Outback Bowl Predictions and Analysis: Michigan VS. South Carolina

So they meet again, Michigan (8-4) and South Carolina (8-4) will face off in an Outback Bowl Rematch on New Year’s Day. As of last night, this game holds meaning to not just Michigan fans, but Big Ten fans as well. The current bowl record for the conference sits at 7-0, with just one Big Ten team left to cap off the perfect record. Michigan will be tasked with keeping the Big Ten flawless this bowl season.

With a healthy, ready-to-go Brandon Peters led offense, Michigan has been the favorite (-7.5). ESPN’s Football Power Index is giving the Wolverines a 60.6% chance to win the rematch over the Gamecocks on Monday. Given the addition of Ole Miss transfer QB Shea Patterson, who may be eligible to play in 2018, Peters must be seeing this game as an opportunity to make a statement and remind the fans why he shouldn’t be overlooked for the starting job.

Brady Hoke’s Michigan team fell short in the final minutes of the game against the Gamecocks 33-28 last time they played. South Carolina leads the all time series by just a 2-1 record. Jim Harbaugh will look to tie up the overall series between the two schools, earn his team’s 9th win, get his 2nd post-season win at Michigan and ultimately head into the offseason with a lot to feel good about.

Shane’s Prediction:

This is a win that Michigan can benefit from going into their offseason after what has been a very disappointing season in Jim Harbaugh’s year three. Both teams have a lot to gain from a win in regards to their programs moving forward, a statement is needed from both Harbaugh and Muschamp.

The no. 3 total defense in the nation, whom were able to hold opposing offenses to less than 100 rushing yards six times, will be matching up against a South Carolina rushing attack that failed to gain 100 yards on the ground five times in 2017. This seems to be an obvious mismatch and I see the South Carolina being unable to move the ball effectively.

Michigan’s chances are as good as they can be with Brandon Peters undercenter and John O’Korn on the sideline. This game will be an audition for Peters to make his case for why he should be the starter come 2018. Getting the ground game going is equally as important, Karan Higdon is just 71 yards away from being the first 1,000 yard running back at Michigan since Fitzgerald Toussiant in 2011. South Carolina’s defensive front is good not great, and should be able to put some push against Michigan’s sub par offensive line. Brandon Peters typically has good movements in the pocket and isn’t afraid to step up for a throw under pressure, so that will be a matchup to keep an eye on all game long.

Keys for a Michigan victory would be to get up in the Gamecocks about as fast as they went up 14-0 on the Buckeyes, but this time instead of blowing that lead, keep the foot on the gas and get the win in convincing fashion.

To keep it short, I think Michigan handles South Carolina. I think they’ll perform in a similar fashion to the Citrus Bowl back in the 2015-16 season against Florida. Offense will be clicking on all cylinders for Michigan, Brandon Peters will look sharp and this game will be over at half. Statement win for Harbaugh on what 2018 will entail.

FINAL SCORE: Michigan 35, South Carolina 10. 

Mark’s Prediction:

When I was a little kid, I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.  Gifts, Santa, family…all of it.  I also was keenly aware that after Christmas was the traditional Michigan January 1st bowl game.  Yes Sparty Nation, I said traditional.  I also couldn’t wait for what I hoped would be a gift that my Uncle Bob got from Stein & Goetz (which is now called the “M Den”).  Bowl game sweatshirts, t-shirts, pennants…I wanted it all and still do.

So much was made about Michigan being selected to play in Tampa at the Outback Bowl over other B1G teams.  I thought that was just plain stupid if I’m writing candidly.  Bowls are never, and I mean NEVER, going to take Michigan State or Northwestern over Michigan.  Why?  The answer is that is the way it is and it’s not changing in the big picture of college sports and business.

With that being said, we get the “Fighting Muschamps” from South Carolina.  South Carolina looked really good early in the season when they had WR Deebo Samuel.  Samuel appeared to me to be the type of WR who could win the Heisman Trophy due to his blazing speed and big plays.  When Deebo was inured and out for the season, SC turned to QB Jake Bentley and he got them to the bowl eligible status.  I’m going to warn Michigan fans and say “Don’t sleep on Bentley” as he can make all of the throws.  the question is “can he throw under pressure?”  We are going to find out on January 1.

As for the Gamecock (who didn’t own the COCKS hat in the 1990s?) run game has turned to a committee much the same way that Michigan has seemingly turned.  I do not anticipate SC running the ball with huge success.

