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Posts Tagged ‘New Years Day’

Michigan to face South Carolina in Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017


Despite finishing fourth in the Big Ten East, Michigan received an invitation to the Outback Bowl over Michigan State and Northwestern, who finished with a better record. Michigan will face South Carolina on New Year’s Day in a rematch of the 2013 Outback Bowl which saw South Carolina top Michigan 33-28.

South Carolina went 8-4 this season and 5-3 in the Southeastern Conference, finishing second in the SEC East behind 7-1 Georgia. The Gamecocks beat N.C. State 35-28 to open the season and also topped Louisiana Tech (17-16) and Wofford (31-10), but lost 31-10 to then-No. 3 Clemson in the non-conference. In conference, they lost to Kentucky (23-13), Texas A&M (24-17), and then-No. 1 Georgia (24-10).

Despite winning eight games, South Carolina had just three decisive wins, beating Missouri 31-13, Arkansas 48-22, and Wofford. The other five were all within one score, including the 17-16 win over Louisiana Tech and a 15-9 win over Tennessee. Those two teams finished a combined 10-14.

The Gamecocks are ranked 66th nationally by S&P+ with an offense ranked 88th and a defense ranked 46th. By comparison, Michigan is 21st with the 74th ranked offense and 10th ranked defense.

Quarterback Jake Bentley ranked third in the SEC with 2,555 yards passing on a 62.4 percent completion rate. But he threw 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Will Muschamp’s offense featured a running back tandem of A.J. Turner and Ty’Son Williams that both had 92 carries and averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry. But Bentley, who had just 86 rushing yards, sack yards included, led the team with six rushing touchdowns.

Receiver Bryan Edwards ranked ninth in the conference with 705 yards on 59 receptions and led the team with four touchdown catches. Tight end Hayden Hurst was the team’s second-leading receiver with 41 catches for 518 yards and two scores.

Defensively, South Carolina doesn’t have a Jadeveon Clowney this time, but they’re still a solid defensive team as one would expect a Muschamp team to be. Linebacker Skai Moore ranked 11th in the SEC with 88 tackles and third with three interceptions, while defensive end D.J. Wonnum ranked seventh with six sacks.

The Outback Bowl will kick off at 12pm Eastern on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla. Perhaps most importantly for this young Michigan team, they’ll get a month of practice to get better as they look to build toward 2018 when they return nearly everyone.

Stay tuned for more a in-depth look at South Carolina in the weeks to come.

Citrus Bowl preview: #14 Michigan vs #19 Florida

Thursday, December 31st, 2015


Game Preview_Florida_banner

More than a month after a humbling loss to rival Ohio State, Michigan returns to the field looking to make a statement heading into a seven month football slumber. Jim Harbaugh can capture the 27th double-digit win season in program history with a victory over the Florida Gators in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on Friday afternoon.

UM-Florida-small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Jim McElwain (1st season)
Coaching Record: 32-19 (10-3 at UF)
Offensive Coordinator: Doug Nussmeier (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Geoff Collins (1st season)
Last Season: 7-5 (4-4 SEC)
Last Meeting: UM 41 – UF 35 (2008)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 2-0
Record in Bowl Games: Michigan 2-0
Record in Citrus Bowl: Michigan 1-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Florida 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2008 (41-35)
Last Florida win: N/A
Current Streak: Michigan 2

Michigan and Florida have faced each other twice before, both in Florida-based bowl games. In the 2003 Outback Bowl Michigan topped Florida 38-30 to close out a 10-3 season. Five years later, Michigan topped the Tim Tebow-led Gators 41-35 in the 2008 Capital One Citrus Bowl to close out Lloyd Carr’s career with a 9-4 season. Win or lose this one, Michigan will finish with one of those two records.

Florida won the Southeastern Conference East division this season, losing only to LSU in-conference (35-28) and rival Florida State in the regular season finale (27-2). The Gators then faced Alabama in the SEC Championship game and lost 29-15, which means they ride a two game losing streak heading into this one.

