The Big Ten was 7-0 in 2017-18 bowl games entering Michigan’s Outback Bowl appearance against South Carolina on New Year’s Day.
Michigan had a 19-3 lead with 20:42 left on the clock, after kicker Quinn Nordin punched through a 48-yard field goal — his fourth of the day.
And then it all went to hell. With some turnover help provided by the Wolverines, South Carolina scored two touchdowns in 94 seconds just before the end of the third quarter. After a Michigan punt, the Gamecocks scored another touchdown 4:27 into the fourth, on a 53-yard bomb from Jake Bentley to Shi Smith.
The Wolverines had chances to win late, but a series of mistakes — including an interception thrown in South Carolina’s end zone and a muffed punt shortly thereafter — were too much to overcome. The Big Ten finished 7-1 instead of 8-0 in bowls.
Every Big Ten team other than Michigan did great, though.
As much as it’s possible for a conference that didn’t place a single team in the Playoff to be the toast of the sport, the Big Ten has been the toast of the sport. Its seven bowl wins before Michigan’s epic collapse were impressive all the way around:
Every bowl win came against Power 5 team: Ohio State over USC, Wisconsin over Miami, Penn State over Washington, Michigan State over Washington State, Northwestern over Kentucky, Purdue over Arizona, and Iowa over Boston College.
The Big Ten won half of the New Year’s Six bowls (the Cotton, Fiesta, and Orange).
Big Ten teams covered the spread in six of their first seven bowls, suggesting they exceeded expectations regardless of opponent strength. The only Big Ten team not to cover in that span was Northwestern. The previously 9-3 Wildcats beat 7-5 Kentucky, 24-23, with a backup quarterback.
Michigan was a heavy favorite against South Carolina, with spreads ranging from Michigan -8 to Michigan -12. The Wolverines didn’t exactly hold up their end of the bargain.
Bowl wins aren’t a be-all, end-all in debates over which conferences are the best. Computer projection systems tell us that the SEC and ACC were both better this year. But the Big Ten can still put a feather in its cap for having — in spite of Michigan’s extraordinary failure — the best bowl winning percentage of any conference.
This result doesn’t change much about anything. But still, it’s bad.
The Wolverines were always going to be worse this year than they were last year. That they went 8-4 in the regular season wasn’t shocking. They should be better next year, and this result doesn’t change that.
But losing a 16-point lead to South Carolina and becoming the only team in your conference to lose a bowl game is still not good.