It’s the third and last non-BCS bowl matchup featuring a Top 10 team as the Gamecocks take on the Wolverines.
1 p.m. EST, Jan. 1
From: Tampa, FL
When The Wolverines Have The Ball: QB Denard Robinson’s elbow injury in early November complicates the Michigan offense quite a bit- and, oddly, they’ve benefited from it. Backup QB Devin Gardner, a high-school QB who spent most of the last two seasons playing WR, is more of a pocket quarterback and a pure passer than Robinson. He led the team to wins in three of their last four games, with eight TDs and 4 INTs. During that time, Robinson took snaps at WR, RB, and QB, although he didn’t throw any passes.
Given that leading rusher Fitz Toussaint broke his leg in the Wolverines’ second-to-last game and required surgery, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Robinson lined up in his spot quite often. (Note that head coach Brady Hoke hasn’t completely ruled out Toussaint for the bowl game). Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the strength of Michigan’s offensive line, particularly junior OT Taylor Lewan. Should he choose to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, Lewan could potentially be a first-round pick.
The Gamecocks’ defense will have their work cut out for them keeping track of Robinson. Using a spy package doesn‘t work as well when the guy you‘re spying lines up at multiple positions. Still, Michigan hasn’t faced a defense of this caliber since early season losses to both Alabama and Notre Dame. Sophomore DE Jadaveon Clowney is one of the best pass-rushers in the country- more useful with Gardiner at QB than Robinson- and S D.J. Swearinger is good at defending deep passes. Swearinger’s job will likely be to cover either Roy Roundtree or leading receiver Jeremy Gallon. 6’5”, 229-lb. TE Devin Funchess could be called up to help block Clowney, but he’s also a pass-catching threat who, because of his size, has an advantage over a lot of defensive backs.
When The Gamecocks Have The Ball: Connor Shaw will start at QB for the Gamecocks, although coach Steve Spurrier told yahoosports.com that backup Dylan Thompson will also see some snaps. Thompson did a more than adequate job replacing Shaw, who injured his shoulder in the season opener, when necessary. Having two downfield receiving threats like sophomore Bruce Ellington and junior Ace Sanders (also a very dangerous return man) certainly makes it easier for a backup to step in and perform well.
The Gamecocks’ running game took a hit in late October when then-Heisman contender Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending injury, but Kenny Miles stepped up admirably. However, Miles was injured in the Clemson game in the last week of the season, so third-stringer Mike Davis may be the primary concern for the Wolverines’ run defense.
Sophomore LB Jake Ryan has emerged as a leader for the Michigan Defense. The pass defense took a hit when CB J.T. Floyd (along with backup LB Brandin Hawthorne and P Will Hagerup) was suspended this past week for the always-popular “violation of team rules”. Fortunately for Michigan, they have an experienced upperclassman in the backfield in senior S Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs led the team in multiple defensive categories this season.
Prediction: It’s tough to pick a game when you don’t know what position one of the most dynamic players in the game will be playing, but I’ll try! Something tells me South Carolina could come out flat, their primary goal of winning the SEC East having not been met. I don’t think they’ll stay that way, though. Michigan hasn’t played a team of this caliber since their loss to Notre Dame in September, and I think the Gamecocks offense has at least a slight advantage over the Wolverines’ defense. South Carolina will perk up in the second quarter and eventually prevail. South Carolina 32, Michigan 21
Coming later this week: previews of the Cotton, Sugar, Orange, Rose, and Fiesta Bowls, as well as the BCS Title Game!