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Roundtable: Looking ahead to the Outback Bowl

Outback Bowl - South Carolina v Michigan Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Ed: Hey, guys. With the holidays coming up, I thought this would be a good week to chat Outback Bowl.

Bowl games always seem to be interesting. We'll get to see some guys who may not have played much in the regular season. You get to see which teams or players can remain focused during the long stretch of bowl practices.

For Michigan in this one, given the Shea Patterson transfer, undoubtedly all eyes will be on Brandon Peters to see how he performs. What are your expectations for him against South Carolina?

Von: I expect him to go out there and ball out, quite honestly.

I said it last week, and it still holds true, and that’s the QB competition for next season really begins in the Outback Bowl. Peters is ahead of the pack in games played under Harbaugh, knowledge of the playbook and experience with the offensive personnel. He will have the upperhand heading into the offseason, but he needs to also head into the offseason coming off a big performance against South Carolina. Because of all of that, I expect Peters to put forth his 100 percent best effort and take advantage of the opportunity presented.

Jared: I agree with Von, I am expecting a big game out of Peters. He seemed to be improving each week before (tragically) going down with an injury. These bowl practices might be more important to him than any other play on the team quite honestly. If he can use these opportunities to lock down that playbook, develop chemistry with his receivers, and get into a groove running this offense, Shea Patterson might be relegated to backup duties at Michigan.

Now, a huge factor in all of this is the offensive line being able to keep him upright; a prevalent issue against better opponents. The offensive line has a chance to end the season on a positive note by keeping their quarterback upright, and giving a (hopefully) healthy running back group some holes to operate.

Josh: I’ll go with the flow on this one. I fully expect Brandon to go out and — to steal a line from the Harbaugh’s — attack it with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

As Von said, the QB competition really behind in bowl practices and in the game itself, and that’s where Peters has the advantage. Not only does Brandon have the leg up on the rest of the pack by being in the system for 2 years, he’s got the opportunity to have all 1st team reps in practice. I fully expect Brandon to go out and throw for something like 230 yards, 2 TDs, and close to — if not above — 60% passing.

Dan: I’m not sure I’m as optimistic as the other guys here. Maybe because it’s been more than a month since I’ve seen this team win a game, LOL. Muschamp and Carolina will bring a fast, athletic defense. They really struggled with the USF offense last year, but Michigan’s couldn’t look any different.

While Peters looked very very solid in his starts, I’m not sure he ever looked spectacular. With that said, I hope Michigan throws the ball 40 times and gives the young receivers a chance to show out. I know this team can run the ball. Beating a decent SC team 27-20 with 250+ rushing yards just wouldn’t hit me in the feels the same way.

Colman: Brandon Peters undoubtedly has increased pressure to perform well in this game. He’ll still have a leg up going into next year due to knowing the playbook well and executing it on the field, but coaches and fans alike are going to want to see if the offense can open up a bit in the passing game against a middle-of-the-road SEC team.

A great game would give the fan base a ton of optimism with the knowledge that Michigan will have two viable quarterbacks at minimum going into next year. A poor game and the calls for Patterson to start become deafening.

My guess is Peters responds well. His reaction, and his father’s, to the transfer let us all know that he is up for the challenge and considers this his job to lose moving forward. He hasn’t gone into a game yet with another QB breathing down his neck and the outside world fawning over the next guy in line so it will be interesting to see how he plays under these circumstances.

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Ed: Aside from the quarterback position, what do you want to see from Michigan in this one?

Von: I’d love to see Karan Higdon get to 1,000 rushing yards to end his fantastic junior season. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to hit the century-mark in the regular season due to injury, but these things happen constantly. He will have his chance against the team he grew up rooting for, which will make it mean just a bit more to him.

But yeah, Ed, I would also really like to see some young guys get good playing time. We will probably see a lot of Aubrey Solomon in this one. He was great down the stretch, so to get him more experience will be nice heading into the offseason. I’d really enjoy seeing guys like Kwity Paye out there, too. Guys we only really saw in blowouts. Paye looked really good in his limited time, and apparently is looking good in bowl practices, too.

