TAMPA, Fla. -- Circled as one of, if not the, best one on one matchup to hone in on this bowl season, Michigan junior left tackle Taylor Lewan struggled to hide his excitement in the weeks leading up to the Wolverine's Outback Bowl meeting with South Carolina and undoubtedly the most dominant sophomore defensive end in the country, Jadeveon Clowney.
Tuesday afternoon, on a clear, sunny New Years Day inside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, fans, coaches, scouts, general managers and media stood witness to the heavyweight fight between the 6'8, 309 pound tackle and 6'6, 256pound defensive end, who found themselves out on an island on several occasions.
According to Lewan, who briefly left the game with cramps in the third quarter, the bout was pretty even.
"Everyone told me that he was unblock able, one-on-one, and I tried to do my job, but at the same time that doesn't matter," said Lewan. "I can be as happy as I want with the way that I played, but at the end of the day we didn't win the game."
Despite the loss, Lewan believes he, and Clowney, gained a mutual appreciation for each other's ability.
"I think during the game he and I earned a respect for each other and after the game I went up to him and said that he was one of the best defensive ends I have ever played against," said Lewan. "And he looked right in my eyes and said that I was one of the best tackles he's ever played against."
"I've played four (potential NFL) first round picks - and one to be - since I've been here. That's why I came to Michigan; to play the best."
NFL futures are assuredly in the cards for both Lewan and Clowney, although when exactly those careers at the next level will begin remains clouded in uncertainty.
Clowney, just a sophomore, isn't eligible to enter the NFL draft until after the 2013 season. Despite another year remaining in Columbia, Clowney is projected by most scouts to be one of the top three players taken in the 2014 draft. In fact, if Clowney were allowed to leave school now, falling out of the first round would seem ludicrous.
Lewan, a redshirt junior after completing four seasons in Ann Arbor, is eligible should he decide to leave early, and according to most draft projections, could be the first offensive tackle taken off the board in April. After Michigan's 33-28 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, Lewan continued to field questions about his decision, subtly laying out the timeline of his ensuing departure or welcomed return for his senior season.
"Go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hang out with Drew (Dileo)," said Lewan. "Then I'll come back, talk to them, talk to you all and go from there."
"I'll address the team, and then we'll do whatever coach Hoke wants to do and how he lets that out to the public."
Afterwards, Lewan added the loss to South Carolina didn't change his impending decision, instead it solidified it.
To watch video of Lewan after the Outback Bowl, press play below.