EAST LANSING - One of the more intriguing storylines in this year's Capital One Bowl match-up between Michigan State and Georgia is fact that the game will feature two of the three finalists for the Doak Walker Award in Spartan senior Javon Ringer and Georgia sophomore Knowshon Moreno.
Ringer who finished third in the nation and second in the Big Ten with 1,590 rushing during his final Spartan season. The Michigan State star also led the Big Ten and the nation in rushing touchdowns with 21 on the year.
Like the third Doak Walker Award finalist Shonn Greene of Iowa, Moreno is a native of New Jersey. As a sophomore Moreno rushed for 1,244 yards and scored 18 touchdowns while leading the SEC Conference in rushing yards per game and total rushing.
Organizers of the Capital One bowl have already begun to play up the Ringer and Moreno match-up.
"This will be a showcase for two of the best running backs in the country," said Florida Citrus Sports executive director Steve Hogan. "Both Michigan State and Georgia have something to prove at 9-3 and conference bragging rights are on the line with the Big Ten winning the bowl's last four games to bring the head-to-head record to 8-8 over the last 16 years."
Ringer is eager to face Moreno on New Year's Day.
"As a competitor, anything that he does, I'm going to try to top," said Ringer. "You know, it's going to be a big step, because he is a tremendous running back, from last year and this year. He's a tremendous player and a tremendous athlete. So definitely, I'll look at the matchup. And the competitive side of me, anything that he does, I'm going to try to make sure that I do better to help the team."
But before he squares off against Moreno in Capital One Bowl, Ringer will meet his counterpart from Georgia on a different stage. Both Ringer and Moreno will be in Orlando later this week for the presentation of the Doak Walker Award on Dec. 11.
Ringer is looking forward to his trip to Orlando this week.
"I feel like I'm blessed just to be able to have the opportunity to go down there," said Ringer. "I'm going to be staying in the same hotel we'll be staying at when I get down there. Just to get the flavor of the place, I feel like it's a great honor for me, one, to go down there for that award, and to go back down there again with my football family and get ready for this game. So I feel like I'm very blessed and privileged."
Ringer has not hurdled an opponent the way Moreno did one of his more impressive highlights. But Ringer has proven over the course of his senior season that he can carry a big workload as a runner, something many speculated he would be unable to do after the graduation of Jehuu Caulcrick last season.
Ringer carried the ball more than any running back in nation in 2008. The senior from Dayton (Ohio) is eager to show what he can do with fresh legs in January.
"Just letting the body heal up, that's going to be good," said Ringer. "I didn't take that much of a pounding during the season, I don't feel like it. My body still feels pretty good. Just the more time I have to get ready and prepare, the better off I will feel."
Ringer takes pride in his ability to have run the ball with as much success as he has had in 2008 while carrying the biggest workload he has taken on during his career at Michigan State.
"I have shown my durability," said Ringer. "I try and wear defenses down as much as possible, but a lot of credit goes to my offensive line paving the way for me. I have taken a lot of carries and my body still feels really good. Me feeling the way I do right now, really shows my durability."
KERSHAW SEES CAPITAL ONE BOWL AS ANOTHER SHOT AT TOP OPPONENT
Michigan State does not need to explain to anybody why they deserve to be in the Capital One Bowl. Of the Spartans' nine wins, five have come against teams that will be bowling during the holidays, including an 8-win Iowa team that will be playing on New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl, and a 9-win Northwestern team that will play in Valero Alamo Bowl.
Even so, Spartan seniors like Justin Kershaw see the Capital One Bowl as an opportunity to atone for losses to Ohio State, and Penn State, the two teams that finished ahead of Michigan State in the Big Ten standings and the two teams that will represent the conference in BCS bowls this January.
"We had great opportunities to play in big games this year, and I don't feel like we made the most of them," said Kershaw. "I'm just really happy to get a chance to get on the football field again and play against a good opponent."
A two-year defensive captain for the Spartans, Kershaw says that Michigan State needs to use the bowl practice period between now and the Capital One Bowl to improve its pass rush. Michigan State made dramatic gains in the defensive backfield last December in preparation for Boston College and their prolific passer Matt Ryan. Kershaw would like to see similar progress along the defensive line.
"As a defensive line we need to get to the quarterback better," said Kershaw. "In some games we really rattled the quarterback and some games we didn't. This is a huge game where we are going to have to rattle the quarterback in order to win."
That will be a tall task as Stafford, like Ryan one year ago, is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.
HOYER WANTS BETTER RESULTS IN SECOND TRIP TO ORLANDO
Before the Champs Sports Bowl last December, most observers felt that Brian Hoyer would have to have his best game as a quarterback for Michigan State to hang with Boston College and the Eagles' dynamic quarterback Matt Ryan.
In retrospect, an average game from Hoyer would have been alright. Instead, Hoyer had what he considers the worst game of his Spartan career. Now the senior from the Cleveland (Ohio) area has a chance to make a return trip to Orlando, and he would like nothing better than to erase some of the bad memories he has of his time in Citrus Stadium.
"It is kind of ironic that the two Bowl games that I play in, they will both be in the same stadium," said Hoyer. "That game has always left a bad feeling with me. But I feel like I got over that and moved on with this season. But I think it's kind of a redemption for me to go down and play in the same stadium and to play in the better of the two Bowl games and go down and have a good performance and go down and help my team win."
Like Ringer, Hoyer is motivated by facing one of premier quarterbacks in college football.
"It's the competitive nature inside you," said Hoyer. "Obviously I'm not going to be on the field at the same time as Stafford. And like Javon said, anything that he does, I'm going to try to top, because I obviously want my team to win. But it's just that competitive nature that you have inside you to go against a guy like Stafford, who like you said is projected to be a high NFL guy if he were to leave."
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