Can Brandon Peters have a coming out moment?  Is this the game that tells Shea Patterson “Game On?”  I’m not sure but I know this…Peters isn’t going to shy from competition.  Not with South Carolina and not with any other QB on this roster.  Some key questions for Michigan fans:

  1.  Can DPJ make big plays down the field?
  2. Can the running game put Michigan in the second and short down & distance?
  3. Do we see a wildly diverse game plan?

My answers are YES, YES & YES.  And that’ll be the difference.  Expect a great performance from a Michigan team that sees the bowl game as a worthy exhibition of their team’s effort.

FINAL SCORE:  Michigan 28, South Carolina 10.

BONUS PREDICTION:  Sparty will be seething about not playing January 1st for months. 

Brandon’s Prediction:

The Outback Bowl this year features two 8-4 teams against one another. The Wolverines of Michigan go to battle with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The last time these two schools met was in 2013, also in the Outback Bowl. South Carolina won that game 33-28, but it is mostly remembered for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s jarring tackle on Michigan running back Vincent Smith. But that seems like a distant memory as the Gamecocks were coached by the legendary Steve Spurrier and U of M was under the leadership of Brady Hoke in that game.

This years matchup, I believe, also has the potential to be a close game with a big play or two as the deciding factor. Michigan has the slight edge in scoring offense as they averaged just under 26 points a game while SC scored just over 24. Both defenses were solid throughout the year as well, but the edge again goes to the Wolverines. They gave up 18 points a contest while the Gamecocks gave up 21.

I want to look at three crucial aspects of each team that could play into who wins and who loses. I would first like to look at what the keys will be for the Wolverines if they want to pick up their ninth win of the season.

The most important player in this game for Michigan, and possibly the whole game, is freshman quarterback Brandon Peters. His last game action came over a month ago against Wisconsin as he was injured in that game and sat out against Ohio State. So while he may be a bit rusty, Peters needs to have a good game for his team to get the win. He also needs to have a good game to give himself an edge in the QB battle heading into the spring. Even with the starter at the beginning of the year, Wilton Speight, deciding to transfer next year, Peters will have plenty of competition in Ann Arbor. Shea Patterson, a transfer from Ole Miss had a pretty solid year in the SEC this year and has shown flashes of being a great quarterback. He will most likely be Peters biggest threat for the starting job, but you can’t count out Dylan McCaffrey or even early enrollee Joe Milton. This is an audition for Peters to show coach Jim Harbaugh that he is the man for the job next year under center.

Next, Michigan’s best player and highest rated NFL prospect, Maurice Hurst has decided to play for the maize and blue one last time before suiting up on Sunday’s next year. He had a great year with 59 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and 5.5 sacks. He could’ve sat out to focus on getting ready for the draft, but he wants to help his team one last time. This is also a great way for him to showcase his talents for scouts. South Carolina QB Jake Bentley already has enough to worry about with this stout, Don Brown led U of M defense and Hurst suiting up just adds another dimension.

Last for the Wolverines is the coaching of Jim Harbaugh. This year did not go as planned for Michigan and Harbaugh. After a ten win season last year, an 8-4 record is not what many expected for the team in Ann Arbor this year. There were some rumblings late in the year of him being on the hot seat after losing to Ohio State for the third time in three years, but another bowl win against an SEC foe could at least calm those whispers for a bit until next year rolls around. But a loss and an 8-5 record could make those flames burn a little hotter.

Now on to the keys for South Carolina to come away with a win. Just like Michigan, the Gamecocks most important player is their sophomore QB Jake Bentley. The signal caller didn’t have the most spectacular year with over 2500 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But it also wasn’t a bad campaign for the second year quarterback. The leading rusher for SC was sophomore back A.J. Turner with 517 yards and three TD’s, so if they want to be successful on offense, it will most likely have to be through the air and that falls on the shoulders of Bentley.

The next key for this South Carolina squad also lies on the offensive end. Junior tight end Hayden Hurst, a former minor league baseball player and preferred walk-on, is one of the best NFL prospects at his position heading into the 2018 draft. He was first team All-SEC at the tight end spot this year after hauling in 41 catches for over 500 yards and two touchdowns. He is a big target at 6’5″ and 250 pounds, and Bentley would be wise to look his way as much as possible to attack this Michigan defense. Hurst has worked his way from failed minor leaguer to a two-time captain and he will no doubt look to leave a lasting impact on this South Carolina team in his last game as a collegiate player.

