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The Rivalry's Big 10 Bowl Previews: Capitol One Bowl

A perfect tagline for this matchup would harken back to Charles Dickens and his epic book,  "A Tale of Two Cities." For as East Lansing citizens pile onto jets to excitedly follow Sparty and Mark Dantonio to their first New Years Day bowl in 10 years, the Bulldogs will disappointingly stroll over to Tampa, burdened with unmet expectations and negative comments from all sides of the Georgia Blogosphere...

Capitol One Bowl Preview: Michigan State v Georgia

Christmas Theme Song: "Come All Ye Faithful"

And all those faithful fans and boosters from MSU will come to Tampa, joyful and triumphant. You may not know why a 9-3 season, complete with losses against the three best teams on the Spartans schedule, would be cause for such positive thinking. But you obviously have not spent much time following Spartan football then. As I chronicled earlier this year, the Spartans have suffered through bad coaching, coked up star players, and continous beatings from their Ann Arbor brethren. This season showed so many building blocks, so many good signs, you can almost hear the joyful footsteps on this happy morning. Let me bulletpoint these signs quickly:

  • Better endgame coaching: The Spartans avoided mistakes and late errors to beat Iowa and Wisconsin with clutch defensive and special teams plays. This tactical improvement is almost enough to wipe out the memory of those John L. Smith 4th quarter breakdowns.
  • Ability to adapt: Teams stacking the line to stop sparkplug Javon Ringer? Introducing soph WR Blair White, whose Gossip Girl-esque name doesn't obscure the brilliant way he was used to defeat Michigan and Wisconsin. 
  • Recruiting: Not only does MSU have the #14 recruiting class in America, but Dantonio has mined the somewhat lush football fields of Michigan to pull verbal committments from players who would normally trek to Ann Arbor or out of state.

But let's not get too wrapped up in our Spartan praise. They still have to beat the #1 preseason team in America, a Bulldog team featuring players that can quickly take the joy out of this Capitol One Bowl for those traveling Spartan fans. Matthew Stafford, frosh All American wide receiver A.J. Green, Knowshon Moreno, and a stellar defense led by LB Rennie Curran are heavily favored to slam the Spartans back down to reality. And let's face it, Georgia lost to three of the hottest teams in America (Georgia Tech, Florida, 'Bama). But when your #1, you get finicky and demanding, you expect the best, and that's why articles like this exist, and why quotes like this exist. "It was an OK season - disappointing at times," said Georgia junior cornerback Asher Allen."

How will Michigan State's "simple but effective" offense match up with the battle tested UGA D? Probably not well, if history and analysts have anything to say. Wisconsin brought their conservative, somewhat one dimensional offense into the Champs Sports Bowl and got hammered by a more athletic team that was in better shape. And the well documented struggles of Michigan State's running game against solid defenses comes through loud and clear:

Against the five Big Ten teams on MSU's schedule that are playing in bowl games, Ringer carried the ball more than 25 times against only one (Northwestern) and didn't average more than 4.2 yards/carry in any of the five games.  Opposing defenses know that MSU's preference is to run the ball three out of every four times on first down and adjust their gameplans accordingly.  Georgia will be no exception. (Spartan Weblog)

These are two storied programs, one that is peaking and one that peaked (apparently) during the offseason. Everyone loves the Mascots and both coaches look to be around for awhile. Although the East Lansing supporters may echo the lyrics from our aforementioned hymn and begin adoring Coach Dantonio, a strong performance against this SEC power would certainly do wonders for the Spartan program.