- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 3, 2012
The most wonderful time of the year is just weeks away. Well, except if you’re a Big Ten football team.
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The Big Ten hasn’t been quite so big in recent years come bowl season. In 2012, the conference was a combined 1-4 in New Year’s Day bowls, with three losses to Southeastern Conference teams. A year prior, the Big Ten was swept on New Year’s Day — with another three losses to SEC teams.
After perhaps the conference’s worst-ever regular season in 2012, Michigan feels some responsibility to restore some honor to the Big Ten. As senior defensive tackle Will Campbell put it, “There’s more at stake this year.”
The Wolverines are one of three Big Ten teams that will play SEC opponents on Jan. 1. All three are underdogs. In fact, not a single team in the Big Ten is favored in any of the seven bowls its teams are playing in.
Combined, the conference is a 53-point underdog, though the lines do change. The SEC is favored in all of its nine bowl games, by a combined 52.5 points. Currently, No. 19 Michigan is a 4.5-point underdog against No. 11 South Carolina.
The Wolverines are 5-3 against SEC opponents in the past two decades. Most recently, Mississippi State handed Michigan a 52-14 loss in the Gator Bowl in 2011, and in 2008, the Wolverines upset Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer of Florida in the Capital One Bowl. Michigan coach Brady Hoke, normally focused on Michigan only, said the team has a responsibility to represent the conference positively.
“I think you’re playing for Michigan and your seniors first, but we’re proud to be in the Big Ten, so why wouldn’t (we) want to represent and that be part of our focus?” Hoke said. “It would be really bad for us not to feel that way about the Big Ten.”
GETTING A FEEL FOR THE COCKS: Though Michigan holds the title for 2012’s best losses — with losses to the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation, all away from home — South Carolina isn’t far behind.
The Gamecocks’ only losses of the year came against No. 4 Florida and No. 9 LSU, both on the road. Plus, South Carolina boasts that quality win that has eluded the Wolverines this year, a 28-point trouncing of No. 6 Georgia.
Offensively, the Gamecocks have been pedestrian, but they have several imposing defenders, including Jadaveon Clowney, probably the nation’s best defensive end. Behind Clowney, South Carolina has generated 40 sacks this season.
Hoke said he has just begun to break down the film, but he has already been impressed by the Gamecocks’ athleticism and defensive front. Clowney will be blocked by redshirt junior tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.
“If you’re truly a competitor, I think it would be a tremendous, fun opportunity,” Hoke said of blocking Clowney.
But as always, much of the pregame discussion will center around the man Clowney will be chasing. It remains unclear whether that person will be junior quarterback Devin Gardner or senior quarterback Denard Robinson. And Michigan has shown no indication of changing that.
Robinson injured his right elbow on Oct. 27 against Nebraska and hasn’t thrown a pass since. Michigan has used Gardner in replacement, with Robinson as a scat back or run-only quarterback in the final two weeks of the season.
Robinson said that he’s “still not throwing how I normally throw,” but he noted that the time off will give him an chance to heal.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for me to get back healthy,” Robinson said. “I’m feeling pretty good right now, to be honest with you. When we start back practicing I can have more to say, but right now I feel good.”
ROCKING THE VOTE: Hoke voted Michigan No. 15 in the final regular-season USA TODAY Coaches’ Poll, joining Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly as the most bullish on the Wolverines.
Hoke said Michigan’s schedule earned it a higher ranking.
“I think you vote your conscience,” Hoke said. “I don’t know if I’d vote it any differently than I did. I think we’re a good team. … I think you look at the opponents we played compared to other schedules out there, it would be easy to play a lesser schedule.”
Hoke voted South Carolina No. 10, which is where it finished in the coaches’ poll. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier voted the Wolverines No. 21, one spot ahead of their ultimate rank.
NOTES: Junior fullback Stephen Hopkins has left the team, Michigan announced on Monday. Later in the day, Hopkins tweeted from his account, “I love the University of Michigan and everything it means to be a Michigan Man. I look forward to getting my degree.” … Michigan will run and lift weights throughout the week and begin its schedule of 15 allotted practices before the bowl game on Friday and Saturday; the Wolverines will practice again the following Friday and Saturday. They will leave for Tampa Bay on Dec. 23.