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Bowl-bound Spartans still searching for elite status

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Unlike many teams around the country, the Michigan State Spartans finished the regular season knowing exactly who they are.

They're a team that no longer stumbles in close games or are prone to midseason collapses. They're a team that takes care of business against comparable or inferior opponents, including in-state rival Michigan.

But they're also a team that cannot be called elite.

Given two chances for signature wins against Ohio State and Penn State, the Spartans got stomped, losing by a combined score of 94-25.

"We want to be one of the elite college football teams," Spartans star running back Javon Ringer said following a weightlifting session this afternoon. "We've already proven that we're pretty good, we're a really tough team, you can't really overlook us. But we haven't proven yet to be one of those elite teams. That's our next goal."

Michigan State should get a chance to achieve it in its bowl game. The 21st-ranked Spartans are widely projected to end up in the Capital One Bowl, their first January bowl appearance since the 2000 Citrus Bowl.

Ringer wants to face the "best-possible team" in his final collegiate game. In other words, he has Georgia on his mind.

The 16th-ranked Bulldogs are the favorite to earn an invitation to the Capital One. Though Georgia didn't meet expectations this fall, the Bulldogs were the preseason No. 1 team and boast a roster loaded with talent. A bowl victory against Georgia would give Michigan State's national profile a boost following a strong season.

"That would be amazing for us to be able to compete against all the athletes Georgia has," Ringer said. "That would be a big game for us."

The bowl game also would feature two of the three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, Ringer and Georgia's Knowshon Moreno.

"To go against a running back of that caliber, it would be exciting for me," Ringer said. "I've seen a couple of his games. He has great speed, great strength and agility and balance. He also runs behind a great offensive line."

Michigan State spent the week running, lifting and going through some spirited practices with the coaches not on the road recruiting. Though younger players usually get more reps in practices this time of year, Ringer continues to get extensive work despite carrying the ball a nation-high 370 times this season. .

Ringer and his teammates are looking forward to Sunday's bowl announcement, and they're also excited to return to the field after finishing poorly at Penn State.

"We put it behind us because we don't want to dwell on the loss and the mistakes that we made," Ringer said, "but we haven't forgot it, because it's something that we have to correct in order to be successful in the bowl game."