Florida’s best win was a 38-10 throttling of Ole Miss on Oct. 3, but they also nearly lost to Florida Atlantic on Nov. 21, needing overtime to top the Owls, who finished the season just 3-9. Their only wins came over Charlotte, Florida International, and Old Dominion.

So which Florida team will show up in Orlando on New Year’s Day — the one that started 10-1 and was ranked as high as eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings or the one that needed overtime to beat FEI’s 99th-ranked team and scored just 17 points in its last two games? Let’s take a look at the Gators.

When Florida has the ball

Michigan fans will be familiar with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who held the same position at Michigan last season. His offense ranks 109th nationally and 11th in the SEC in total offense (338.7 yards per game), 98th and 11th in scoring (24.5 points per game), 113th and 13th in rushing (127.6 yards per game), 76th and 6th in passing (211.1 yards per game), and 61st in passing efficiency (130.58). FEI ranks Florida’s offense 60th nationally with an opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency of -.03. By comparison, Michigan’s OFEI is .36.

Quarterback Treon Harris opened the season as the starter after starting the final six games of 2014, but lost the job to redshirt freshman Will Grier, who went 5-0 and completed 65.8 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But Grier was suspended for a year for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, so McElwain and Nussmeier were forced to turn back to Harris. The sophomore hasn’t performed as well as Grier, completing just 51.9 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and five picks. In fact, since taking over for Grier, Harris has completed just 49.2 percent for seven scores and five picks.

While the running game hasn’t been dynamic — better than just 14 teams nationally — it does have a decent running back in Kelvin Taylor. The junior form Belle Glades, Fla. has 248 carries for 985 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns so far this season, averaging 75.8 yards per game. By comparison, De’Veon Smith has 155 carries for 644 yards (4.2 ypc) and six scores. Harris is the team’s second leading rusher with 183 yards on 85 carries (2.2 ypc), but he has yet to find the end zone on the ground. The second leading running back, freshman Jordan Scarlett, was suspended for the Citrus Bowl for marijuana possession, which leaves Taylor and freshman Jordan Cronkite — 41 for 140 (3.4 ypc) — as the only two running backs with over 100 yards rushing on the season.

The passing game is better statistically, but Harris is not Grier in that category. Harris completed 17 of 32 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns against LSU, but managed to break 200 yards just once in his final six games, averaging just 165 yards per game during that span. Freshman Antonio Callaway is the leading receiver with 603 yards and four touchdowns on 30 receptions. Junior Demarcus Robinson leads the team with 47 receptions, but is less of a big play threat with a yards per catch nearly half of Callaway’s. Fifth-year senior tight end Jack McGee has 41 receptions for 381 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore Brandon Powell has 28 for 364 and three scores. Sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby is the only other pass catcher with more than 100 yards (17 for 277 and one) but hasn’t caught more than one pass in a game since Oct. 10.

The offensive line suffered a hit last week when fifth-year senior right tackle Mason Halter was declared academically ineligible. He started all 13 games. Freshman Fred Johnson will likely fill in. The other tackle, Jordan Sharpe is one of the elder statesman along the line as just a sophomore, as freshmen Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan will be the starting guards. Sharpe started all but the Vanderbilt game this season, while Ivey has started seven at left guard and Jordan two at right guard. Ivey was the nation’s top offensive tackle and No. 2 overall player according to 247 Sports in the 2015 recruiting class. The center is redshirt sophomore and Canton, Mich. native Cameron Dillard.

When Michigan has the ball

Defense is the reason Florida has had such a good season. The Gators rank 6th nationally in total defense (295.4 yards per game), 9th in scoring defense (16.5 points per game), 17th in rush defense (120.6 yards per game), 10th in pass defense (174.8 yards per game), 11th in pass efficiency defense (106.61).

Only one team — LSU (35) — scored more than 30 points on Florida this season, while the Gators held five opponents — Kentucky (9), Ole Miss (10), Missouri (3), Georgia (3), and Vanderbilt (7) — to 10 or fewer points. By comparison, Michigan’s defense also held five opponents to 10 or fewer points, but three of those were shutouts.

