EAST LANSING - With ticket sales for the Outback Bowl lagging, Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis is hoping that an end to the mourning period in the wake of the Spartans' loss in the Big Ten Championship Game will lead to new interest in MSU's Jan. 2 game against Georgia. Freshman center Travis Jackson: "We had this last week off but guys have been in and out of the weight room, by choice too, so it has been awesome to see that. Losing that game does sting because you set your goals on it, but you can't think about it too long when you have to play a great team like Georgia."
"Tickets are going slower than they have in the past, when we had thirty-some thousand at Orlando, and have had good numbers everywhere we've gone," Hollis said during a media briefing on Monday at the Okemos Outback Steakhouse.
Hollis said Michigan State has sold about 5,000 of its allotment of 11,500 tickets for the game, which will be played in Tampa at Raymond James Stadium.
"Right now, we're at about 5,000 tickets, which is well behind where we have been in the past with the Capital One Bowl," Hollis said. "We're still recovering (from the end of the Big Ten football season), including the athletic director."
Hollis said he walked the streets of Indianapolis alone, late into the early morning hours of Dec. 4 after Michigan State's hearbreaking, 42-39 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium. He said it was an emotional night for him, and he understands the period of mourning that Spartan fans have endured in the days since.
"We had huge fan support at Indianapolis for that Championship Game," Hollis said. "Obviously there is a little bit of a momentum issue coming out of that game.
"As soon as I saw the beach (in the Tampa area), my mourning was over. But seriously, we are all disappointed. Our aspirations were to play in the Rose Bowl. When that fell through, there is disappointment. But you have to get over that. You have to move forward. You have to look at what this group of seniors brought to mid-Michigan over the past four years. They are deserving of a game."
Realizing that fewer Spartan fans may be inclined to travel to the Sunshine State this year for a bowl game, due to the disappointment of not making the Rose Bowl, Hollis indicated that MSU will reach out to its alumni in Florida to help make progress in selling its allotment of tickets.
"We are going to hit Florida pretty hard right now on a marketing campaign to get the twenty thousand or so alums that live in Florida out to the game," Hollis said. "It's reaching out to clubs, it's getting information in the hands of people that can drive anywhere in the southeast to get into that game."
MSU has purchased billboard advertising in Florida in past years as a means of mobilizing its alumni in that state for bowl games.
"We are going to be doing a lot of reaching out, a lot of communicating," Hollis said. "When you look back at this year, and The Rocket, and Little Giants (from last year) and all of the excitement these guys have brought, and we think that's how this game is going to finish with Georgia."
Hollis believes there might be a late rush of Michiganders making late decisions to follow the team south.
"We anticipate that people are still making decisions, and can still make decisions," Hollis said. "It's so easy to get to Florida, whether it be to Tampa, Orlando or other locations.
"It's a unique location for us. We have never been to Tampa with the football program. There are new opportunities for fans from beaches to golf courses to the city itself. It's an amazing city. That's what we're trying to sell in addition to this great program.
"It's important for a program to have a following. We have demonstrated that we can do 30,000 at the Capital One Bowl.
"Obviously this is the first time the Big Ten has had a Championship Game, the first time they have experienced a team losing a Championship Game. That's hard for a lot of people to adapt to.
"The SEC has had it a lot longer. Georgia fans are entering this game a little bit different than Michigan State fans just because they have been around a championship game in the past and they have a better grasp of what it feels like.
"But I don't want to take anything way from this team. We are one play away from playing in the Rose Bowl. It's still something to celebrate, and an opportunity to win a game.
"If the crowd can come out for that class, I think that would be amazing. There are so many Spartans down there in Florida, we are just hoping we can attract some of them and have them come out for a great time but also for this team."
Pickelman Out, Reynolds Moves Again
Senior defensive tackles Kevin Pickelman and Johnathan Strayhorn will miss the Capital One Bowl due to injury. Pickelman was lost to a knee injury during the Big Ten Championship Game, and Strayhorn went down to a knee injury late in the regular season.
