Wolverines and Gamecocks look to begin 2018 on a high note with a New Year's Day bowl victory
Both Michigan (8-4) and South Carolina (8-4) ended their seasons on sour notes, each losing to their closest rivals. The Wolverines jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter on Ohio State before the offense went cold, just as it did for much of the season. Backup QB Dwayne Haskins came in for an injured J.T. Barrett and lifted the Buckeyes to yet another victory over the team up North.
At least Michigan was in that game for a minute or two. South Carolina was trounced right from the get-go against Clemson, trailing 34-0 heading into the fourth quarter, and eventually falling 34-10 to the defending champs.
While the end to the 2017 season was a disappointment for both schools, the Outback Bowl gives each team a chance at ending this season on a high note and can provide a springboard heading into 2018.
Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South Carolina
Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa Bay)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Michigan -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Back under center
Quarterback Brandon Peters missed the season finale against the Buckeyes, and the outcome may have been far different had he played. With the sub-par quarterback play to begin the season, the fan base was clamoring to see what the redshirt freshman could bring to the table. Peters got his shot in Week 8 against Rutgers, coming on for the ineffective John O’Korn, and would wind up starting the next three games to follow until suffering a head injury at Wisconsin. The numbers weren’t overwhelming, but Peters was not asked to do much, finishing the season completing 58 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. With the injury behind him, Peters is set to start against the Gamecocks.
2. New OC
While the offense played well in spurts, it was not enough to save South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s job. At the ripe age of 33, Bryan McClendon will be calling the plays for the Gamecocks after working as the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach during the regular season. How will the offense change with McClendon calling the plays? “It’s not that much new,” said quarterback Jake Bentley. But there’s definitely some new things that we’re doing offensively to get some more guys open and run the ball effectively.” McClendon will certainly be in for a challenge in his first shot calling the plays, going up against Don Brown and the No. 3-ranked total defense in the entire country.
3. Sea of orange
Viewers may see plenty of orange on the field when Michigan takes the field. But the Wolverines colors are Maize and Blue aren’t they? Many of the players for the Wolverines will be taking part in a charitable cause started by defensive end Chase Winovich to support the well-known ChadTough Foundation by dying their hair orange for the bowl game. As of Tuesday, the orange hair fundraising efforts have generated more than $150,000 with the number continuing to climb.
Both teams are good... but not great in a lot of areas. The one decided advantage is on defense where the Wolverines are dominant, ranking third in total defense, 13th in scoring defense, and No. 1 overall at defending the pass. If Michigan jumps out to an early lead, the Wolverines can lean on their defense and rushing attack to secure what should be a comfortable win.
Prediction: Michigan 24, South Carolina 16
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.