Georgia and Michigan State, both with 10-3 records and losses in their conference championship games, will meet Jan. 2 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
The matchup was set Sunday, one day after Georgia lost 42-10 to No. 1 LSU in the SEC Championship game and Michigan State fell 42-39 to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten title game.
Georgia was among three SEC teams, along with South Carolina and Arkansas, that were in the running for the Capital One, Outback and Cotton bowls.
Orlando’s Capital One Bowl, which had the next choice of SEC teams after LSU and Alabama were tabbed for the BCS national title game, selected South Carolina. The Gamecocks (10-2, 6-2 SEC) finished second to Georgia in the SEC East, but defeated the Bulldogs 45-42 in Athens on Sept. 10.
The Outback and Cotton bowls, equals in the SEC’s bowl pecking order, were next in line to make selections from the league. The Outback preferred the East team (Georgia) and the Cotton the West team (Arkansas).
The Outback, which will kick off at 1 p.m. and be televised on ABC, will be a homecoming for two of Georgia’s top players, quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Orson Charles, who were teammates at Tampa’s Plant High School.
“Heading home for the Outback Bowl!” Murray said Sunday night via Twitter.
“It’s a great destination for our student-athletes and our fans –- warm weather, wonderful attractions, a first-class stadium -– and we look forward to competing against a great Michigan State team,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said in a statement. “Our fans have been a big part of our success this season, and I’m confident they will support the team with attendance in this bowl game.”
Michigan State is ranked ahead of Georgia in the latest polls, released Sunday. The Spartans are No. 12 in the Associated Press poll and No. 13 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, while the Bulldogs are No. 18 in both.
While Georgia won the SEC East, Michigan State won the Big Ten’s Legends division. Both teams were 7-1 in regular-season league play.
This is the 15th consecutive season that Georgia has reached a bowl. The Outback is a step up in the bowl landscape from the Bulldogs’ destinations the past two seasons, the Independence Bowl in 2009 and the Liberty Bowl last year.
Georgia and Michigan State have met twice previously in football, with Georgia winning both times.
The first meeting was in Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl at the end of the 1988 season. Georgia won that game, Vince Dooley’s last as the Bulldogs’ coach, 34-27.
The other meeting was in the Capital One Bowl at the end of the 2008 season. Georgia won 24-12 in the final college game for quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno. Stafford threw three touchdown passes in the second half, the last one to Moreno.
“This promises to be a great match-up,” Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis said in a statement. “The last time these two teams met … the outcome wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter, so we anticipate another competitive game.”
Georgia has played in the Outback Bowl three times previously, winning all three, while this will be Michigan State’s first trip to the Tampa game.
Michigan State seemed on the cusp of a potential game-winning touchdown in Saturday’s Big Ten title game when the Spartans returned a Wisconsin punt inside the 5-yard line with less than two minutes to play. But a running-into-the-punter penalty negated the return and gave Wisconsin a first down, ensuring its victory and a Rose Bowl berth.
Georgia coach Mark Richt and Michigan State coach Coach Mark Dantonio will discuss the Outback matchup in a joint media teleconference Monday. In a news release from the bowl Sunday night, Richt was quoted: “… Playing a top quality opponent like Michigan State will be a challenge we’ll look forward to.”
Both teams rank in the nation’s top five in total defense. Georgia is No. 3, allowing 268.5 yards per game, and Michigan State is No. 5, giving up 272.7 yards per game.
– Tim Tucker