Break out the Bloomin Onions and get the barbie fired up — the Michigan football team is spending New Year’s Day at the Outback Bowl.
The Outback Bowl, which is held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., announced Sunday afternoon that it had selected the 19th-ranked Wolverines as its Big Ten representative. Several hours later, the bowl announced that South Carolina would be Michigan’s opponent, as anticipated.
Most prognosticators believed before the official announcement that South Carolina would be chosen to represent the SEC. The Gamecocks are ranked 10th in the BCS standings and were the logical choice for the Outback Bowl, with other SEC teams Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M reportedly headed to other bowl destinations. The Outback Bowl has the third pick of Big Ten teams and SEC teams.
“We are excited to represent the Big Ten in the Outback Bowl,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said through the football team’s official Twitter account. “The SEC is an excellent conference and we look forward to the challenge of facing them on New Year’s Day.”
The selection to the Outback Bowl could be seen as something of a letdown for the Wolverines. It appeared that they would be chosen for the slightly more prestigious Capital One Bowl — which has the second pick of the Big Ten and SEC — had Nebraska won the Big Ten Championship Game. But the Cornhuskers’ blowout loss to Wisconsin pushed them to the Capital One Bowl instead of the Rose Bowl, which in turn then relegated Michigan to the Outback Bowl.
The Outback Bowl, formerly the Hall of Fame Bowl, has been a traditional New Year’s Day game since 1989, when it was first played on that date, and thus carries a relatively solid reputation among bowl games.
In a release from the athletic department, Athletic Director Dave Brandon said he was excited for the Wolverines’ selection as well.
“The University of Michigan happily accepts the invitation to play in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day,” Brandon said. “We are honored to represent the Big Ten in Tampa. Our team worked very hard this season and this is a reward for their effort. It’s a great way to send out the seniors on Team 133.”
Michigan will be making its fifth appearance at the Outback Bowl, tying it with Georgia for the most appearances of any team, and it has gone 3-1 in its four previous appearances.
The Wolverines last played in the bowl after the 2002 season, when they defeated Florida, 38-30. Then-running back Chris Perry was named MVP of the game after he set the Outback Bowl record with four rushing touchdowns, a mark that still stands.
Coincidentally, that was Hoke’s final game as an assistant coach at Michigan before he left to become the head coach at Ball State.
“They (Outback Bowl) made my final game as an assistant coach at Michigan (in 2002) a very enjoyable and memorable experience,” Hoke said on the team's Twitter account.
The Wolverines will try to help the reputation of the Big Ten by topping a quality SEC team in the Outback Bowl.
The Big Ten has been criticized for the decreasing quality of its teams in recent years and has often struggled mightily in bowl season, especially against SEC teams. The conference went just 4-6 in bowl games last season, though a Big Ten team won the Outback Bowl as Michigan State defeated Georgia.
Michigan hasn’t had the same struggles as its conference brethren in the past against the SEC, carrying a 23-7-1 all-time record against the conference and a 7-4 mark against it in bowl games. Still, the Wolverines were defeated by Mississippi State in the 2011 Gator Bowl, 52-14, in their last bowl matchup with an SEC team. Michigan also lost to Alabama, 42-14, in the season-opening Cowboys Classic this fall.
In South Carolina, Michigan faces a team without its top offensive player in Marcus Lattimore. The talented running back severely injured his leg against Tennessee Oct. 27, which knocked him out for the season. The Gamecocks have managed to win every game since the injury though, including their regular-season finale against instate rival Clemson.
The Gamecocks are led by star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The likely future top-10 NFL draft pick has accrued 13 sacks in his sophomore season, helping South Carolina rank fifth nationally with 40 sacks as a team.