both sides of the ball. But they are not physical and have been pushed around by more physical teams. And I'm not just talking Alabama. Teams like Kentucky and even Vanderbilt pushed them around. They can make plays on offense, sure, but can their defense hold up to the constant pounding of Ringer and Company?
This game comes down to one thing, and one thing only: Hype vs. Heart. If you think Georgia is still overrated then your money should be on Sparty. But if you think that the Bulldogs can man up one final time then let the Dawgs off the leash.