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Outback Bowl Preview: Georgia, Michigan State and the Value of Wins

Georgia hasn't had the best luck against ranked teams this year.
Georgia hasn't had the best luck against ranked teams this year.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET, ABC

So we're still stuck trying to figure out just how good Georgia is this year. There's no question that the Dawgs are a good team; no one wins 10 straight games without having its fair share of talent and solid coaching. But Georgia faced just three teams that were ranked in the human polls at the end of the season, and lost to all three of them.

The Georgia defense leads the way when it comes to that uncertainty. Only four teams scored more than 20 points against the Dawgs -- and three of them were the three teams that Georgia lost to. In fact, the highest opposing point totals were against South Carolina (45), LSU (42) and Boise State (35). But there again, we have a caveat. The Georgia offense turned the ball over a combined seven times in those losses. Three of those turnovers led to three of the touchdowns against LSU and South Carolina, and special-teams plays led to an additional pair of scores.

Which backs up the idea that the Georgia defense is largely legit with its ranking as the third best total defense in the country and the SEC, but also should raise some questions for Georgia fans and boosters. After all, it seems that the Dawgs are prone to turnovers and special-teams meltdowns in their biggest games.

Not far behind that defense is Michigan State, which ranked fifth in the nation in total defense and led the Big Ten in that category. That helped the Spartans, led by South Carolina alumnus Mark Dantonio, get to the inaugural B1G Championship Game after knocking Wisconsin out of the national championship race. Michigan State couldn't beat the Badgers a second time, though, and ended up in Tampa instead. Part of that is that Dantonio's offense didn't do much better than his alma mater's, gaining just 390.4 yards a game.

Despite the South Carolina roots of Dantonio, I hate choosing a Big Ten team to defeat any SEC team. But I just need to see Georgia defeat a high-caliber team before I pick the Dawgs to beat a high-caliber team, and I haven't seen that yet. Here's hoping that I'm wrong.

Michigan State 34, Georgia 31