Florida’s defensive line is led by senior rush end Jonathan Bullard, whose 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss are both team highs. The former No. 6 overall player in the 2012 class recently said that his intention to return to Gainesville for his senior season was the best decision of his life, and now he figures to be a first or second round NFL Draft selection. He was named first team All-SEC and second team All-American. The other end is redshirt junior Bryan Cox Jr, who has 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore Caleb Brantley and junior Joey Ivie form the middle of the line. The duo has combined for 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. True freshman Cece Jefferson has also impressed at defensive end, recording 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, earning freshman All-American honors, while redshirt junior rush end Alex McCalister is tied with Bullard for the team lead with 6.5 sacks. However, McCalister was dismissed from the team two weeks ago. Still, that’s a lot of production for a defensive line unit.

Senior middle linebacker Antonio Morrison leads the team with 97 tackles and ranks second with 12 tackles for loss. Junior weak side linebacker Jarrad Davis is the second leading tackler with 94, 11 of which have gone for loss. Redshirt junior Jerami Powell is the strong side linebacker missed a few games with a torn meniscus, but and has just 12 tackles on the season. Fifth-year senior Anthony Harrell and junior Daniel McMillan also factor into the linebacker rotation with a combined 37 tackles.

The secondary is Florida’s strength with two of the best players in the nation, junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor. Hargreaves joined Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis as a first team All-American, becoming Florida’s first consensus All-American since Joe Haden 2009. He’s regarded as a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft after leading the team with four interceptions along with 31 tackles, four pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Tabor recorded an SEC-leading 14 pass breakups in addition to four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Junior free safety Keanu Neal is the team’s third leading tackler with 85, while redshirt junior strong safety Marcus Maye is fourth with 73 and also has two interceptions. Senior nickelback Brian Poole has 36 tackles.

The other third

Redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin has made just five of 14 field goal attempts this season with a long of 43 after making seven of 12 last season. He has missed his last five attempts. Redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend leads the SEC with an average of 44.92 yards per punt. He has booted 26 of his 79 punts over 50 yards and downed 29 inside the 20.

Powell averages 21.55 yards per kick return, which ranks 13th in the SEC, while Callaway ranks third in the SEC with a 14.5-yard punt return average.

Prediction

A matchup of two of the top defenses in college football calls for a low scoring affair and I think that will hold true. Michigan will have trouble running the ball, which isn’t a surprise after the last few games, but will need to find success through the air against Hargreaves and Tabor. That’s not an easy task, but Michigan’s passing game grew leaps and bounds as the season went on. If Jabrill Peppers is healthy enough to play, expect him to play a similar role to what he did against Ohio State, giving the offense another dynamic playmaker.

Defensively, Michigan will need to slow down Taylor on the ground, but shouldn’t be too worried about Harris beating them through the air. Ohio State’s offense this is not. Nor is it Indiana’s, and those are really the only two offenses that gave Michigan’s defense fits this season.

Michigan has the advantage on special teams, especially if it becomes a game of field goals, so I give Michigan the slight edge to pull this one out and carry momentum into the offseason.

Michigan 23 – Florida 17

First Look: Florida

Monday, December 28th, 2015


Gator

After a month-long break, Michigan hits the field for one last time this season on Friday in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. The Wolverines have a chance to win 10 games in a season for just the fourth time since 2000, as well as a chance to pick up another win over an SEC foe. Michigan faces Florida, a program that has had a very similar past year with an underachieving 2014 that led to the firing of their coach, and then a resurgence under their new coach. Let’s take a look at the Gators.

