The Big Ten did not have a perfect 2017-18 bowl season. Though, to be fair, there are plenty in the Midwest who might argue that winning every bowl game except the one Michigan and Jim Harbaugh compete in is actually the perfect bowl season. However, South Carolina’s 26-19 Outback Bowl comeback over Michigan spoiled the league’s shot at winning every bowl game in a season in which it was shut out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in the 4-year history of the system.
And, like many defeats in the 3-year Harbaugh era, it was one in which the Wolverines grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.
Quinn Nordin‘s fourth field goal of the afternoon pushed Michigan’s lead to 19-3 with 5:42 to play in the third quarter; considering the state of South Carolina’s offense to that point, Nordin’s kick relegated the Outback Bowl to “I’ll check back in if something happens” for New Year’s Day viewers with the Citrus and Peach bowls on simultaneously.
Needless to say, something happened.
The Gamecocks moved 77 yards in a half-dozen plays, finally crossing pay dirt on a 17-yard Rico Dowdle option rush. A failed 2-point conversion kept Michigan’s lead at two scores at 19-9. However, Michigan immediately gave the ball back on a botched 3rd-and-1 exchange, and one play later Jake Bentley pulled South Carolina within 19-16 on a 21-yard touchdown strike to Bryan Edwards.
Michigan punted on its next possession, and South Carolina took the lead on a 53-yard strike from Bentley to Shi Smith. Trailing 23-19 early in the fourth quarter, Michigan penetrated South Carolina’s red zone with a chance to re-gain the lead but, flushed to his left, Brandon Peters elected to force a 3rd-and-goal pass from the 5-yard line rather than accepted defeat and bring on the field goal time. It was intercepted by JaMarcus King in the end zone.
Michigan’s defense immediately forced a three-and-out, but the ensuing punt was muffed. Taking over at the Michigan 14, South Carolina bit off 90 seconds of the remaining 5:15, taking a touchdown lead on a 22-yard Parker White field goal.
The maize and blue took over at their 25 with 3:42 and needing a touchdown to force overtime, but could not get as much as a completed pass. Peters fired four straight incomplete passes. White missed a 48-yard field goal that would have ended the game at the 1:43 mark of the fourth quarter, and Michigan marched near midfield with one final chance to tie the game. However, Peters’s 4th-and-1 pass was intercepted with 1:05 to play, thereby ending the game.
The loss concludes a bitterly disappointing season in which Michigan accomplished nothing of significance. The Wolverines went 8-5 but beat just one opponent with a winning record, 7-6 Purdue. Most importantly, Michigan did not find a quarterback answer for 2018. Peters’s performance — he was 20-of-44 for 186 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions — proves that the answer lies in either redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey or Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, assuming the NCAA grants him eligibility.
South Carolina (9-4) has no such issues. The ‘Cocks won 15 games in Will Muschamp‘s first two seasons, something only two other South Carolina coaches have done. And in Bentley — 19-of-32 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — the Gamecocks have their quarterback of the present and the future.