ATHENS, Ga. -- Objective No. 1 for Georgia's football team as it begins preparation for the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl meeting with Michigan State is to get the lead out.
The Bulldogs (10-3) began that undertaking Thursday morning on the first of six consecutive days of bowl practice before they break for Christmas on Dec. 20. Because of final exams through the last week, Georgia's players have barely practiced since the Dec. 3 loss to LSU in the SEC championship game.
"Being out of the element for about a week-and-a-half, we kind of felt sluggish and out of things -- people making mistakes," cornerback Brandon Boykin said Thursday after a team and media luncheon held at Outback Steakhouse. I know I had a couple today, but like Coach [Mark Richt] said, that's typical."
"We just want to get back into the groove, but we'll definitely be a lot smoother and a lot cleaner as the week goes on."
The Bulldogs strapped up in full pads for the workout, as is customary during bowl season.
The objective is not only to prepare for the Spartans (10-3), who finished with the best regular-season conference record in the Big Ten (7-1), but to use this set of practices to set the tone for the offseason leading up to spring practice.
"It was a tough one. It was a good practice," center Ben Jones said. "We've been off for a while, so it was just getting back into the swing of everything, getting everybody out there, hitting everybody. It was a good day. We got better."
The Bulldogs know the bowl game will also be an important tone-setter when it comes to their preseason expectations for 2012.
The SEC Eastern Division champions should return the bulk of their starting lineup next season and can improve the national perception of their program by performing well against Michigan State. As the BCS bowl selections this season indicate, every little bit helps when it comes to advantages that help one program get picked over another.
"We know that if we go out there and lay an egg, that affects our preseason rankings," receiver Tavarres King said. "If we go out there and took care of business, we'll be ranked pretty high next year."
Taking care of business against Michigan State will not be an easy task, however. Like Georgia, the Spartans have ridden a feisty defense -- Michigan State is fifth in the nation in total defense, allowing 272.7 yards per game, and is ninth in scoring defense by allowing 17.5 points per game -- to a 10-win season.
Against LSU, Georgia lost the turnover battle for the first time in 11 games -- and those turnovers helped the top-ranked Tigers overcome a halftime deficit to wallop the Bulldogs in the second half of a 42-10 win.
The Bulldogs know Michigan State's defense -- whose entire starting lineup earned first-team, second-team or honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition -- is good enough to also make them pay for such giveaways.
"They're a game away from playing in a BCS bowl, so they're a tough bunch and they're going to play extremely hard and be very fundamental," King said. "They're not going to beat themselves. We've got to take it to them."
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.