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Outback Bowl preview

College Bowl season continues, we're on the home straight now, not many left.. Here's another preview by James Jack, @materialista27. Read more of his work on his dedicated College Bowl site.

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Outback Bowl

Tuesday January 1st, 13:00 ET (18:00 GMT)
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
(10)South Carolina Gamecocks vs. (18)Michigan Wolverines


The Outback Bowl was created in 1977 as the Hall of Fame Bowl and was initially played in Alabama until it was discontinued in 1986 and a new Hall of Fame Bowl was instituted in Tampa under the same name. Outback Steakhouse began its sponsorship in 1995 and the Bowl gained its current title. The bowl invites the third team from the Big Ten to face the third pick from the SEC. As the Outback Bowl shares the third pick of the SEC with the Cotton Bowl, a team from the SEC East division is always selected for the Outback Bowl and a team from the West division heads to Arlington, as happened last year. The Outback Bowl is played on January 1st, except when New Year's Day is a Sunday. In that case, the game moves to the 2nd. Michigan is the home team.

South Carolina battled hard in the SEC, opening 6-0 and beating Vanderbilt (7)Georgia, but losing back-to-back games to (8)LSU and (3)Florida ended any chances of a BCS Bowl appearance. That misery was compounded the following week when running back Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury, he has since gone on to declare himself for the NFL draft, so he's finished as a Gamecock. South Carolina finished with four straight wins to complete back-to-back ten wins seasons for the first time in their history. Connor Shaw will get the start at quarterback despite leaving the victory over (14)Clemson in the final game of the regular season with a concussion. He threw for 1732 yards and 15 touchdowns for the 66th ranked passing offense in the FBS. Ben Ellington caught 6 touchdowns and led the team with 564 yards, while Ace Sanders snagged 7 scores and gained 439 yards. In Lattimore's absence, the bulk of the carries went to Kenny Miles and he rushed for 358 yards and two touchdowns in his 3 and a bit games. Even with Lattimore healthy, the strength of this team is it's defense. The Gamecocks finished 12th in total yardage with 312.3 yards per game (193.3 passing and 119 rushing) and allowed a measly 17.4 points per game. That level of performance has to be maintained in this game and Lorenzo Ward deserves a lot of credit in his first season as defensive co-ordinator. Conversely he faces his toughest task to date in the shape of this Michigan offense.

Michigan has suffered from stage-fright this season, losing their opener convincingly to (2)Alabama at Cowboy Stadium then piecing together wins over Air Force, Purdue, Michigan State, Minnesota and (20)Northwestern punctuated by road defeats to (1)Notre Dame, (16)Nebraska and that Ohio State. The defeat in “The Game” hurt a lot as the Wolverines were unable to score any points in the second half and failed to derail the Buckeyes unbeaten season. The offense over the past three seasons has been Denard “Shoelace” Robinson, who has set a new school record with his 91 total touchdowns. He suffered a nerve injury in his shoulder against (16)Nebraska and missed two games. Since then, he hasn't thrown a pass, but still contributed 220 yards rushing and leads the team this season with 1166 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. His position as the passer is likely to be taken by junior Devin Gardner. Gardner is a more accurate thrower than Robinson (63.3% completions compared to Robinson's 53.6%), but doesn't possess the same running threat in terms of yardage, but he has scored 7 rushing touchdowns. Gardner still managed to eclipse 1000 passing yards and added 8 passing touchdowns. It appears that under Head Coach Brady Hoke wide receivers are more of a distraction to defenses and extra blockers for the quarterback downfield. Nevertheless Jeremy Gallon has 684 yards and Roy Roundtree (no relation to Richard) has added 553 yards. Michigan's defense however has improved under Hoke and the Wolverines rank second in the nation against the pass behind only Nebraska, allowing 155.2 yards per game. A large part of that success has been due to cornerback JT Floyd, however due to a violation of team rules, he is forced to sit out the final game of his college career.

FOR SOUTH CAROLINA TO WIN
They have to contain Shoelace. He has the ability to break a game at any moment. The Gamecocks have the 16th best rushing defense in the country, allowing 119 yards per game and that unit has to be big to win this game. They controlled Clemson in the regular season finale and that provides the blueprint for this game. Offensively they will have to take advantage of JT Floyd's absence and attack the Michigan secondary. If, as expected, Devin Gardner takes the majority of snaps, the Gamecocks will have to try and flush him out of the pocket as he isn't as much of a threat running the ball as Robinson is.

FOR MICHIGAN TO WIN
Denard Robinson has to have a big game against a very tough South Carolina pass defense. This is his last game for the Wolverines and as he won't make it in the NFL as a quarterback, he needs to showcase his skills to make it in the draft. Hoke has already said he may see some action as a kick/punt returner and he will continue to run the ball. I wouldn't be surprised to see him line up as a receiver, as he has a similar build to Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. Edelman's ability to carve himself a career in the pros should be Robinson's benchmark and that means he has to dominate this game. The Wolverines have been much improved this season and that trend needs to continue in this game to keep Michigan in this game.

VERDICT
This comes down to Michigan's running game against South Carolina's defense. Whichever unit can win that battle will probably hand the victory to their team. For me, sadly the Gamecocks' defensive has that edge and having faced Clemson in the regular season, they already know how to play against an elite level rushing quarterback. They also have had over a month off where the defensive coaching staff have been reviewing film and honing that game-plan constantly. Michigan will put up a good fight, but their inability to get across the line in big games this season and Brady Hoke's inability to call plays coherently will ultimately cost the Wolverines.

ADVICE
South Carolina -4.5
Over 47.5 points

DRINKING GAME
1 drink: Denard Robinson throws a 20 yard pass.
2 drinks: Anybody in the room sniggers at the mention of the Gamecocks.
Finish it: Any mention of the Winter Classic.

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