Florida team stats & Michigan comparison
Florida | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 24.5 | 30.6 98 57
16.5 17.2 8 11
Rushing Yards 1,659 1,832 1,568 1,471
Rush Avg. Per Game 127.6 152.7 113 92
120.6 122.6 17 18
Avg. Per Rush 3.4 | 4.1
3.4 3.6
Passing Yards 2,744 2,812 2,272 1,905
Pass Avg. Per Game 211.1 234.3 78 54 174.8 158.8 11 3
Total Offense 4,403 4,644 3,840 3,376
Total Off Avg. Per Game 338.7 387.0 109 72 295.4 281.3 6 4
Kick Return Average 20.8 28.4 72 3 20.24 20.21 43 | 41
Punt Return Average 13.9 11.4 11 31 3.7 11.5 17 96
Avg. Time of Possession 31:43 | 33:02 29 | 13
28:17 | 26:58
3rd Down Conversion Pct 35.0% | 44.0% 103 26
31.0% | 26.0% 12 | 3
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 43-250 | 18-95
121 | T37
40-294 | 30-226
9 | T34
Touchdowns Scored 43 45
25 | 23
Field Goals-Attempts 7-17 16-20
13-18 | 15-18
Red Zone Scores (33-48) 69%|(46-49) 94% 123 6
(25-32) 78%|(26-31) 84% 30 69
Red Zone Touchdowns (28-48) 58%|(33-49) 67% (15-32) 47%|(13-31) 42%

Florida is very similar to Michigan statistically. Both feature one of the nation’s top defenses and middling offenses. Florida is slightly better in scoring defense, allowing 16.5 points per game compared to Michigan’s 17.2. The Ohio State game hurt Michigan in that regard, dropping the Wolverines from sixth nationally to 11th. While Michigan let OSU score 42 points and also gave up 41 to Indiana, Florida allowed more than 30 points just once all season, a 35-28 loss to LSU. However, the Gators didn’t record a shutout and Michigan posted three straight early in the season.

Both teams’ rushing defenses are about the same with Florida allowing two fewer yards per game on the ground. Only three teams eclipsed 200 yards rushing against the Gators, Tennessee with 254, LSU with 221, and Alabama with 233. Alabama’s Derrick Henry likely locked up the Heisman trophy with a 44-carry, 189-yard performance against Florida in the SEC Championship game. LSU’s Leonard Fornett, a Heisman candidate for most of the season, tallied 180 yards on 31 carries against the Gators, while Tennessee had two 100-yard rushers — quarterback Joshua Dobbs (136) and running back Jalen Hurd (102). Unfortunately, Michigan’s rushing game isn’t poised to have as much success on the ground.

Florida’s pass defense, however, is slightly more susceptible, though still ranking among the nation’s best. The Gators rank 11th nationally, allowing 16 more passing yards per game than Michigan. Four opponents topped 200 yards passing, led by East Carolina’s 346 in Week 2. The best passing offense Florida faced all season, Ole Miss, threw for 259 yards. Florida’s corners, Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor, form one of the nation’s best duos and will be a tough match for Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh.

Offensively, Florida isn’t nearly as scary. They’re fairly similar statistically to where Penn State and Minnesota were when Michigan faced them this season — in the bottom third nationally in most categories. They score just 24.5 points per game, six fewer than Michigan. A 61-13 throttling of New Mexico State in the season opener inflated the average as the Gators topped 30 points just twice the rest of the way, a 31-24 win over East Carolina the following week and a 38-10 win over Ole Miss in Week 5. Since then, Florida has averaged just 18.3 points in their final eight games. They managed just nine points in a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt, then were held to a measly two in a 27-2 loss to rival Florida State.

The running game is even more nonexistent than Michigan’s, averaging 25 fewer yards per game. The Gators’ best output was a 258-yard performance against Georgia — one of only two times they cracked 200 yards. The other was in the opener against NMSU. They were held below 100 yards four times, most recently 15 yards on 21 carries in the SEC title game against Alabama. Only 14 teams nationally average fewer yards per game than Florida, none of which Michigan faced. The closest, BYU, ranks one spot ahead of Florida, and Michigan held the Cougars to just 50 yards on 22 carries.

The passing game is slightly better, but it was more dynamic under Will Grier, who completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in the first six games before being suspended for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Sophomore Treon Harris replaced him, but has completed just 49.2 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and five picks since then. He threw for 271 yards in his first start against LSU, but managed 200 yards just once in the final six games. Alabama’s defense held him to just 9-of-24 for 165 yards.

