Michigan center Mason Cole talks about New Year's Day matchup playing South Carolina in Outback Bowl. Angelique S. Chengelis


Ann Arbor — Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, cleared from concussion protocol, will be Michigan’s expected starter when the Wolverines play South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Peters missed the regular-season finale against Ohio State because he was not cleared after suffering a concussion the week before against Wisconsin. Peters practiced last week, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Sunday night on a conference call.

“We’ll start practice with Brandon as the No. 1 quarterback,” Harbaugh said.

The Wolverines (8-4) will face South Carolina (8-4) at noon on ESPN2 in Tampa. It is the third Florida bowl game for Michigan in Harbaugh’s three seasons.

“We’re excited as heck to be coming down to the Outback Bowl,” Harbaugh said.  “We’re excited about the New Year’s Day game on Jan. 1. I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting January 1 lineups of bowl games I’ve ever seen. Excited to be part of it.”

More:Michigan's Tyree Kinnel will be healthy for Outback Bowl

Michigan senior left tackle Mason Cole couldn’t be happier.

Cole is from Tarpon Springs, about 30 miles northwest of Tampa.

“Excited for it,” Cole said Sunday night at Schembechler Hall. “First time playing real close to home, so probably have a lot of family, a lot of friends there coming to the game. It will be good to be close to home.

“It’s an exciting matchup, two big-time programs, playing an SEC team is exciting. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

Michigan last played in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2013, ironically, against South Carolina. That game will always be remembered for the highlight reel hit Michigan back Vincent Smith took from South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney. Michigan had a miscommunication on the line, and Clowney had a clear shot at Smith, who had just been handed the ball. Smith’s helmet flew off his head.

This will be Michigan’s third-straight bowl game in Florida under coach Jim Harbaugh. Michigan defeated Florida, 41-7, in the Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 2016, and fell to Florida State, 33-32, in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30, 2016.

“I know all the Florida guys on the roster are excited to get back home and play in front of their families,” safety Tyree Kinnel said Sunday. “And our fanbase travels well down to Florida as you can see the last two years, and hopefully it turns out again this year, too, so definitely excited to play in Tampa and play a good South Carolina team.”

Michigan State, 16th in the CFP rankings, was projected to head to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, but after the four-team playoff shook out, with Alabama getting the fourth spot ahead of Ohio State, the bowl dominos began to fall. The Orange Bowl is required to take the Big Ten’s top-ranked non-champion, so Wisconsin is heading to Miami. With this wrinkle, the Citrus Bowl could not select a Big Ten team.

Michigan was projected for weeks to be headed to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28, but now Michigan State, 9-3 including a win over Michigan, will play there against Washington State.

Jim McVay, Outback CEO and president, was asked on a conference call Sunday night why Michigan was selected over Michigan State or Northwestern.

“I’ll tell you what. We’re tied in with the Big Ten, we’re tied in with the Southeastern Conference because both conferences are loaded with excellent inventory,” McVay said.  On the Big Ten side we were looking at a couple of the teams (mentioned). The way the process with the Outback Bowl is, we get our selection committee, we get our board (of directors) and once it’s clear who’s available, we make presentations about each team and they vote. So whatever the decision, whatever the vote is from the board and the selection committee, that’s who we’re taking.”

Part of Michigan’s appeal is strong ticket sales and television ratings — the Michigan-Ohio State game on Nov. 25 drew Fox’s best-metered market rating ever for a regular-season college game with a 6.7 rating. Michigan’s night game at Penn State on ABC on Oct. 21 had the best overnight rating across all networks. The Michigan-Michigan State night game on Oct. 7 at Michigan Stadium also was on ABC and was the highest-rated college football game in week six across all networks.

Michigan is coming off a 31-20 loss to Ohio State in the final regular-season game, while South Carolina is coming off a 34-10 loss to Clemson. Michigan and South Carolina shared one common opponent, Florida. The Wolverines won the season-opener against the Gators, 33-17, and the Gamecocks also beat Florida, 28-20.

This is the second straight bowl game for South Carolina, in its second season under coach Will Muschamp. The Gamecocks were 6-6 in the 2016 regular season before losing to USF in the Birmingham Bowl. In 2015 prior to Muschamp’s arrival, South Carolina was 3-9 in 2015.


Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4)

Kickoff: Noon Jan. 1, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.

TV/radio: ESPN2/WWJ 950

Twitter: @chengelis