"It definitely gives us an edge going into the game,” said Michigan defensive back Tyree Kinnel of an argument between Michigan and South Carolina players at a bowling event this week. The teams square off Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl.
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CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — The Outback Bowl is small potatoes to most college football observers.
Lost in a New Year’s Day shuffle that includes both playoff games, the second-tier bowl game in Tampa features two 8-4 teams. But the intensity was elevated after Wednesday night’s bowling alley fracas.
“I’m actually glad it happened,” Michigan linebacker Devin Bush Jr. said. “It makes the game more exciting.”
Michigan players blamed South Carolina defensive lineman Keir Thomas for being the instigator, while South Carolina players pointed to Michigan running back Karan Higdon as being the guilty party. Regardless, the incident, which had to be broken up by Florida State Highway Patrol Officers, created an energy that was missing.
Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel described the kerfuffle as “friendly trash talk.”
"It definitely gives us an edge going into the game,” he added. “Bowling was very intense, and it was fun. We can't wait for the game on Monday.”
Both teams attended a Tampa Bay Lightning game Friday, and Saturday’s beach day in Clearwater with no skirmishes.
“It was a little gamesmanship. That's good,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “I mean, running your mouth off at a bowling alley doesn't do a lot for me. Whether you bowl or not, you've got to compete.”
BEARING GIFTS: Each year, after the bowl pairings are announced, attention quickly turns to the gifts.
The NCAA allows bowl games to provide gifts of up to $550 per player, and SportsBusiness Journal’s annual list of every bowl game’s gifts is a hit with fans.
Michigan and South Carolina players received a $125 Best Buy gift card, an Outback Steakhouse gift card, an Outback Bowl hat, a Jostens ring, and a Fossil watch. They also got to pick a series of gifts that were assigned points based on their cost. Players were able to spend 10 total points.
The items ranged from a king size bed, to an Xbox or PlayStation 4, to a flat-screen television.
Jared Wangler opted for the king mattress last year at the Orange Bowl, which drew laughs from his teammates and the media. Some of the items selected this year were a 42-inch TV (Khaleke Hudson), a drone (Sean McKeon), and a Yeti cooler (Zach Gentry).
“You’ve got to budget [your points],” Hudson said.
Fifth-year senior Henry Poggi poked fun at himself for selecting a grill, saying that it made him feel old.
“I saw a TV and all this stuff, and I looked at this electric grill and thought, ‘Wow, this will be perfect,’” Poggi said. “The younger guys are like, ‘Who the [heck] would get an electric grill?’”
BEACH BUMS: All that awaits now is the game.
Michigan wrapped up its on-site practices in Tampa Saturday morning in preparation for Monday’s game. To celebrate, the Wolverines loaded up the buses and dashed off to Clearwater Beach.
Jim Harbaugh spoke from a beachside podium to a couple hundred Michigan fans, players frolicked in the Gulf of Mexico, and cheerleaders from both teams had a tug-of-war. It was all part of the beach day festivities, which gave the Wolverines and Gamecocks an opportunity to relax in a paradisiacal setting, with sun-splashed skies and temperatures in the high-60s.
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