TAMPA — Even with a lingering recession, the Outback Bowl marketing types likely won't have a tough sell for their Jan. 2 contest.
The 26th edition of their annual SEC-Big Ten matchup — Georgia vs. Michigan State — arrives with a built-in South Tampa story line.
Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray and tight end Orson Charles, who guided Plant High to the Class 4A state title in 2008, return home for a command performance of sorts before an ABC audience.
So, too, does Dawgs backup linebacker Ramik Wilson, a former two-way star at Jefferson who led the Dragons to a state crown last December. In all, the teams feature seven players from Hillsborough or Pinellas high schools.
"Heading home for the Outback Bowl!!!" Murray exclaimed Sunday evening via Twitter.
For all the game's on-paper appeal — two 10-win programs, dynamic offenses, both ranked among the top five in the FBS in total defense — the Murray-Charles homecoming is a promotional coup.
Murray exited Plant with the state record for touchdown passes in a season (51) and the county career TD pass mark (84). Both later were eclipsed by Jefferson's Quentin Williams.
As a senior, he sustained a broken leg in midseason but returned to lead Plant to victories in their last two playoff games. This year, he has thrown for 2,861 yards, propelling Georgia from an 0-2 start to the SEC title game, where it lost 42-10 Saturday to LSU.
Charles (44 receptions, 572 yards, five TDs) has been his top target.
"It's wonderful to have someone with connections to the bay area that people have loved, admired and cheered for. … This is neat stuff," longtime Outback Bowl CEO Jim McVay said. "You will see (Murray's) face on lots of billboards and newspapers."
Michigan State, meantime, makes its Outback debut in the wake of a 42-39 loss to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Fifth-year senior Kirk Cousins, the winningest quarterback in program history, leads a senior class that has totaled a school-record 36 wins.
"We don't have to over-promote or hype these guys," McVay said. "Everybody saw those games (Saturday) and watched those teams this year. … Everybody knows Michigan State is a play from being in the Rose Bowl.
"This will be a show."