Jared: Seeing some consistency on offense would really help ease my woes, especially since it seems we are rolling with the same offensive staff next season (rolls eyes into infinity). I’m living in a dream world, but it would be fantastic to see two tackle candidates emerge. I’ve heard some minor rumblings about my Toledo dude James Hudson making some strides, and it would be great to see him get some run at right tackle.

It would be fantastic if we could see Tarik Black and DPJ on the field together, but Black is probably better off redshirting. So I want to see Peters get the ball to some of the up-and-coming playmakers like Gentry or Nico Collins, along with DPJ. Those guys are going to be a crucial part of opening this offense up next season, plus it would make for an entertaining game if Gentry and DPJ light it up.

Josh: I want to see a complete dominance in which Michigan puts its foot on the gas and keeps it there.

Michigan has had chances all year to close teams out but takes the foot off the gas. Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State even — in each of those games Michigan either held the lead or had an opportunity to seize momentum and capture the W. I want to see these younger offensive lineman hold their blocks in the 4th quarter. I want to see the passing game put an exclamation point on a game when they already hold the lead. I want to see the defense keep the pressure up and break the Gamecocks’ will.

If Michigan can do that, if they can learn how to completely dominate a game like this, then going into next year they’ll have all the momentum and will know what it takes to finish teams off. That’s the difference between a potential Big Ten championship and college football playoff trip, or another 9-3 season where questions abound.

Dan: As others alluded to, getting Higdon to 1,000 would be really cool. He certainly deserves it. Aside from that, I want to see DPJ score a receiving touchdown. Despite some flashes, this season has been a disappointment. As I said earlier, I want to throw the ball a billion times this game and getting DPJ a ton of touches should make that venture more successful. The defense has nothing to prove.

Colman: I’ll echo that Peters, DPJ and Higdon will be my biggest focal points on offense. However if the offensive line has a great game in pass protection, that would be the most important and encouraging event that could happen overall. The defense will be great. Solomon looks like a stud and a game like this would give him a lot to build on. I’d of course love a blowout which would allow a lot of the young guys more playing time.

I also really like Josh’s point on dominating and keeping the foot on the gas. Young teams typically struggle at closing out games and certainly Michigan had its problems in that department. If they come out and punch S. Carolina in the face right away and dominate until the last whistle watch how quickly the critics will flip their script out there and expectations will raise for 2018.

Ed: Alright, now give me a guy, or a position group, who you think is going to have a breakout game — who will get the fanbase excited about 2018?

Von: I’ll take the easy route and say Donovan Peoples-Jones.

He had his breakout game against Wisconsin — 4 catches, 64 yards — without even scoring a touchdown (even though he clearly should have). But with Peters back, I could see DPJ going off on this South Carolina secondary. The Gamecocks give up 227.9 passing yards per game, so I could certainly see DPJ taking advantage.

His route running was so much better at the end of the year, and it’s only going to get better. If he has a big game in the Outback Bowl, the hype for him, Tarik Black, Nico Collins and the slew of young receivers U-M has is going to be incredibly high.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Jared: For me, it is an easy pick, but it is not on offense — although I would love to see that. The easy pick is on the defensive side of the ball. If Mo Hurst plays, he will annihilate everything in his path, but that is like saying the sun will come up tomorrow.

I’m going to go with some of the less heralded defensive guys and say Lavert Hill and David Long absolutely shut down the Gamecocks receivers. Long and Hill rank numbers 1 and 2 respectively in the Big Ten for lowest passer rating when targeted. They were really not given the love they deserve this season as they were almost never out of position and kept everything in front of them. Hill in particular has the stuff of an absolute lockdown corner (see: Lewis, Jourdan). Long is not far behind him. And South Carolina is not exactly lighting anyone up through the air either. It’s going to be a good day for the back end.

Josh: Chris “Captain America” Evans.