Pickelman finishes his career with 18 career starts. He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten (by media) this season.
Strayhorn saw regular playing time as a reserve, especially as part of the nickel defense.
With Pickelman out, junior Anthony Rashad White will return to the starting lineup. He started three games this year.
Depth behind White and junior Jerel Worthy suddenly becomes a question mark for the Spartans.
"I think it's always a concern when you lose two guys that have played for you inside all year," said defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. "Rashad White is a great player and he'll be in there a lot and he has played a ton this year."
Redshirt freshman walk-on Jordan Sanders saw a handful of snaps of quality playing time during MSU's regular season finale against Northwestern. He becomes a prime candidate to provide a few snaps of spot duty against Georgia.
Also, well-traveled sophomore Micajah Reynolds will move back to defensive tackle for bowl practice. Reynolds has bounced back and forth from d-line to o-line several times in his short career.
"I would say (the No. 3 defensive tackle) would probably be Micajah, but we'll see," Narduzzi said. "Micajah has been playing both ways in practice all year anyway so that will be no surprise."
Salute At Graduation
Keith Nichol was one of six Spartan football players who went through mid-year graduation ceremonies on Saturday at Breslin Center.
Nichol, Pickelman, tight end Garrett Celek, offensive lineman Joel Foreman, wide receiver Brad Sonnag, quarterback Kirk Cousins went through commencement ceremonies over the weekend.
Nichol wore a big smile as he crossed the stage at Breslin Center to get his diploma from president Lou Anna K. Simon.
Simon shook hands with each of the thousands of graduates who crossed the stage on Saturday, but she paused a few seconds longer to receive Nichol.
"She had something to say to me," Nichol said. "I was actually surprised that she even recognized me. She kept me there for a second, 'She said, 'Great job in that game. We're proud of you.' And she said, 'We're going to go out there and get 'em next time.'"
Nichol felt humbled.
"She didn't owe me anything," he said. "I'm just another student. There are thousands of us out there, and that was a great moment that she gave me.
"In the back of my mind, I was like, 'You know what? We did put our best effort out there. If the president of the university is proud of us, then I'm proud of myself too and the team should be proud.' And the classes behind us are going to go out and get that win; I know they will."
Nichol finished his degree this semester in Supply Chain Management, which is a division of MSU's business school.
"I was excited," he said. "You come in and you're like, 'Man, this degree is so far away. I'll never get this degree. This is going to take so long.' And then looking back at all the good times that I've had, and getting that diploma and wearing that cap and gown, and moving that tassel to the left, all of that stuff, graduating - you're alumni now, that's something that nobody can ever take away from you, and that's something that will take me farther in life than football will. It's just great to know that I have that and I'm very proud.
"She said it best when she told the entire graduating class, 'You're now a Spartan for life.' That was one of the better moments of the whole thing. She said, 'You are going to be a Spartan for the rest of your life and nobody can take that away from you.' That was a great feeling.
"It's a weird feeling. I remember just trying to figure out where I'm going to go to college and now I already have my bachelor's degree. It's crazy to say I'm Michigan State alumni now, but I'm glad I have one more game as a Spartan."
Narduzzi: "We had a disappointing game the time out, but I think there will be a lot of motivation to finish it out right.
"I don't know what Coach Dantonio's record is after a loss, but I'll bet it's about 900 percent. He wins a lot of games after a loss. Our guys will be prepared, that's for sure. They'll get up and it will be an exciting game."
Senior guard Joel Foreman: "We were able to come together and get over it. I think having the banquet right after the game was a good thing. We were able to come together and heal a little bit and move on. I think we have done a great job of that. We are excited for the opportunity to go down to the Outback Bowl and represent Michigan State and the Big Ten.
"It's real important for our senior class to send Michigan State off on the up-and-up and be able to get that bowl win."
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