The last key for the Gamecocks is also on the coaching staff, but it is not the head coach. Kurt Roper was relieved as offensive coordinator by head coach Will Muschamp earlier this month. Bryan McClendon, the co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach this year, is the interim OC for the Outback Bowl. The game against the Wolverines is a de facto interview for the permanent job and McClendon knows it. His play calling will be crucial for the South Carolina team and his young sophomore QB. He doesn’t want to change the way he normally calls plays, but he also doesn’t want to call the game conservatively and get out of his comfort zone. How Michigan reacts to a new play caller for the Gamecocks could be a crucial part of this game.

Overall, I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched, with Michigan holding slight edges both offensively and defensively. I think it should be a close game throughout with a late touchdown sealing the deal for the Wolverines.

FINAL SCORE: Michigan 31, South Carolina 17.

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Honeymoon Over, Time to Win

In late December of 2014, Michigan fans had just suffered through, yet another, head coach’s tenure which consisted of mostly unwatchable, non bowl-eligible caliber football. The fan-base of the winningest program in college football history needed a change.

Bring in Jim Harbaugh: former Michigan quarterback, lengthy playing career in the NFL, the guy who resurrected the Stanford football program, the Super Bowl 47 runner-up, respected name in the coaching carousel.

Doesn’t get any better than Harbaugh, right? He’s been keeping Michigan in the headlines, he’s hysterically obnoxious on the sidelines, recruits in very unique ways, and he’s a Michigan man.

The head coach’s first two seasons with the program were simple: put UM back on the national relevance map, make waves on the recruiting trail, build a powerhouse program. 20-6 in the first two seasons, 1-1 bowl record, 1-4 in chief rivalry games (only win over a 3-9 MSU team), and back-to-back top ten recruiting classes.

You won’t find a head coaching job in America that expresses the importance of beating your rivals the way Michigan does.

Jim Harbaugh is 4-1 in early October for the 2017-18 season; after an ugly loss to in-state rival, MSU, some of the fan-base has officially began to give constructive criticism on their beloved head coach. Play-calling was a big issue in the eyes of many: the decision to throw the football as much as they did in a monsoon, failing to target Zach Gentry in the passing game, or giving Karan Higedon just 12 touches despite being the most productive back for Michigan (5.4 YPC).

On the defensive side of the ball, there really isn’t much you can ask for. When your offense turns the ball over five times and your defense only allows 14 points, that’s a championship defense.

In Jim Harbaugh’s third season, wouldn’t you think that Michigan should have, at the very least, a quarterback and an offense who can give enough ‘run support’ to win a football game if your defense shuts out a team in the 2nd half?

Michigan was out-coached, outplayed, and flat-out did not deserve to win this football game. Jim Harbaugh, and his staff get paid far too much money to lose a game like this one, there is no excuse to justify what happened in the Big House on Saturday.

For me, it wasn’t just that they lost, the way they lost is what really stung. Repeatedly shot themselves in the foot offensively, and could not capitalize on the opportunities given to them time after time. Michigan is a team that is evidently more talented that Michigan State — it’s obvious, look at the recruiting classes. Michigan isn’t a poorly coached team, but they were simply out coached by Mark Dantonio and his staff.

Michigan has everything needed to be a national powerhouse: a top-tier coaching staff with years of NFL experience, multiple top ten recruiting classes, endless hype and publicity that most programs strive to have. What is the missing recipe? Why can’t Michigan win these big games?

The seat isn’t hot for Jim Harbaugh, but how long before it starts getting warm? Beating Ohio State in November would change the picture, but a loss would mean Harbaugh’s rivalry game record falls to 1-5. When you’re paying a coach nine million annually, you expect them to win more than one rivalry game per every three seasons.

Maybe I’m part of the fan-base that’s overreacting, and maybe I just need to give Harbaugh’s program more time and have patience. Michigan fans demand a lot, they have very high expectations and standards; we’re all growing at least a little impatient after watching Michigan football from 2008-2014.

Bottom line is that pressure to win is more real than it’s ever been for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. I won’t be able to stomach another off-season of Harbaugh making headlines for doing weird, quirky, recruiting tactics if he’s 0-3 against the Buckeyes. If you want to go to Rome, climb trees, sleep at recruit’s houses, jump off a diving board into a pool fully clothed, have a podcast, and to separate yourself from the other CFB coaches in the media…beat a rival, win a big game, win a Big Ten championship, make the playoffs.