As far as intangibles go, Florida converts just 35 percent of its third downs (103rd nationally) compared to Michigan’s 44 percent. They also have allowed 43 sacks — more than all but six teams nationally. For perspective, Penn State has allowed 39. The Gators gave up five sacks in a game five times, including each of the last three, and allowed three or more sacks in eight of 13 games. On the flip side, the Gators rank 12th nationally in third down defense (31 percent) and ninth nationally with 40 sacks — 10 more than Michigan’s defense has recorded.

On special teams, Florida is an average 72nd in kick returns, averaging eight fewer yards per return than Michigan. However, they are dynamic in the punt return game, averaging 13.9 yards per returns. They’ve returned two punts for touchdowns this season. The Gators are also solid against punt returns, allowing just 3.7 yards per, which ranks 11th nationally. If the game comes down to the kicking game, Michigan should have the advantage as Florida has made just 7-of-17 field goals with a long of 43, and has missed the last five attempts. Three of those 10 misses have been blocked.

Overall, it should be a pretty even game with two great defenses and two average offenses. Michigan has the advantage offensively, but will have to be able to have at least some success on the ground against a very stingy rush defense. It should be a low scoring game, but regardless of the outcome, it’s two tradition-rich programs on the rise and it’s exciting to be playing on New Year’s Day once again.

Inside the Numbers: A departure from postseason custom

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013


The dictionary defines a “custom” as “a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.” The prestige of Michigan’s football program was built on custom. Look no further than its 910 all-time wins, 42 Big Ten championships or its rivalry with Ohio State, which has been U-M’s regular-season finale for all but three years since 1935. Fans have accepted this way of behavior from the Michigan football program.

Another custom Michigan fans have accepted involves a New Year’s Day ritual. After ringing in the New Year with family and friends, they awake the following morning. What each Michigan fan does when it wakes up on New Year’s Day varies from person to person. But they all know that, in a few short hours, they will be watching, whether it be in person or from their couch, the Michigan Wolverines play in a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Michigan fans have become accustomed to this New Year’s Day ritual because fans have been able to follow it most years since 1975. Before then, though, participating in any bowl game was a rarity for Michigan. This was not because the Wolverines were undeserving of a bowl bid, but because the bowl system’s structure at that time limited U-M’s opportunities to play in bowl games.

Michigan played in the first ever Rose Bowl game in 1902 (Bentley)

Michigan first appeared in a bowl game on January 1, 1902, shutting out Stanford, 49-0, in the first edition of the Rose Bowl and capping a national championship season. However, in the decades thereafter, the Big Ten prevented its members from participating in bowl games. It was not until 1946 that the Big Ten allowed its teams to play in the Rose Bowl, albeit no school could do so in consecutive years until 1971. Additionally, the Big Ten prevented its schools from playing in any other bowl game until 1975.

Accordingly, Michigan had the opportunity to play in a bowl game only five times—all Rose Bowls and all on January 1st—from 1946 to 1974. Further, from 1972 to 1974, the Wolverines won 10 games in each of those three seasons. And, yet, because of the Big Ten’s rules, U-M did not appear in a single bowl game during that stretch because the conference sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl each year instead.

Then, prior to the 1975 season, the Big Ten announced that it would allow its teams to play in more than just the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines were the first team to benefit from this rule change. After the 1975 season, the Big Ten once again sent the Buckeyes to Rose Bowl. But, because of the rule change, the Big Ten also sent Michigan to the Orange Bowl to face the Oklahoma Sooners on January 1, 1976.

This began a long-accepted custom of January bowl games, especially on New Year’s Day, for Michigan. From 1975 to 2012, there were 38 college football regular seasons. Michigan played in a bowl game in 36 of them. Of those 36 bowl games, Michigan played in 30 of them in January. Of those 30 January bowl games, U-M played in 25 of them on New Year’s Day. Thus, for the past 38 seasons, Michigan has played in a January bowl in 78.9 percent of them and in a New Year’s Day bowl in 65.8 percent of them.

