Today Georgia takes on Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl (formerly known as the Florida Citrus Bowl) in Orlando, Florida.
On the face of it, we have two relatively equally matched teams who have had comparable seasons. Both teams finished 9-3 in highly competitive BCS conferences. Both teams finished within 3 notches of each other in the final BCS poll. Both teams feature quality running backs who have made big plays to help them win. Both teams have shown glaring inadequacies against the class of their respective conferences: Georgia lost to Alabama and Florida by a combined score of 90-40, while Michigan State lost to Ohio State and Penn State by a combined score of 94-25.
But here’s the thing. Michigan State has lived up to the expectations that they had going into 2008; some might say that Michigan State has exceeded expectations. Coach Mark Dantonio has said all along that his preseason aim was “to get to a New Year’s Day bowl”. Well, they’ve done that. And consider this: Michigan State started the season in the “Others Receiving Votes” category of the preseason AP poll, with 21 points. This would have put them at No. 35 if the rankings extended that far. By the end of the season Michigan State was No. 19 in the final BCS poll.
Georgia’s 2008 campaign, on the other hand, was nothing if not an abject failure in living up to preseason expectations. In the exact same preseason poll that had Michigan State in the “Others Receiving Votes” category, Georgia was ranked No. 1.
Consider this: In 1980, Georgia started the season at No. 16 in the AP poll and finished at No. 1. In 2008 Georgia started at No. 1 and finished at No. 16. Isn’t symmetry a beautiful thing?
Georgia began the season with aspirations of a national championship. Yet time and time again this team proved itself unworthy to even be on the same football field as the frontrunners of the SEC. Whenever the going got tough, this team turned into something resembling the remains of Mr. Creosote plastered to the back of his chair after he explodes from eating the wafer-thin mint in “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life”–right down to the look of dumb shock on his face. 31 points scored by Alabama in a single half. 28 points scored by Florida in a single half. And 26 points scored by Georgia Tech in a single quarter. And when it was all said and done, this team that once aspired to be national champions could not even retain the championship of its own state.
On paper, this appears to be a mismatch. All the analysts are talking about how Javon Ringer is all that Michigan State has and how poorly they have done against quality opponents and how Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, and friends are going to smear them all over the football field.
But don’t be taken in by this. Georgia is not a quality opponent. Georgia has proven this time and time again against the true quality opponents of the SEC. What’s more, Georgia carries the additional baggage of knowing that they should have achieved so much more this year and that they fell woefully short of expectations.
In this clash of 9-3 teams, I’ll take the 9-3 team that started the season in the “Others Receiving Votes” category over the 9-3 team that started at No. 1 in the country and failed to finish No. 1 in its own state. I’ll take the team that has at least some semblance of a heartbeat over the team that is nothing more than bloated remains plastered to the back of a chair after eating a wafer-thin mint.
Prediction: Michigan State 31, Georgia 30.