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Richt expects Georgia RB Samuel to play in Outback Bowl

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2011, file photo, Georgia running back Richard Samuel leaves the field before an NCAA college football game against New Mexico State, in Athens, Ga. Samuel, who opened the season as Georgia's starting tailback, is expected to return for the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game scheduled for Jan. 2 against Michigan State. Samuel has missed four games following surgery on his left ankle. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2011, file photo, Georgia running back Richard Samuel leaves the field before an NCAA college football game against New Mexico State, in Athens, Ga. Samuel, who opened the season as Georgia's starting tailback, is expected to return for the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game scheduled for Jan. 2 against Michigan State. Samuel has missed four games following surgery on his left ankle. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

ATHENS -- Georgia coach Mark Richt expects junior tailback Richard Samuel to be healthy when the 18th-ranked Bulldogs play No. 12 Michigan State in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2.

Samuel missed the final four regular-season games and the SEC championship game against LSU after having surgery to repair ligament damage in his left ankle, which was injured on the final play of Georgia's 24-20 win over Florida on Oct. 29.

"I imagine that when we get to the bowl site, he'll be ready to do everything," Richt said. "That would be my guess."

His availability would provide size (he's 6 feet 2, 243 pounds), depth, plus maturity and experience to a position that has proved troublesome for the Bulldogs (10-3) this season.

Isaiah Crowell rushed for 847 yards and five touchdowns and was selected as the SEC's freshman of the year, but he missed a game after being suspended for a violation of team rules and most of another one with an ankle injury.

Reserve tailbacks Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome also were suspended against New Mexico State on Nov. 5, leaving only walk-ons to play tailback in the 63-16 victory. It was the second of three one-game suspensions for Thomas, who is the Bulldogs' second-leading rusher with 361 yards.

Knowing Samuel likely would return in time for Georgia's bowl, Richt opened the tailback competition after the Bulldogs' 42-10 loss to LSU in the SEC Championship game.

"Do you guys think that anybody established themselves as a solid starter at the tailback position?" he asked rhetorically Friday. "I haven't seen that. Competition is a good thing. I'm looking forward to it."

Samuel's career has been slowed by position changes and injuries, but he was capping what Richt called "his best performance" as a tailback when he was hurt. Samuel was injured on the last play of Georgia's win over Florida after rushing for 58 yards and the game-winning touchdown on 17 carries.

Samuel, who has 240 yards rushing and one score this season, graduated Friday but has another year of eligibility. Richt will be glad to have him back for the next game and season.

"I think he was just hitting his stride, and then, bang, he got slowed up," he said. "I would say by the time we play the (Outback Bowl), he will have run the ball enough and changed direction enough, that hopefully he won't have that much rust on him at all."

Notes: Two juniors -- tight end Orson Charles and safety Bacarri Rambo -- said they haven't decided if they will forego their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft. Both have turned in their paperwork, and Charles has talked to several NFL players about the process. Charles has a career-high 44 catches for 572 yards and five touchdowns. Rambo was a first-team AP All-America with seven interceptions. Quarterback Aaron Murray and All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones said they are not leaving early. Punter Drew Butler sprained his left ankle in a non-football related accident but is expected to play in the Outback Bowl. He is right footed. ... Linebacker Mike Gilliard (ankle) and defensive ends DeAngelo Tyson (ankle) and Derrick Lott (ankle) didn't practice Friday.