Like many despondent Michigan fans after what we all know as the 2012 season, I was surfing around The Webz while thinking about Michigan's possible bowl venues for January 2013. Almost all of them involve playing an SEC opponent that is at least 10-2. (Even my preferred opponent back when I wrote this article, South Carolina, is 10-2.)
So, going up against an SEC opponent in a bowl game is a bit like selecting the guillotine versus a cyanide pill versus being trampled by a bunch of cows like that British guy who dies in every movie he plays:
My vote would be for the Boromir death or the Game of Thrones death. We will die, but we will die with honor.
This is also an apt metaphor for the Big Ten.
Anyway, the ever-glorious and always-accurate ESPN put out their bowl projections, and I'm always amazed when someone picks Georgia to prevail over Alabama. The choice for who Michigan will play and where is pretty much unanimous, but let's talk about it first.
Capital One Bowl vs. No. 2 SEC
Most likely opponent: Texas A&M.
Oy. This one looks painful. Going up against Johnny Manziel (a.k.a. "Johnny Football"), a potential Heisman candidate as a freshman(!), who was instrumental in the game where the Aggies caught No. 1 Alabama with its pants down, is not exactly an encouraging thought.
This is not the Texas A&M of 2011, where Mike Sherman was on his way out and the Aggies were given a mild scare by a 6-6 Northwestern team in the Texas Bowl before prevailing 33-22. No, this is Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M, the kind that is looking to take the SEC by storm with its high powered offense.
How likely is Michigan to accept a bid to this bowl? Well, you may recall that Michigan has some positive history in this bowl venue, and that will probably be the prevailing sentiment for accepting it.
The Capital One Bowl has generally produced some memorable, exciting-to-watch games, but the general problem is that Michigan is 8-4 and any way you cut it we'd be going up against a gnarly SEC opponent. Texas A&M is 10-2 in the SEC. That's BCS-bowl worthy. I don't know about you, but Michigan ain't exactly on that level this year.
There's also the nightmare scenario that Michigan faces Alabama again. This is only a legitimate possibility if Georgia is as good as everyone claims they are.
Outback Bowl vs. No. 3 SEC
This generally goes to the No. 3 team in the Big Ten, which could end up being Michigan if Nebraska somehow loses to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. In another, equally-likely scenario, the Outback Bowl could go to the runner-up of the Big Ten title, as it did for Michigan State in 2011.
It seems more likely that if Nebraska lost they'd play in the Capital One Bowl, because their record is still better than Michigan's and enough to put them at No. 2 in the conference, to which the slot goes.
Most likely opponent for the Outback Bowl would either be LSU, Florida, or Georgia. At least one of those is playing in a BCS-bowl, so my money's on LSU for this venue. Both Florida and Georgia have good enough records to qualify as an at-large team in a BCS bowl. Like the Capital One Bowl, any way you spell this one it ends up spelling "ouch."
If Michigan doesn't get this one, it either goes to the Big Ten runner-up or 9-3 Northwestern.
Gator Bowl vs. No. 4-5 SEC
Slightly less gut-wrenching mayhem here, as the projected opponents would be South Carolina (a fantastic opponent for Michigan) or Vanderbilt. Michigan State currently has the most likely bid to this one, although if Wisconsin loses to Nebraska they could drop all the way down to spot 4 in the conference given that they're 7-5 and would be 7-6.
Expect David Brandon to be really cautious about this venue considering the utter walloping that Michigan took against Mississippi State in 2010 (technically January 2011). The Gator Bowl SEC opponents are often not what they seem.
A Conclusive but Optimistic Note:
As bleak as Michigan's bowl situation is looking, there is some good news. Michigan's defense has improved since the shellacking against Alabama in week one. Granted, the Wolverines haven't faced an SEC defense outside of Alabama (which is arguably the best), so there's not much to go on. If Michigan faces South Carolina or Florida, it probably won't be as bad defensively as we're (or, rather, I'm) anticipating.
Not enough optimism for you? Too bad. That's all you get.