Michigan choked away a painful loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Here are five things that matter.
Outback Bowl: South Carolina 26, Michigan 19
5. Michigan lost the game it couldn’t have lost
Michigan was the one Big Ten team that was supposed to win its bowl game. It was a big favorite over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, and it jumped out to a big early lead.
All it had to do up 19-3 was turn the ball over to its defense, and not screw up. And what did it do? It screwed up.
Five turnovers, an ill-advised 4th-and-10 call from deep in its own end, and a meltdown from the offense all led to the Gamecocks pulling off one of the best comebacks of the bowl season.
And now, Michigan is the only Big Ten team that didn’t win its bowl game.
4. Give all credit to South Carolina for being South Carolina
There’s absolutely nothing pretty about what South Carolina does, but it manages to hang around … hang around … hang around, and then it waits for the other team to screw it all up.
The defense was brilliant on third downs, it was great at getting off the field, and it was wonderful at forcing South Carolina to hit field goals, and there were the five takeaways that shut down the Wolverine offense to a dead stop.
South Carolina turned it over three times, it only converted 2-of-14 third down tries, and it finished with just 300 yards of total offense … and it won.
That’s Will Muschamp ball.
3. Brandon Peters didn’t take the Michigan job
Jim Harbaugh does what Jim Harbaugh wants to do, but this was the chance for Brandon Peters to have a leg up on Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson for the quarterback gig going into next year.
It wasn’t all Peters’ fault, but he only completed 20-of-44 passes for 186 yards and two picks. He had plenty of time, but he failed to move the chains, and couldn’t come through with touchdowns early to put the game away early.
Peters could still take the job if he’s the best quarterback in camp, but now the job is wide open.
2. South Carolina’s big season
This was important.
It was just a bowl game, but with Georgia in the College Football Playoff, and the new coaching blood at Tennessee and Florida, South Carolina needed to do something splashy.
A terrific comeback win over Michigan might have done just that.
There are still major flaws. There have to be more offensive playmakers, running for 61 yards isn’t okay, and QB Jake Bentley needs more weapons – he did what he could under a heavy pass rush all game long – but the Gamecocks found a way to get the job done when there appeared to be no hope.
But that’s what South Carolina does under Muschamp. There’s a hard ceiling on what the program can do without a bit more help and more talent, but nine wins? With this team? Amazing.
1. Jim Harbaugh
Ohio State has been better so far in the Jim Harbaugh tenure. It stinks that the Wolverines keep on losing, but that’s what happens when going against one of the superpowers in the game.
The losses to Michigan State are galling, but one of them came on an all-timer of a freak play, and the other came when the weather took over. That’s no excuse, but there’s at least a little bit of an argument for losing.
But to lose that close game to Florida State in last year’s Orange Bowl, and to now choke away the Outback, it’s going to be a very, very long offseason for Harbaugh.
He’s not on a hot seat. He’s still amazing. He’s still one of the elite coaches in all of football. He’s not going anywhere.
And remember, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year after losing 20 starters. But up 19-3, giving up five turnovers and 23 unanswered points is an epic meltdown.
Suffering from the high expectations from when he started out, now the pressure is on to show that he can really win something big. Remember, he has yet to win an FBS conference championship – he never won one at Stanford – and he hasn’t been able to get the job done at Michigan so far.
It’s going to be a long, long, LONG eight months in Ann Arbor.