Overall, Michigan has appeared in 42 bowl games and has played in 36 of those in January. Accordingly, U-M has played 85.7 percent of its bowl games in January. No other BCS team has played a higher percentage of its bowl games during the first month of the calendar year:

Highest Pct. Of January Bowl Games Among BCS Schools – Prior to 2013
Rank School No. of Bowl Games No. of Jan. Bowl Games % of Jan. Bowl Games
1 Michigan 42 36 85.7%
2 Ohio State 43 35 81.4%
3 Duke 9 7 77.8%
4 USC 49 38 77.6%
5 Oklahoma 46 34 73.9%
6 Notre Dame 32 23 71.9%
7 Nebraska 49 34 69.4%
T8 Alabama 60 40 66.7%
T8 Arkansas 39 26 66.7%
T8 Stanford 24 16 66.7%
11 Penn State 44 29 65.9%
12 Miami FL 34 22 64.7%
13 LSU 44 28 63.6%
14 Tennessee 49 31 63.3%
15 Wisconsin 24 15 62.5%
16 UConn 5 3 60.0%
17 Florida State 42 25 59.5%
18 Texas 51 30 58.8%
19 Florida 40 23 57.5%
20 Auburn 37 21 56.8%

No, Michigan does not have the most January-bowl-game appearances among BCS teams. That distinction belongs to the Alabama Crimson Tide. But, when a BCS team receives a bowl bid, no BCS team expects it to be from a bowl game played in January more than the Wolverines. This has certainly been the case recently more than ever. Since the 1996 regular season, the Maize and Blue have played in 15 bowl games. Fourteen of those were in the month of January. Thirteen of those were played on New Year’s Day.

So, on December 8, 2013, bowl executives, conference representatives, and school officials were finalizing this season’s bowl lineups. It was no surprise that many Michigan fans expected the Gator Bowl—a bowl game played on New Year’s Day—to be the Wolverines’ destination. This was tradition. This was custom. Why would it be any different this year?

Yet, that evening, ESPN announced that the Maize and Blue received a bowl bid from the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl—a bowl played on December 28, 2013—rather than the Gator Bowl. The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl had the luxury of choosing which Big Ten team it wanted to play in its game before the Gator Bowl. Even though some, including the author of this column, believed that the Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl would select Nebraska over Michigan because the Cornhuskers beat U-M in Ann Arbor and had a better record than U-M, among other reasons, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selected the Wolverines over the Cornhuskers because “Michigan is Michigan.”

So rather than play a New Year’s Day bowl game for the 14th time in its last 16 bowl games, Michigan will play in only its seventh bowl game before the first day of the New Year. Although U-M’s overall bowl record is not stellar, the Wolverines hold only a 2-4 record in their previous six December bowl games. Here is a list of those games:

List of Michigan’s December Bowl Games
Date Bowl Opponent W/L Score
Dec. 28, 1979 Gator North Carolina L 15-17
Dec. 31, 1981 Bluebonnet UCLA W 33-14
Dec. 21, 1984 Holiday Brigham Young L 17-24
Dec. 30, 1994 Holiday Colorado State W 24-14
Dec. 28, 1995 Alamo Texas A&M L 20-22
Dec. 28, 2005 Alamo Nebraska L 28-32

This is a break from Michigan’s postseason custom. And this applies to more than just the month in which the Wolverines play their bowl game. The Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl, which is held in Tempe, Arizona, is scheduled to kick off at 10:15 p.m. ET. This is not the first late start for Michigan. U-M has started bowl games at 8:30 p.m. ET before, doing so in the 1994 Holiday Bowl versus Colorado State and the 2012 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. Also, the Wolverines have faced Hawaii at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, twice, but those games started no later than 9:30 p.m. ET. Therefore, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl’s 10:15 p.m. ET kick off may be the latest in U-M history.

So, to recap: Michigan is playing in a December bowl game for only the seventh time and may be participating in a game that starts later than any game in program history. Further, this is the first time the Wolverines have played in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, previously known as the Copper Bowl, and the first time the Wolverines have faced Kansas State. Nothing about Michigan’s bowl game this Saturday resembles its postseason custom.

Unfortunately, for Michigan fans, this separation from U-M’s postseason custom was bound to happen. When the four-team College Football Playoff starts next season, many of the prestigious bowl games involved with the playoff will played on New Year’s Eve rather than New Year’s Day. Yes, Michigan still will find itself playing in bowl games on New Year’s Day, but no longer will it hope to play in bowl games that occur only in January as it has under the current bowl system.

