Bulldogs begin Outback Bowl preparations

TAMPA, Fla. - The players and coaches for No. 18 Georgia reconvened after the Christmas break in Tampa on Monday to resume preparations for the Outback Bowl contest against No. 12 Michigan State.

The Bulldogs and the Spartans were treated to an Outback Steakhouse dinner on Monday. The teams were served 4,500 pounds of food and beverages, including 750 pounds of ribeye steak, 750 pounds of chicken, 900 pounds of ribs, 700 pounds of house salad, 200 pounds of green beans, 160 Bloomin' Onions, 1,200 pounds of cheesecake, 80 gallons of barbecue sauce, and 90 cases of soft drinks and water.

Coach Mark Richt and Director of Athletics Greg McGarity, along with spouses Katharyn and Sheryl, respectively, received gifts from Outback Bowl representatives. Players from each team also got gift bags from the Outback Bowl.

Quarterback Aaron Murray, a native of Tampa, said the Bulldogs enjoyed Monday's dinner – the way they've enjoyed all aspects of the 2011 season.

"I think we're a pretty loose team," Murray said. "We're not a team that gets uptight or stressed out. We just go out and have fun. We enjoy being around each other, and that's why this season has been so special, because of the group of guys we have."

Tuesday's schedule includes Georgia's first practice in Tampa, a trip to a local hospital and an outing for the NHL game between Tampa and Philadelphia. Later in the week, the Bulldogs' schedule includes, in addition to practices, meetings and various press conferences, trips to Splitsville, Busch Gardens, Clearwater Beach and the New Year's Eve parade.

"It's eight days away, a long way away," Richt said. "At our team meeting, we talked about the rules and how we're going to operate and about why we're here. I want to make sure the focus is right. There is a time for work and a time for play. I want them enjoy it, but I want them to realize we're here for a purpose. Not too many people 10 years down the road are going to ask the guys if they had a good time at the bowl. They'll probably ask, 'Did you win or did you not?' They've just got to keep that focus, and I think they will."

The Bulldogs will be making their 15th consecutive bowl appearance, and Georgia ranks as one of the top five bowl teams of all time in wins and appearances. The Bulldogs are 26-17-3 in bowls. This will be the third meeting between Georgia and Michigan State in bowl games, with the Bulldogs claiming a 34-27 win in the 1989 Gator Bowl in Vince Dooley's final game as Georgia's coach and a 24-12 win in the 2009 Capital One Bowl.

The Outback Bowl will be played at 1 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 2, and can  be seen on WTVM, Sports Leader 9. Each team brings a 10-3 record into the bowl, and a win would give the Bulldogs their fourth season of at least 11 victories under Richt.