The Congrove Computer Rankings measure the Outback Bowl between Michigan and South Carolina on New Year's Day in Tampa as the second-closest matchup of the bowl season, favoring South Carolina by a scant 0.22 points (Military Bowl matchup between Bowling Green and San Jose State favored BGSU by 0.002 and San Jose State 29-20).
It will be the third meeting the two schools and the first since 1985. The teams split their two previous matchups.
Making its 42nd postseason appearance, and third consecutive, Michigan will play in the Outback Bowl for the first time since the 2002 season. The Wolverines, one of three Big Ten programs with 20 or more bowl victories, are 3-1 all-time in games played in Tampa, Fla., including a 38-30 victory over Florida in the 2003 game.
The game will be broadcast on ABC at 1:00 p.m. EST.
The Wolverines own a 20-21 all-time bowl record and are playing in a January bowl game for the 14th time in the past 16 bowl trips. The 20 victories rank 14th all-time for bowl wins, while the program’s 42 postseason appearances are 11th among BCS conference institutions.
This will be the fifth time that U-M plays in the Outback Bowl as the Wolverines own a 3-1 all-time mark in four previous Outback/Hall of Fame Bowl appearances (1988, 1994, 1997, 2003). Michigan has compiled a 7-4 record all-time against the SEC in bowl games. The most recent bowl matchup with the SEC came in the 2011 Gator Bowl, a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State on New Year’s Day. Prior to that meeting, U-M earned a 41-35 victory over Florida in the 2008 Capital One Bowl. U-M has a 23-7-1 all-time record against schools from the SEC.
South Carolina followed up a school-record 11-win season in 2011 with another 10-win season in 2012. It’s the first time Carolina has logged back-to-back double-digit winning seasons, and just the third 10-win campaign in school history. This is the Gamecocks’ fourth trip to the Outback Bowl. They are 2-1 in previous Outback Bowls, defeating Ohio State in back-to-back years in 2001 (24-7) and 2002 (31-28), before falling to Iowa in the 2009 contest by a 31-10 score.
The 2013 Outback Bowl marks Carolina’s 18th bowl appearance as the Gamecocks are 5-12 all-time in the postseason. They dropped their first eight bowl games, won three straight, lost four of the next five, and captured last year’s Capital One Bowl. The Gamecocks are 4-9 all-time against teams that currently comprise the Big Ten, although that includes an 0-3 record against Nebraska and 0-2 mark versus Penn State prior to the schools joining the conference.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Michigan’s offense ranked fifth in the Big Ten in rushing (187.3), sixth in passing (198.1) and scoring (30.0), and eighth in total yards (385.4).
The lone certainty in the New Year’s Day bowl is that it will be the last game senior standout Denard Robinson wears the famed Maize and Blue and winged helmet. The one thing that is certainly uncertain is what position Robinson will play. The All-Big Ten honorable mention selection started at his primary QB position in the regular-season finale against Ohio State, but spent the second half of the season at tailback and receiver while Devin Gardner took the reins of the U-M offense.
Expect both Robinson and Gardner to see action under center against the Gamecocks. Robinson ranks first in Michigan history in career total offensive yardage (10,669), and with one more passing TD, will become the first player in Big Ten history to post 50 passing and 40 rushing TDs. With 4,395 career rushing yards, Robinson is just 85 yards shy of reaching West Virginia’s Pat White for first place all-time in NCAA annals for a quarterback.
Gardner paces the Big Ten in pass efficiency with a 177.6 rating, following a brief but productive stint under center where he has completed 57-of-90 passes (.633) for 1,005 yards, with eight touchdowns and four interceptions to his credit.
Jeremy Gallon leads the team in receptions (40), receiving yards (684) and receiving yards per game (57.0), the latter of which ranks sixth in the Big Ten. Roy Roundtree, who like Gallon was a unanimous All-Big Ten honorable mention selection, has posted at least 80 receiving yards in each of Michigan’s last three games. He ranks seventh in program history in receptions (151) and career receiving yards (2,269) and is the team’s active leader in both categories.
