- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our snapshots of each bowl game featuring a Big Ten team continues.
Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (10-2)
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
About Michigan: After an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl championship in coach Brady Hoke's first season, Michigan entered the fall pegged for even bigger things. But a blowout loss to Alabama in the season opener indicated the Wolverines would have a rougher time in Hoke's second go-round. If teams were ranked based on the quality of their losses, Michigan would be up there as its only setbacks came against the nation's two undefeated teams -- Notre Dame and Ohio State -- Alabama and Legends Division champion Nebraska. The flip side is the Wolverines lack many quality wins and nearly fell to a good Northwestern team and in-state rival Michigan State. Quarterback Denard Robinson struggled early, surged early in Big Ten play and then suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him for a month. Devin Gardner sparked the offense late, while the defense had another strong season (11th nationally) despite some youth and depth questions.
About South Carolina: Like Michigan, South Carolina entered the season with expectations to challenge for a league title and maybe more. After a shaky opener against Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks surged to a 6-0 start punctuated by a dominating performance against Georgia. But the schedule didn't let up and South Carolina dropped consecutive road contests against LSU and Florida to fall out of the national title race (and, as it turned out, the SEC East division race). Although the slide ended Oct. 27 against Tennessee, South Carolina lost star running back Marcus Lattimore to a gruesome knee injury. The Gamecocks finished strong, though, beating in-state rival Clemson to record back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in team history. SEC Defensive Player of the Year Jadeveon Clowney triggers a fast and physical unit that ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, sacks and tackles for loss.
Key players, Michigan: Robinson plays his final game in Maize and Blue and should be a factor as a ball-carrier, but Gardner should be the primary signal caller after moving the offense well at quarterback until the second half of the Ohio State game. Gardner fired eight touchdown passes and four interceptions in the final four games after taking over as the starter. He got receivers like senior Roy Roundtree much more involved in the offense. Left tackle Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year, has the daunting dask of dealing with Clowney. Sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan triggers the defense with 14.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, and senior safety Jordan Kovacs leads a secondary that will be without top cornerback J.T. Floyd (suspended) in the bowl.
Key players, South Carolina: Clowney is the headliner for South Carolina, a freakishly athletic sophomore who could play in the NFL right now. He ranks second nationally in both sacks per game (1.18) and tackles for loss per game (1.95), and has two forced fumbles. Safety D.J. Swearinger is a second-team All-SEC selection who had two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw is healthy after missing the Clemson game, and Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders form a nice combo at receiver. Sanders also is one of the nation's elite punt returners, ranking fourth nationally in average (14.5 ypr).
Did you know: Michigan and South Carolina have met twice before. The Gamecocks beat the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium in 1980, and Michigan registered a 34-3 win at South Carolina in 1985. ... This will be Michigan's fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl. Michigan is 3-1 in the Outback/Hall of Fame Bowl, beating Alabama (28-24) in the 1988 game, North Carolina State (42-7) in the 1994 contest and Florida (38-30) in the 2003 game. The lone setback came against Alabama (17-14) in the 1997 game. ... The Gamecocks are bowl eligible for the eighth consecutive season under coach Steve Spurrier, who has taken South Carolina to six bowl games. No other coach in school history has taken the Gamecocks to more than three bowl games (Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison). Spurrier, who faces Michigan for the first time in his career, is 2-4 in bowl games at South Carolina. ... The Gamecocks are 2-1 in the Outback Bowl with a 24-7 win over Ohio State in 2001 as well as a 31-28 victory over the Buckeyes in 2002. In the program's last appearance, South Carolina fell to Iowa 31-10 in 2009.
22hMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman