Dec. 27, 2017
The Obstructed Outback Bowl Preview: Michigan vs. South Carolina
There are certain things that are just dumbfounding. You see the Alamo Bowl being covered by the runners-up of their respective conferences and both with 10 wins. You have a Holiday Bowl where both teams are ranked and finished 9-3 and were top 5 in their conferences. Most consider those as not as top-tier bowl games.
And then you have the Outback Bowl.
Yes, not a "New Year's Six" bowl game, but it is a New Year's Day bowl and a top-notch bowl game fought by two of the top dogs in the Big Ten and the SEC respectively. And yes, we've had some classics in the Outback Bowl between the hated rival conferences.
But you pit an 8-4 Michigan team that finished 8-4 in conference and 6th overall, nearly a mid-tier team in the Big Ten and unranked and then the South Carolina Gamecocks, who finished 8-4, and ranked tied for 5th in the SEC. Also, unranked.
Have the bowl selection groups lost their minds???????
In South Carolina's defense, the Gamecocks make sense being there, somewhat. Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia are New Year's Six selections. LSU is playing in the Citrus bowl, just a tad prestigious than the Outback Bowl (at least to me). And Mississippi State, while you could make an argument they should be there given they destroyed a Kentucky team that beat South Carolina IN COLUMBIA, lost Nick Fitzgerald and Dan Mullen. That I get.
But Michigan? I know the Outback Bowl will say "well, Michigan lost to 4 ranked teams-all ahead of them and 3 teams in New Year's Six and they haven't really did anything wrong not to be there" while both Michigan State and Northwestern were ranked, finished higher and ended up in the next-tier bowls of the Holiday Bowl and Music City Bowl respectively.
Yes, Michigan fans will defend and say given how both the Spartans and Wildcats have mostly empty seats in their venues on Saturday and Michigan packs the Big House religiously, it makes perfect sense for their fan base to represent the Big Ten against the mighty SEC. Ugh.
And this game......may be a snoozefest given how both teams play. Maybe the Outback Bowl heads are trying to sneak in Jadaveon Clowney to put a helmet removing hit to garner ratings...or just use the highlight of it over & over to remember how fun THAT game was.
MICHIGAN WINS IF:
1. SHEA PATTERSON COULD ACTUALLY SUIT UP: Yes, that Shea Patterson, the one from Ole Miss who is transferring to Ann Arbor for the 2018 season. He would be an awesome choice here for Michigan. Unfortunately, the Wolverines have a dumpster fire at quarterback, with Brandon Peters likely starting in Tampa. His numbers, while definitely not impressive (57%) in 4 starts, he hasn't thrown an interception yet. But still, if you want to beat a good South Carolina team, Peters, O'Korn, Speight, Harbaugh in Disguise, Patterson in Disguise, etc. will have to be on top of their game to win.
2. MAKE SOUTH CAROLINA'S OFFENSE AS ONE-DIMENSIONAL AS POSSIBLE: The Gamecocks were a meager 107th in total rushing in 2017. Of course, the passing wasn't much better either (79th) but it felt like South Carolina when needed to, Jake Bentley made the plays. I would say get to Bentley (SC allowed 26 sacks in 2017, 76th) and Michigan can do that (39 sacks) and make them try to go against the run, which is stout too (20th ranked)
3. THEY RUN THE BALL EFFECTIVELY: South Carolina wasn't as strong as what many believe they were on defense in 2017, but they were all right defensively against the run (45th). Michigan has to win the war on the line to generate ANY offense because I don't think you will get much play from the quarterback. Karan Higdon could have a big day if given the chance.
SOUTH CAROLINA WINS IF:
1. THEY GET 3 TURNOVERS: Michigan wasn't horrible with turning the ball over, but wasn't great either. South Carolina can net a few turnovers here and there. But in a game where scoring is at a premium, setting yourself up for great field position is huge. South Carolina needs 3 of them to go against a great Wolverine D.
2. JAKE BENTLEY HAS SUCCESS: For the first half of the year, Bentley played great, throwing for 12 TD's and only 3 INT's and had success at times airing it out. Then the second half of the year came and it fell apart. He threw for only 4 TD's and 7 INT's while throwing for 249 yards was his highest in a win against a Florida team that had thrown in the towel. Bentley needs to play like first half of the season Bentley to stand a chance. Not the best of match-ups against Michigan.
3. THEY CAN FIND ANY SUCCESS RUNNING THE BALL: South Carolina was abysmal running in 2017. To give some pressure taken off of Bentley, the Gamecocks need to have great games from AJ Turner (assuming he plays) and Tyson Williams. The good news is those two run for about 5 yards per carry but they need to run the ball often and have success often.
MY TAKE: This game may be very ugly. I think whoever gets 17 points wins. Whoever has the best day running the ball, will win the game. My guess is I will go with Michigan in a close one. MICHIGAN 17, SOUTH CAROLINA 16
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat