Dec. 12, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
OKEMOS, Mich. - The Outback Bowl may not be one of the five designated Bowl Championship Series games, but as far as Michigan State wideout Keith Nichol is concerned, it sure looks like one.
And in some respects, the MSU-Georgia matchup has more going for it than those in most of the BCS games.
A large contingent of Spartans players and coaches gathered with Outback Bowl officials and media Monday at the Outback Steakhouse restaurant four-and-a-half miles east of Spartan Stadium. While some of the discussion reflected on MSU's stinging 42-39 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, the emphasis was almost entirely snapping the team's five-bowl losing streak on Jan. 2 in Tampa.
"You just have to move on and accept the challenge that we have in Georgia," Nichol said. "We're looking forward to that game. Things work out for whatever reason they do, and it's going to be a fun game.
"You can't focus on the past because you can't do anything about it. You've got to move forward and I think everyone has a good mind-set about where we're at right now."
Although the 12th-ranked Spartans and No. 18 Bulldogs were left out of the controversial BCS equation, they should be in the national conversation.
"Georgia is as good as any team in the country right now," Nichol said. "They have great players and great athletes, and I think it's going to be one of the top-three bowl games out there. It's going to be a really good game. I think the nation is going to tune in to watch it and I think it's going to be a highlighted game."
Nichol isn't far off the mark. The Outback and Rose bowls are the only postseason games pitting undisputed conference divisional champions against each other. Not even the National Championship Game can make that claim.
Michigan State won the Big Ten Legends Division outright and Georgia won the Southeastern Conference East Division.
ACC champ Clemson will play West Virginia in the BCS Orange Bowl. However, the Mountaineers finished in a three-way tie for the Big East title and at No. 23 are the lowest-ranked team in a major bowl.
The BCS Sugar Bowl features Virginia Tech, which won the ACC Coastal Division, against Michigan, which finished second to MSU in the Legends.
The Fiesta Bowl has Big 12 champ Oklahoma State against Pac-12 North co-champ Stanford, which lost to divisional rival and Rose Bowl-bound Oregon during the regular season.
When Nichol and the rest of the Spartans take the field against Georgia, the last thing they'll notice is whether it's a BCS game, or not.
"Being a senior, this is my last game suiting up as a Spartan and I want to go out on top," Nichol said. "I want my last game to be a victory, but there are Georgia Bulldogs who feel the same way. There's a lot on the line for the older guys, especially."