Michigan Football: What to Watch for in Outback Bowl

Pete Schauer@@Pete_SchauerCorrespondent IDecember 4, 2012

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines runs with the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

This wasn't quite the season the No. 18 Michigan Wolverines (8-4, 6-2) were hoping for, but they still have another opportunity to please the Michigan faithful when they travel to Tampa Bay to play the No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2, 6-2) in the Outback Bowl.

Losses to Nebraska and Ohio State doomed the Wolverines down the stretch, as Nebraska won the Big Ten to keep Michigan out of a BCS bowl game.

As we prepare for this matchup that pins the Big Ten against the SEC, here are three things for Wolverines fans to watch come New Year's Day.


Who Will Start at QB?

Injuries and ineffective play led to senior QB Denard Robinson's splitting snaps with junior QB Devin Gardner.

So who gets the start on Jan. 1?

That's still up in the air, but we do know that Gardner has come on and played pretty well for the Wolverines. Though he has thrown an interception in every game, Gardner has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes.

Gardner is 3-1 as the Michigan starter since he began seeing the field, which may lead to him getting the nod in Tampa on New Year's Day.

Like Robinson, Gardner is a dual-threat under center, as he sports seven rushing touchdowns on the season.

Brady Hoke has a big decision to make here.


Can Michigan Force Turnovers?

The Wolverines defense will need to have one heck of a day to beat South Carolina, and it's all about forcing turnovers, which Michigan hasn't been able to do this year.

The Michigan defense has intercepted a mere seven passes this season—which ranks No. 102 in the nation—and has had trouble altogether forcing turnovers.

The Wolverines have sacked opposing QBs only 19 times, and naturally, the lack of pressure on opposing QBs contributes to the lack of interceptions.

Look for Michigan to try to increase Connor Shaw's interception total in the Outback Bowl.


Denard Robinson Effectiveness

Much has been made of the play of Wolverines' senior QB Denard Robinson in Ann Arbor.

It's safe to say that Robinson has taken a significant leap backwards from his 2011 season. Robinson threw for more than 2,100 yards and 20 TDs last season and rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 16 TDs. 

This season, Robinson has just 1,319 yards passing and nine touchdowns and has rushed for 1,166 yards and seven scores. 

Granted, Robinson has battled a lot of injuries this season, but it's still not the 2012 season that he and Michigan were hoping for.

Robinson has thrown just as many touchdowns as interceptions this season, and if he continues his erratic play, will put the Wolverines in serious jeopardy of handing the Outback Bowl to the Gamecocks.

With Gardner possibly getting the start, Michigan fans could see Robinson serve as more of a rusher, as seen in the previous two games.

The role of Robinson in the Michigan offense is what I'm most intrigued to see come New Year's Day.


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