South Carolina ranked fourth in the SEC in total defense (312.2), rushing defense (119.0) and scoring (17.4), as well as fifth defending the pass (193.2). The Gamecocks’ total defense and scoring marks also rank 12th and 13th nationally, respectively.
Sophomore Jadeveon Clowney is the anchor of the Carolina defense, as the sophomore was recently honored as the winner of the Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end. Clowney was a first-team All-American, the coaches choice as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and a first-team All-SEC selection. He has a single-season school record 13.0 sacks, which ranks second in the country, and is second in the SEC with 21.5 tackles for loss.
As a team, Carolina rates tied for 19th in the nation in tackles for loss with 85 in 12 games, an average of seven per game. The Gamecocks racked up a season-high eight sacks at Kentucky and own 40 sacks on the year, tops in the SEC and tied for fifth in the nation. Chaz Sutton has added 5.0 sacks on the year, while a total of 13 different pass rushers have figured into the team’s sack total. One more sack will tie the school record of 41 set in 2010.
Senior linebacker Shaq Wilson leads the team with 77 tackles, including a career-high 14 stops at LSU. He also has two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Senior safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the team’s top playmakers as well, with 70 tackles, two interceptions including a 69-yard “pick-six,” five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries including a 65-yard fumble return for a touchdown, and a forced fumble this season.
On offense, South Carolina rates fifth in the SEC in scoring (31.4), seventh in passing (229.5), and 10th in rushing (142.9) and total yards (372.4).
Like Michigan, South Carolina also has multiple quarterbacks, but expect Connor Shaw to get the nod over Dylan Thompson. Shaw 16-3 as a starting quarterback, has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,732 yards and 15 touchdowns with just seven interceptions this season, and ranks third in the SEC and 13th in the country in efficiency rating (156.9). With 3,403 passing and 1,029 rushing yards in his career, he is just the second Gamecock signal caller in program history to join the 3,000-1,000 club.
With the season-ending knee injury to Marcus Lattimore, arguably one of the most talented tailbacks in the country, the Gamecocks turned to the tandem of Kenny Miles and Mike Davis for production in the backfield. Miles, a fifth-year senior, has carried 99 times this season for 358 yards, while Davis, a true freshman, has carried 52 times for 275 yards, 5.3 yards per carry.
Sophomore Bruce Ellington, who is also the starting point guard for the Carolina basketball team, leads the team with 38 receptions for 564 yards, a 14.8-yard average, and six touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Ace Sanders is second on the team with 36 receptions for 439 yards and a team-high seven touchdown receptions.
On defense, Michigan ranks second nationally in defending the pass (155.2), 11th in total yards allowed (311.2), and 16th in points allowed (18.8), while rating sixth-best in the Big Ten against the rush (156.0).
The Gamecocks post nearly 230 passing yards per game, yet the Wolverines have not allowed an opponent to eclipse 200 yards passing in a game all season.
Linebacker Jake Ryan leads the Maize and Blue as he is tied for third in the Big Ten with 14.5 tackles for loss and paces the team with 84 total tackles, including 53 solo stops. The second-team All-Big Ten selection also tied the school record in the regular season finale at Ohio State with his fourth forced fumble.
In that same game, Will Campbell posted a career-high 10 tackles and notched five stops and a sack earlier in the year against Alabama.
Kenny Demens has recorded at least five tackles in nine straight games, while defensive leader Jordan Kovacs has 11 career double-digit tackle performances and is the 15th player in U-M history to own 300 career stops. Courtney Avery is the likely candidate to assume the role at cornerback as starter JT Floyd was one of three Wolverines that remained in Ann Arbor and did not make the trip per team rules.
Starting punter Will Hagerup was another one of those players, so the Wolverines might be apt to go for it on fourth down, having succeeded on six of nine fourth-down attempts in the regular season. Another notable on special teams is Carolina’s Sanders, the Gamecock’s key wideout. Sanders was named the co-SEC Special Teams Player of the Year – the first Gamecock to win the award – after posting seven returns of 27 yards or more, including a 70-yarder for a score against Georgia and a 50-yarder at LSU. He is averaging 14.5 yards per return, which ranks first in the SEC and third in the nation.
The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com give South Carolina a mere 0.22-point edge.