Outback Bowl pre-game notes: Cousins gets ultimate shot in spotlight
Michigan State is, in my opinion, hands down the best team not playing in a BCS bowl game and will be looking to prove so against Georgia today.
MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins will also get his moment under the national microscope, as he'll take part in Jon Gruden's QB Camp on ESPN. The segment will air approximately at 11:50 a.m. Spartans blogger Chris Vannini has a sneak peak of the segment on his blog.
The Spartans will also be trying to compete against the notion that Big Ten teams aren't fast enough to compete with the SEC. Northwestern already lost to soon-to-be SEC team Texas A&M and the Big Ten conference has never performed very well against SEC opponents, especially in bowl games.
MSU does have perhaps the best defense in the conference, with enough speed to match up with the Bulldogs playmakers. Pressure on Georgia QB Aaron Murray is crucial and MSU linebacker Denicos Allen said he plans on causing havoc for the Bulldogs signal caller. Allen leads MSU with 10 sacks this season, some of which have become known inside the Spartans locker room has "Waterboy sacks" in reference to Adam Sandler's Bobby Boucher character.
The Spartans will be up against a fully-loaded Georgia offense today, which will feature a convoy of receiving targets for Murray as well as a healthy Isaiah Crowell, the freshman running back who leads Georgia in rushing this season. There's also been some speculation that Georgia coach Mark Richt could be coaching for his job today. While I don't think Richt will be fired if the Bulldogs lose, a win would certainly go a long way towards improving his job security.
Besides getting the no bowl win moneky of his back, Dantonio is also well aware of the importance a win in this game has in terms of recruiting. With Urban Meyer now at Ohio State, Michigan back in the BCS and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl yet again, the stakes have been raised in the Big Ten. Dantonio talked about the Spartans bowl losing streak, which includes a loss to Georgia and Matthew Stafford in the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl. While the even keel coach is not the type to put a "must-win" label on any game, rest assured the importance of this game resonates throughout the Spartans' program.
Finally, there's the issue of being slighted. The Spartans are angry, and rightfully so, that they're in the Outback Bowl and Michigan is in a BCS game despite losing to MSU, playing a weaker schedule and not reaching the conference championship game. It's created a tough situation for MSU. A Spartan loss, compounded by a Michigan win over Virginia Tech could cause a considerable shift in recruiting momentum for the two programs. Oakland Press columnist Pat Caputo talked more about that very topic in a recent column.
Finally for Cousins, along with teammates Jerel Worthy and B.J. Cunningham, it's an audition for the NFL. Worthy said he's pretty much "50-50" on whether or not he'll return to East Lansing for his senior season. Cousins expressed his desire to play professionally as well and is ranked by ESPN's Mel Kiper as a Top 5 senior quarterback in this year's draft class. Cunningham is less of a known name nationally, but a big game today followed by a strong combine could put him in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft. He has 72 receptions for 1,240 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. I think all three will be drafted by the fourth round, but they'll need to convince NFL scouts that they're worth that early of a pick.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on ABC.