When Michigan faces South Carolina on New Year's Day in the Outback Bowl, the Gamecocks will be the most talented opponent the Wolverines have seen since they played Alabama on Sept. 1.
That is not good news for Michigan. Not good news at all.
The truth about the Wolverines this season is simple: The team was overrated coming into this season, and it simply lacked the talent to be a top team this year. The future is bright, but the expectations for this season were simply too high.
Think of it this way: The best team Michigan beat this year was Northwestern, but it lost to Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. Meanwhile, the Wolverines face a South Carolina team that has beaten No. 5 Georgia and No. 11 Clemson and that lost by just two points to No. 9 LSU, 23-21.
Sure, South Carolina lost Marcus Lattimore—the team's best offensive weapon—to a brutal leg injury in October. But South Carolina was never going to win by playing amazing offense and simply out-scoring Michigan.
No, the Gamecocks will win by playing stout defense and stifling the Wolverines' limited offensive attack.
The best player on the field will be sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who will hassle Michigan's left tackle Taylor Lewan all game long. Clowney has 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss on the season. He lives in the opponent's backfield.
He isn't alone on that defensive line, though. As Michael Rothstein of ESPN Insider notes, "All of South Carolina’s starting defensive linemen have at least 36 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss."
South Carolina allows just 17.4 points per game (12th in the nation) and 312.3 yards per game (also 12th in the nation). The Gamecocks are as aggressive of a defense as Michigan will have seen since Alabama.
Plus, the Big Ten hasn't exactly fared well against the SEC in bowls, going 2-5 in those games since 2010. History isn't on the side of this Wolverines team, either.
Which team wins?
Yes, the Wolverines will present some problems for South Carolina. Denard Robinson is always a threat to take it to the end zone. The team's defense has been very solid this year. And Devin Gardner has played very well since taking over at quarterback.
But this will be a defensive struggle, I'd guess. And in that sort of game, I'm taking the more athletic, aggressive defense every day of the week. Look for Clowney and the Gamecocks to win this one, 17-13.
Like they've done all season, the Wolverines will put up a fight. But like they've done all season, they will lose when facing a top team.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are ready to go bowling on New Year's, baby.