So, when Michigan fans wake up on New Year’s Day in 2014, they will have to follow a ritual different from the tradition they have become accustomed to in recent years. However, if U-M plans to compete for national championships for the next dozen years, Michigan fans were going to break away from their custom of rooting for Michigan in January bowl games, especially those on New Year’s Day. They just so happen to need to do so one year early.

Three Notes You Should Know Before Michigan-Kansas State

1. If Jeremy Gallon catches at least five passes for 42 yards against Kansas State, he will be the only receiver ranked in the Top 3 for most receptions and receiving yards in a game, in a season, and in a career in Michigan history. Additionally, Gallon needs 47 yards to surpass Braylon Edwards’ single-season record mark of 1,330 receiving yards in 2004.

2. Devin Gardner’s status for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is uncertain. If Gardner plays, he can set new school records for most passing yards, most total touchdowns, and most passing touchdowns in a season with a 372-passing-yard, five-passing-touchdown performance. This seems unlikely, but, given his stat lines against Notre Dame, Indiana, and Ohio State, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, Gardner must play first.

3. If Gardner does not play, Shane Morris will make his first career start at quarterback. Morris would be the fourth true freshman to start at quarterback for the Wolverines in the past decade. The other three were Tate Forcier, Ryan Mallett, and Chad Henne. Morris would have tough acts to follow as those three combined for 411 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, and only one interception in their first starts.

FORECAST FRIDAY: Gator Bowl, Michigan vs. Mississippi State

Friday, December 31st, 2010


Bowl season used to be one day to look forward to while ringing in the new year with friends, family, and if you’re fortunate, watching your favorite team play an opponent it doesn’t typically play in a warm and sunny spot you wish you were in. These days, we don’t even get a break in between the last game of the regular season and a watered down slate of games you really don’t care to watch but watch anyway because your only other viewing options are Glee or reruns of House.

Michigan vs. #21 Mississippi State
Block M logo

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011 – 1:30 p.m. ET – ESPN2
7-5 Record 8-4
UConn 30-10
Notre Dame 28-24
UMass 42-37
Bowling Green 65-21
Indiana 42-35
Illinois 67-65 (3OT)
Purdue 27-16
Wins Memphis 49-7
Georgia 24-12
Alcorn State 49-16
Houston 47-24
#22 Florida 10-7
UAB 29-24
Kentucky 24-17
Mississippi 31-23
#17 Mich. St. 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
Penn State 31-41
#7 Wisconsin 28-48
#8 Ohio State 7-37
Losses #21 Auburn 14-17
#15 LSU 7-29
#12 Alabama 10-30
#13 Arkansas 31-38 2OT
34.3 Scoring Offense 27.1
251.1 Rushing YPG 215.8
249.8 Passing YPG 178.6
500.9 Total Offense 394.3
33.8 Scoring Defense 20.3
187.7 Rush Defense YPG 121.7
260.2 Pass Defense YPG 236.4
447.9 Total Defense YPG 358.1
18 Takeaways 26
27 Giveaways 20
17 Sacks By 26
11 Sacks Allowed 22
75/162 (46%) Third-down Conv. 81/179 (45%)
4/13 Field Goals 12/18
36.7 Net Punt Avg. 38.2

And so it is that we’ve finally arrived at that one day of the year where college football takes precedence over everything else and we Michigan fans get to watch a game we’ve been looking forward to since that brutal game on November 27.

Tomorrow’s matchup with No. 21 Mississippi State takes on added significance after Michigan’s two-year absence from post-season play and the fate of Head Coach Rich Rodriguez hanging in the balance.

Michigan always plays well against SEC teams (20-5-1 all-time and 7-3 in bowl games), but as we’ve learned the past three seasons, this isn’t the Michigan of old anymore.

That could spell doom for Rodriguez, but I don’t think the outcome of Saturday’s game will factor into his fate, and that’s the last thing I’ll say about the coaching situation.

