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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Michigan Football: A Quarterback Away from a Championship?

Jim Harbaugh’s third season at Michigan suffered through what some might call growing pains while regressing from two consecutive 10-3 seasons to an 8-4 regular season prior the bowl game. The season is being looked at as a disappointment to say the least; failing to beat a team with an above .500 record, with an 0-2 record against chief rivals isn’t what Michigan pays Harbaugh $9 million a year to do.

Despite the perception of Harbaugh having “quarterback guru” characteristics, the QB position was arguably the weakest for the Michigan offense in 2017. Losing a starter, Wilton Speight, in September to a vertebrae injury didn’t help the situation by any means. There’s also an argument to question Harbaugh’s hindsight when (RS) freshman, Brandon Peters, took the field against Rutgers and was evidently the best quarterback on the roster.

Why wasn’t he the starter from week one?

Why didn’t he start over O’Korn once Speight went down?

Why wasn’t he ready to play?

In our mindset, as observers of this program, it doesn’t make sense to not have Brandon Peters starting against Florida for week one. Before we critique how the quarterback situation was handled, something we must keep in mind is that we don’t know what was going on at the practice field. Peters may have not been ready in the eyes of his coaches and I think that Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton know a little more about football than a lot of us, including myself, do.

In Michigan’s four losses this season, some would suggest that three out of those four losses could have potentially been avoided had there been, at least, average quarterback play.

Against Michigan State, the monsoon was a noticeable factor that effected offensive play for both teams, but John O’Korn’s three interceptions were definitely difference makers in favor of the Spartans that helped result in a 14-10 heart-breaker.

There wasn’t a lot that could be been done for this team to beat Penn State in the White Out game in Happy Valley. They were the better team and they were playing their best brand of football while Michigan was playing their worst. Sure, a better quarterback may have put some more points on the board and made it somewhat of a game at least, but they straight up lost that game, got outplayed, outcoached and it was ugly.

Against Wisconsin, Brandon Peters was holding his own on the day, leading an offense that was moving the ball prior to a concussion in the 2nd half. The score was 14-10 Wisconsin’s lead at the point of losing Peters. John O’Korn came in and then Michigan’s chances for the win were gone. 24-10 final score in Madison.

Against Ohio State, John O’Korn defined his distasteful legacy at Michigan. The offensive play-calling and the game-plan was very well put together. It allowed O’Korn to consistently rely on check-down routes and for most of the game, they were able to move the ball. Michigan was faced with a 24-20 deficit coming off a short Buckeye field goal attempt, with just 2:47 left in the game that gave the O’Korn led offense a chance to control their own destiny and go up 27-24. On the first play of the drive with all the hope in the world on Michigan’s sideline, John O’Korn misses multiple open targets and throws a downfield pass to virtually no one in the area and it was intercepted and the rest was history for a 6th consecutive win in the series for Urban Meyer.

I will not say that quarterbacks were the reason for three of the losses, but I will say that they may have been a difference. Michigan had an arguable championship caliber defense, a solid backfield and young, talented receivers that were starting to create separation with their route running in late November. Is Michigan just a quarterback away from elite status? Some, including myself, believe that a top-tier quarterback play is the one missing ingredient for Jim Harbaugh’s signature season.

Brandon Peters is currently the QB1 in bowl game preparation and will be the starter for the Outback Bowl against South Carolina come New Year’s Day.

Prior to today’s official announcement, it seemed like a sure thing for Brandon Peters to be the starter for the 2018 season. Over the past few weeks, rumors and speculations became a reality when former Ole Miss sophomore quarterback, Shea Patterson, announced his decision to transfer to Michigan following his visit over the weekend.

Suddenly, this quarterback battle for 2018 just got very interesting. Let’s look at career statistics for both Brandon Peters and Shea Patterson:

Peters through 4 games: (37-64, 486 yards, 4 TDs, 57.8 completion percentage)

Patterson through 10 games: (238-392, 3,139 yds, 23 TDs, 60.7 completion percentage)

The Michigan fan base will likely have no issue with whoever wins the battle between these two, both come off as fan favorites as of late. Of course you can’t forget the sleeper candidates on the depth chart in (RS) freshman, Dylan McCaffery and true freshman Joe Milton, who will more than likely redshirt the 2018 season.

Three out of these four quarterbacks all possess the ability to extend a play with their legs; Brandon Peters has shown glimpses of good ability inside the pocket to step up and make tough throws under pressure. Shea Patterson is similar player to Johnny Manziel with a better arm, but a lesser scramble ability.

Patterson, in my guess, will be favored to be the starter in South Bend for week one. Brandon Peters’ only advantage is his prior relationship with the coaching staff and he already knows the offense. Also, Peters will get a golden opportunity in the upcoming bowl game to ball out against an 8-win SEC team and make his case for his coaches and to remind the fan base to not forget about number 18.

Jim Harbaugh’s offense doesn’t require you to be a Tom Brady, just make the simple, routine throws and don’t miss open downfield targets. Brandon Peters overthrew Donovan Peoples-Jones on what would’ve been a lengthy go-ahead touchdown pass against Wisconsin, one of the very few mistakes Peters made for Michigan.

Don Brown will return a defense with more than half of his starters from the 2017 unit. This offense, that struggled heavily in 2017, will have the hopeful return of tackle, Grant Newsome, this will help an offensive line in need of improvement, youthful receivers with talent and then a solid backfield with two shifty runningbacks, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, at the helm. Now you have four talented quarterbacks to work with, three four stars and one five star coming out of high school. Pick the one who gives this team the best chance for a championship and roll with him.

Excuses are out, you have the experience, you’ve recruited the talent, you’ve brought in outside talent from the SEC and you’ve had three seasons with the program, it’s time to beat your rivals and contest for a championship. We’ll find out what Jim Harbaugh is made of come 2018. This is poised to be, yet another, typical Harbaugh quarterback battle which will be heavily storied and documented on throughout the offseason, and per usual: we won’t know who the starter is until the first snap of the season.