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December 31, 2008

Capital One: Georgia has something to prove

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

Both teams in Thursday's Capital One Bowl are 9-3. One is celebrating; the other well, it isn't.

Michigan State was expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Instead, the Spartans finished third (a game behind co-champs Ohio State and Penn State). The Spartans are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1996-97, and this is just their second New Year's Day bowl since the 1989 season.


Georgia (9-3) vs. Michigan State (9-3)

WHEN: 1 p.m. Jan. 1.
WHERE: Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
TV: ABC (Mike Patrick will do play-by-play, with Todd Blackledge as the analyst).
THE LINE: Georgia by 7.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS:Georgia 5-3, Michigan State 5-3.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Georgia 3rd, Michigan State 34th.
BCS RANKINGS: Georgia 15th, Michigan State 18th.
COACHES: Georgia − Mark Richt (5-2 in bowls); Michigan State − Mark Dantonio (1-1 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: As usual, the Capital One has an intriguing Big Ten-SEC matchup. The Big Ten has won four in a row and seven of the past 10. There's also some high-powered talent on hand, most notably Georgia's Matthew Stafford - who could be the first quarterback taken in the 2009 NFL draft if he leaves early.
KEY STAT: Georgia is 16th nationally in passing offense, averaging 280 yards per game. Michigan State is 62nd nationally in passing defense, giving up 210.3 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Two of the nation's best running backs will be on view in Georgia's Knowshon Moreno (111.5 yards per game, 16 rushing TDs) and Michigan State's Javon Ringer (132.5 ypg, 21 rushing TDs). They'll be going against run defenses that haven't always been sturdy.
Georgia, meanwhile, came into the season ranked No. 1. The Bulldogs started 4-0, then it went south in a 41-30 home loss to Alabama that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate. Losses to Florida (49-10) and Georgia Tech (45-42) followed, and the Bulldogs finished second in the SEC East. While this is the Bulldogs' 12th consecutive bowl and their sixth New Year's Day appearance this decade more was expected of them.

A beat-up defense has hurt the Bulldogs. They surrender 25.6 points per game their worst mark since 1990 and have allowed at least 38 points five times. Georgia gave up at least 41 points in each of the losses.

"I think we have a lot to prove. We came into this season with a lot of expectations and a lot of hype," Georgia wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. "Somewhere along the line, we fell short of a couple of things that we wanted to accomplish.

"We want to go out there and play the best we can so that when people remember this team, they can remember the last game of the season."

Who has the edge?

Georgia run offense vs. Michigan State run defense
This could be the final college game for RB Knowshon Moreno a third-year sophomore who is eligible for the draft. He had seven 100-yard games this season. But he ran for less than 100 yards in each of the Bulldogs' three losses, averaging 64.3 yards in those outings. Michigan State has played five teams (Cal, Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State) with running games that are as good as Georgia's and those five teams ran for 989 yards (197.8 ypg) and nine TDs against the Spartans.
Edge: Georgia.

Georgia pass offense vs. Michigan State pass defense
This is Georgia's biggest advantage. This could be the final game for QB Matthew Stafford, a junior considered a sure top-10 pick if he leaves for the NFL. He has a strong arm and can make all the throws; that said, he doesn't always come up big in the big games. Wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Massaquoi are a quality duo, and Moreno is an underrated receiver out of the backfield. Teams with good passing attacks have fared quite well against the Spartans. Strong safety Otis Wiley is the standout in the secondary. Defensive end Trevor Anderson is a good pass rusher, though Stafford is hard to sack.
Edge: Georgia.

Michigan State run offense vs. Georgia run defense
Michigan State has to be successful running the ball. Ringer had seven 100-yard games and eight games in which he rushed for at least two TDs. But he managed just 190 yards total in Michigan State's three losses, and the Spartans lost those three by a combined 76 points. Georgia's run defense had issues in the second half of the season, with LSU, Florida, Kentucky and especially Georgia Tech gouging the Bulldogs. Georgia needs big games from DT Geno Atkins and LB Rennie Curran to keep Ringer from running wild.
Edge: Michigan State.

Michigan State pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense
Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer had a huge drop-off in productivity this season, from 2,725 yards and 20 touchdowns in '07 to 2,235 yards and nine TDs in '08. He completed just 50.8 percent of his passes this season. The receiving corps lacks a go-to guy, which Hoyer had last season in Devin Thomas. Georgia's secondary wasn't as good as expected, though CB Asher Allen is a good one. It hasn't helped the secondary that the pass rush is anemic.
Edge: Georgia.

Georgia special teams vs. Michigan State special teams
Georgia kicker Blair Walsh has struggled, befitting a freshman. He has a strong leg and is 14-of-22, but he missed four kicks of less than 39 yards and has made only four of his past 10 attempts. Punter Brian Mimbs has had a good season, and the Bulldogs have strong return units. The punt-coverage team is good, and the kick-coverage unit is adequate. Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson is a good one. He is 20-of-25 this season, including 7-for-9 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Aaron Bates averages 42.3 yards per kick but has had two blocked. The Spartans' return units are OK and the coverage units are average.
Edge: Georgia.

Georgia coaches vs. Michigan State coaches
This has been a disappointing season for Georgia, which was the preseason No. 1 in some circles. Injuries played a role, but so did an underachieving defense and an inconsistent offense. It will be interesting to see whether coordinator Willie Martinez's defense rises to the occasion. Mark Dantonio is in his second season as Michigan State's coach, and he has instilled the Spartans playing with greater discipline. The offense was too one-dimensional this season and the defense was trampled in Big Ten losses to Ohio State and Penn State.
Edge:: Georgia.

X-factor: This isn't the New Year's Day or later bowl Georgia had in mind when the season began. Are the Bulldogs going to be motivated? A win means a top-12 finish is possible. A loss means Georgia likely finishes between 20th and 25th.

Georgia will win if: The Bulldogs' run defense is the key. If Georgia can keep Ringer somewhat in control 100 or so yards, one TD it will be fine.

Michigan State will win if: Ringer has to have a big game for the Spartans because Hoyer cannot win this with his arm. The Spartans also need to get in Stafford's face. If they don't, he will pick them apart.

The pick
Mike Huguenin: Georgia 33, Michigan State 24.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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