Michigan State's football program has emulated its basketball program in recent years, enjoying success right up until the final loss.
That's a bit more acceptable for the basketball Spartans, because every team but one in the NCAA tournament ends with a defeat, whereas football has 35 bowl winners. Michigan State will make its fifth straight postseason appearance Monday afternoon when the 12th-ranked Spartans face No. 18 Georgia at the Outback Bowl in Tampa, where they hope to produce a different result after losing the past four.
"This program is ready for a bowl win," fifth-year senior quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We haven't had one in a while. We've played great opponents every year and this year is no different, but we as a senior class want to leave with a win."
Mark Dantonio is the first MSU coach to produce postseason bids each of his first five seasons. The Spartans have won 43 games during his tenure, a program record for a five-year stretch, and their 21 victories the past two seasons also represent a school best.
Yet it's that last game that has become elusive, a fact that was magnified last January when Alabama mauled the Spartans 49-7 at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
"We've had a number of goals since we've come here, and one goal this past year obviously was to get to the Rose Bowl," Dantonio said. "The second goal we had was winning our last football game, and that remains in focus for all of us. If we can concentrate on getting that done and being an 11-3 football team, that would put us in the top 10, which would be a tremendous accomplishment."
The Spartans began their bowl run under Dantonio in 2007, when they lost to Matt Ryan and Boston College 24-21 in the Champs Sports Bowl. They lost to Matthew Stafford and Georgia 24-12 in the Capital One Bowl after the 2008 season and then lost to Texas Tech 41-31 in the Alamo Bowl.
Michigan State was competitive in each of those games, but last year was an embarrassment, as Alabama took a 49-0 lead with 8:58 to play on a 62-yard touchdown run by third-string tailback Eddie Lacy.
"That has always been in the back of my mind," safety Trenton Robinson said. "It's one of those dark places in your mind that you don't ever want to be at again. That was rough, and it wasn't a good feeling.
"I never want to feel like that again."
That was the worst bowl loss in Michigan State history, but Monday's matchup is expected to be tight.
The Spartans and Bulldogs tote identical 10-3 records and are led by quality quarterbacks and dominant defenses. Cousins is 26-12 as the starter, racking up the most wins in MSU history, and he has completed 240 of 369 passes this season (65 percent) for 3,016 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Michigan State leads the Big Ten in total defense (272.7 yards allowed per game), rushing defense (104.3), sacks (41) and interceptions (16).
"When it's early in the season, you're not really worried about winning your bowl game, but now that we're into the bowl season, I think it's as important as anything," linebacker Max Bullough said. "It's been a challenge for us, and we're obviously playing a great team in Georgia. So it would be rewarding to win a bowl game, and it would be rewarding if we can beat a team like Georgia."
The Spartans are 7-14 all-time in bowl games, last tasting victory in a 44-35 triumph over Fresno State in the 2001 Silicon Valley Bowl. Nick Saban lost all three of his bowl games as Spartans coach during the late 1990s.
"We've never had an easy draw, and I don't think there are any easy draws when you play on January 2," Dantonio said. "This is our third time playing in a New Year's Day type of game, so it's exciting for our football team, but like I said, the number two goal for our entire program was to win our last game."
Odds and ends
Georgia practiced Friday morning, and afterward coach Mark Richt downgraded the status of starting defensive end DeAngelo Tyson (ankle) to doubtful. ... Richt said redshirt junior tailback Richard Samuel has not had stamina issues in his return from ankle surgery and said three or four tailbacks could play. ... The Bulldogs will practice this morning for the final time.