Perhaps the most important factor for Michigan is the health of Denard Robinson who, by all accounts, is as healthy as he has been all season. He struggled late in the season when he was banged up and didn’t seem to have the same burst he displayed early in the season. But Saturday he’ll be healthy and playing in the warm and sunny weather of his home state of Florida.

Mississippi State is an interesting study. It’s a team that hung tough with Auburn and Arkansas, but didn’t really beat anybody good all season and barely survived 4-8 UAB. In other words, its season is reminiscent of Michigan’s.

The strength of the Bulldogs is the defense, led by linebacker Chris White, an all-SEC first team defender who gets the task of trying to slow down Robinson.

In week two, White and the Bulldog defense held Heisman winner Cam Newton to his worst performance of the season. Auburn won 17-14, but Newton completed just 11-of-19 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 18 times for 70 yards (3.9 yards per carry).

Head Coach Dan Mullen hopes to replicate that performance against Michigan on Saturday, but what give me hope is that performance was a long time ago. In the last five games, MSU’s defense gave up an average of 26.4 points per game. That’s good news for Michigan since the Bulldog offense doesn’t exactly light up the scoreboards, ranking in the middle of the pack nationally in points scored.

Offensively, the Bulldogs’ best player is tackle Derek Sherrod, a second-team All-American who figures to be a first round draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has helped pave the way for the nation’s 16th-best rush offense, but his line has also allowed 22 sacks. An interesting matchup to watch will be Michigan’s defensive line against Sherrod and company. Can Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Craig Roh pressure quarterback Chris Relf or get into the backfield to disrupt the run game? If so, it will help Michigan’s young and oft-maligned secondary.

Mississippi State’s pass offense is it’s weakness, ranking 91st in the nation with just 178.6 yards per game. Much of that has to do with the strength of its running game, but Relf ranks 52nd nationally in pass efficiency, just behind Indiana’s Ben Chappell.

Expect the Bulldogs to pound the ball on the ground and try to keep Michigan’s offense off the field, much like Wisconsin did, except out of a spread similar to Illinois’ (and Michigan’s for that matter). That could play into Michigan’s hands since the defense goes up against a similar style offense in practice every day.

Robinson warms up during practice in Jacksonville

According to Rodriguez, Michigan should get junior receiver Martavious Odoms back from a foot injury that has sidelined him since the Michigan State game. If he really is healthy enough to play at full speed, that will help Michigan both in the run and pass game. Odoms is the most experienced wideout on the team,with sure hands, and despite his small frame, is a great blocking receiver to set up Robinson’s runs.

Also healthy is Michigan’s best offensive lineman, center David Molk who missed time in the last few games with a foot injury. His presence will help combat White and MSU linemen Pernell McPhee, Josh Boyd, and Fletcher Cox.

The strength of the Bulldog rush defense and weakness of its pass defense leads me to believe Michigan will look to pass a little more than usual. Rodriguez loves to run to open up the pass, but a couple shots downfield early on could open up the running lanes for Robinson and backs Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith and keep the safeties from creeping up. In the last five games, MSU gave up 257 yards per game through the air, which is almost exactly what Michigan’s secondary has allowed this season.

Three Predictions:

1. Denard has more rushing yards AND more passing yards than Cam Newton did against Mississippi State

2. Michigan’s defense turns in one of  its best performances of the season

3. Roy Roundtree eclipses 1,000 yards for the season

Overall, I think the game rests solely in the hands of Robinson. If the Robinson of the first half of the season shows up, Michigan will be in good shape. If the Robinson of the second half shows up, it will be a long day. The absence of Tate Forcier, who was ruled academically ineligible yesterday makes the health of Robinson of utmost importance. Freshman Devin Gardner, who was the first QB off the bench in the season opener against UConn, would be the backup, but it would mean burning his medical redshirt that Rodriguez hopes will keep him two years behind Robinson and Forcier.

As long as Robinson doesn’t get banged up, I think Michigan will be able to score around 30 points, which should be enough to beat the Bulldogs. And then the real waiting begins.

Michigan 31 – Mississippi State 27