Although at times he’s shown he’s still an important key to the offense, it’s been far too inconsistent this year. I think this game changes everything, though.

In my opinion, Chris is the most talented running back in the group and has all the skills this team needs in an every down back. He’s had great showings a couple of times this year and I think on January 1st, we see another one.

Dan: Since DPJ is taken, let’s go with either Metellus or Kinnel. Jacob Bentley is a Will Muschamp quarterback and Will Muschamp quarterbacks are irresponsible with the ball. Bentley caught the turnover yips at parts of this season and he hasn’t seen a defense that will play as aggressively as the Wolverines will. Despite some truly frustrating lapses in coverage this year, there should be opportunities for them to make plays in the running game against a conservative offense as well as the passing game against a QB who has his moments of turnover-proneness.

Colman: Evans and DPJ are my initial reactions to the question but to keep it interesting I’ll go with my third choice, Zach Gentry. Dude has NFL TE written all over him with his size and speed combo. If Peters is going to have a good game he’ll need to take advantage of the all of the Michigan TEs but Gentry is a crazy mismatch any way you slice it and Harbaugh is the master at getting his TE’s out into the open field. If that happens with Gentry, big chunks of yards will be eaten quickly and he won’t need many catches to have a huge day.

Ed: Okay, let's get an early prediction.

Von: Damn, Ed, making us pick the game score already, eh? So be it.

I think Michigan should be able to win this game. Given South Carolina’s lack of offense this year, and Michigan’s No. 3 ranked defense, I think things line up well for Michigan. I know Michigan’s offense hasn’t been great this year, either, but it was much better with Peters at QB. With Peters back, and with pretty much every offensive weapon gearing up to play, I would expect the offense to put up some points against South Carolina’s No. 50 ranked defense. I think this will be relatively close, but I expect the Wolverines to end their season at 9-4.

Michigan 28, South Carolina 23

Jared: For the first time in what feels like forever, I am feeling good going into a game against a decent opponent. As Von mentioned, this is a pretty favorable matchup for the Wolverines. South Carolina saw two really good defenses this season in Clemson and Georgia, and put up 10 points in each. I expect similar results against Don Brown and the boys. Big win for the good guys, turning the hype knob up to 11 for the 2018 season.

Michigan 27, South Carolina 13

Josh: Living in Alabama, I am usually watching SEC football a good bit every year. This season was no different, and one of the teams I seemed to focus on was South Carolina. The Gamecocks are a middle of the road team by all accounts, and although they don’t do any one thing great, they’re not completely lacking in one area either.

I expect to see Michigan come out and dominate as I made mention in one of my earlier comments. They need all the momentum in the world to carry over into next season and I think they get it. I see an outcome similar to what the Wolverines did in the Citrus bowl to Florida two seasons ago… utter domination.

Michigan 35, South Carolina 7

Rutgers v Michigan Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Dan: Muschamp doesn’t have a great bowl record but he’s also had to go against Teddy Bridgewater and Quinton Flowers in a pair of those matchups. Michigan’s offense doesn’t have anyone, let alone a quarterback that can impact a game like those two. Having watched a decent amount of SC this year, they fight really hard and will try to keep the game close. If I were to guess, this game will have one of the lower total play counts of any of the games.

Michigan 24, South Carolina 13

Colman: According to S&P+ (and any other stats you want to look at) Michigan had a slightly better offense and a vastly better defense than S. Carolina. The Gamecocks also only beat one quality team all year in NC State. The only common opponent, Florida, was a close win against a team who had basically given up. Michigan blew them out when they still had high hopes for their season. They got beaten handily by Kentucky, Georgia and Clemson as well as a close loss at Texas A&M. On paper, this looks like a very overmatched team.

The bottom line to me is they have a below average offense going against one of the very best defenses in the country and that will likely be the difference. Michigan seems to let up a big play each game and S. Carolina has had some big plays this year from their receivers so I’ll give them one TD but not much more.

Michigan 31, South Carolina 10, in a game that is a bigger blowout than the score suggests.