This post wraps up my series on Michigan. Enjoy your New Year's Eve parties, and go 'Cocks!
Three Keys to Victory
3. Take Advantage of Michigan Suspensions
Michigan will be without starting corner J.T. Floyd, starting punter Will Hagerup, and linebacker Brandin Hawthorne for the game. The loss of Hawthorne may affect depth but shouldn't be a big deal for Michigan. The loss of Hagerup, who was an excellent punter for Michigan, may play more of a role, but placekicker Matt Wile was a situational, short-distance punter, and he can probably be trusted to play a bigger role for one game. The loss of Floyd is probably the one the Gamecocks' coaching staff is most interested in. Floyd was Michigan's top corner opposite freshman Raymon Taylor. Now, it will be Taylor and Courtney Avery starting for the Wolverines. Behind Taylor and Avery are a number of players who haven't made significant contributions this season. Look for Carolina to attack Avery early and often in this game. It'll of course be interesting to see whether Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson can work Avery the way they need to.
2. Containing Denard Robinson in the New-Look Michigan Offense
One of the most interesting aspects of this game is knowing what to expect from Michigan's offense. Due to an injury to Robinson, the Wolverines transitioned to working with Devin Gardner as the primary QB over the last quarter of the season, with Robinson working at a variety of positions but being limited in his throwing due to the injury. Now, with Robinson healthier, Al Borges and Brady Hoke have more options on offense. Gardner played well and injected life into Michigan, so he'll continue to be part of the game plan. Robinson, though, is the wild card. He'll likely continue to line up at different spots but will be more dangerous now that he can throw the ball again. Obviously, Carolina needs to be very cognizant of Robinson whenever he's on the field, as he is a threat to run the ball to the house on any given play, but it also has to make sure that it doesn't leave receivers open when he takes the snap, as it can't assume that a run play is coming while he's in. Obviously, Robinson isn't known for his passing ability, but he's more than capable of hitting a throw down field. In general, his big-play ability could negate what should otherwise be a solid defensive performance from our guys.
1. Avoid the Typical Bowl Letdown
South Carolina has made many strides during Steve Spurrier's tenure, but winning bowl games generally hasn't been part of the equation. Spurrier at Carolina is only 2-4 in bowls. The 2008-2009 Outback Bowl loss is understandable: Carolina wasn't a good team late in that season, and Iowa was. The result was to be expected. The other losses, though, weren't: to Missouri in the 2005 Independence Bowl, UConn in the 2009 Papa John's Bowl, and Florida St. in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl. The injury to Marcus Lattimore played a big role in the 2010 loss, but in general, Carolina came out flat and uninspired and lost to inferior teams in these games. This year, Carolina is nearly a touchdown favorite for a reason, but will we play like it? The good news is that we can hope that last year's impressive performance against a solid Nebraska team is the start of a new bowl trend. Let's hope that trend continues against Michigan.
As said, Carolina is favored for a reason. Michigan is a good football team, but it's not elite, and it comes into this game slightly shorthanded. Carolina isn't exactly elite, either, but this year, it's closer than Michigan. That said, based on prior bowl performance during the Spurrier era, I'm a bit iffy regarding what to expect from Carolina here, and Robinson's potential to change the game with big plays also concerns me. However, I'm going to go with the experts and say that Carolina holds serve here. The positive energy coming out of bowl practices, which reflects improved leadership and team chemistry over the past couple of seasons, has me believing that the bowl letdowns are a thing of the past, and even with Robinson, unless Michigan plays above its head, we win if we play to our ability. I'll take Carolina, 27-20.