The No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (8-4) may have had a disappointing season, but they have now drawn a New Year's Day Bowl matchup against the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks.
These two opponents don’t have much history, but it promises to be an excellent matchup between a Big Ten powerhouse and an elite SEC program down in Tampa to start 2013 off right.
Let’s take a look at a critical player on both Michigan and South Carolina that will need to step up. How each of them performs will have a huge impact on whether or not their team wins the Outback Bowl.
Michigan QB Devin Gardner
When incumbent QB Denard Robinson went down with injury, the Wolverines felt hopeless. That was until Gardner, a former receiver, took the reins and proved that he has the tools to become an elite signal-caller in coach Brady Hoke’s system.
The junior has applied for a medical redshirt for his injury-shortened true freshman season, which would give him two full years to start under center in Ann Arbor.
In the four games he’s been utilized as a QB, Gardner has racked up 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns on 57-of-90 passing. He has thrown just four interceptions. He’s also rushed 35 times for 77 yards and seven scores.
Gardner will be the focal point of Michigan’s attack on the ‘Cocks on New Year's Day, and will have to respond with a huge game against this vaunted SEC defense.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
If Clowney wasn’t a true sophomore, the ferocious defensive end would likely be a top pick in the NFL draft.
He finished second in the nation in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (21.5) during the regular season, and will look to add to that total in the bowl game. Most impressively, he missed a contest late in the season and still compiled those eye-popping statistics.
At 6’6” and over 250 lbs., Clowney is an absolute force and will require a double team on every single snap. If he’s running around the Wolverines’ backfield, things are going to get out of hand quickly.
Prediction: Michigan 27 – South Carolina 24
Gardner will show why he is going to be the Wolverines QB for the next two years and will have an amazing bowl game against a top-ranked SEC foe.
While the ‘Cocks are one of the better teams in the nation, they are prone to letdown performances and only earned a handful of convincing wins against ranked opponents (victories against No. 5 Georgia and No. 11 Clemson, with losses to No. 9 LSU and No. 2 Florida).
Don’t sleep on Gardner and the rest of the UM offense shocking the world and stunning South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.