Devin Gardner will be an immense influence on the fate of the 19th-ranked Michigan Wolverines in the 2013 Outback Bowl. However, don't expect him to single-handedly take down the 10th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks on Jan. 1 in Tampa.
Gardner posted a 3-1 record as a starter during the final four games of the 2012 regular season, but his game needs polishing before he's considered a dual-threat or profound game changer.
Sure, the 6'4", 205-pound junior has the skill set to light up opposing defenses each week, but he's still relatively new to the whole starting college quarterback thing. He's displayed a will and awareness that's rare for a player in his situation.
But his transformation is far from complete.
Give him time to blossom—he'll gradually evolve into that type of player. Who knows? Maybe he'll have a shining debut as a starter in a bowl game—but it's probably best to have somewhat realistic expectations. He'll be successful if he can manage the tempo of the game, avoid negative-yard plays and dodge blunders that lead to turnovers.
And he might need a little luck, too.
Gardner probably won't account for six touchdowns like he did during Michigan's 42-17 routing of the Iowa Hawkeyes. He's facing another breed of defense on New Year's Day, one that is more fierce than what he grew used to competing against in the Big Ten.
Going through the air might be difficult, but the mobile game might be rougher
Passing for 250-300 yards?
Well, don't bet on it -- the Gamecocks boast a top-20 pass defense that was prone to picking off passes (about four of every 100, one of the best rates in the country). The tenacious pass blocking of corner Victor Hampton and safety D.J. Swearinger will surely test Gardner's accuracy and influence the types of passes thrown.
It's not like Gardner doesn't have an ice cube's chance in—well, you know where—against South Carolina.
However, he is inexperienced and could very well fall victim to the ferocious Gamecocks defense led by super sophomore Jadeveon Clowney, winner of the 2012 Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award.
It's probably worth mentioning that Clowney had 12 sacks (4.5 in one game) and averaged 1.69 tackles for loss per game this fall.
Moving around and extending plays will be quite difficult with guys like Clowney chasing down Gardner. The Wolverines running backs have to find a way to counteract Clowney, too.
Keep a cool head
That's what will count.
South Carolina's statistics warrant fear of its defense, a group that allowed just 17 points per game, contributed to a 35-7 beating of the now-No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs and was among the elite in opponent third-down conversion.
Mistakes may come into play.
As mentioned, Gardner is heading into a huge duel with an SEC power with just four starts to his credit. He can't expect South Carolina to give him anything, not one yard—the Gamecocks were the 21st-least penalized team in college football in 2012 (58-482 yards).
Hoke on the Gamecocks
Of course second-year Wolverines coach Brady Hoke knows South Carolina is the real deal. It's hard to pick apart a team that finished third in the SEC East and went 2-2 against teams now ranked in the top 11 (lost 23-21 to No. 9 LSU lost 44-11 to No. 2 Florida).
"I know they've got a really good front, from a defensive perspective," Hoke told TheWolverine.com. "They gave up 17 points a game. They're very athletic. They lost at Florida and at LSU. Their two losses were on the road against two pretty good football teams."
Those aren't revelation-like thoughts, obviously. But it's much easier to say the Gamecocks were good against good teams, isn't it?
Gardner will have to play the game of his life to down South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier's boys. The offense is under his control, and with that responsibility come expectations. He doesn't have to be perfect Jan. 1, but he has to be pretty close.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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