Gamecocks set sights on Outback Bowl win over Michigan

Outback Bowl Fan Predictions
Updated: Dec. 31, 2017 at 7:00 PM EST
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TAMPA, FL (WIS) - Will Muschamp and the South Carolina Gamecocks enjoyed a lot of success in 2017.

However, the Gamecocks are looking for more as they look to kick off 2018 with a bowl win over Michigan.

"Got a lot of respect for the program first of all," Muschamp said, "the winningest program in college football. Coach Harbaugh has done a really good job, and I'm a football fanatic, and you go back and look at Coach Schembechler and Coach Carr and all the great players that have played at this program. I have great respect for their program."

Like South Carolina, Michigan (8-4) is also searching for their ninth win of the year. The Wolverines average nearly 26 points and will be led by Brandon Peters at quarterback. The sophomore signal caller enters his fourth start with a 57.8 completion percentage with 486 passing yards and four touchdowns to his credit. Starting Peters in Michigan's biggest game of the year gives Harbaugh a chance to further develop his young quarterback heading into next season.

"He's been really good," Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Locked in, performing well. Been throwing the ball good. Been sharp. Mechanics are getting better and better. Naturally, he's got a lot of talent and just keeps getting better every time he has an opportunity to go out on the practice field. Every rep is great for him because it's one of those positions that you can watch a play and it's always something that you can see to get better at or coach."

Michigan will look to Karan Higdon to lead the Wolverines' rushing attack. The junior tailback is the top Michigan rusher with 929 yards and 11 touchdowns. At wide receiver, Peters will likely look for Sean McKeon. The 6-foot-5 sophomore tight end is the Wolverines' top pass catcher with 29 receptions for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Behind him is junior wide receiver Grant Perry. He has 25 catches for 307 yards and one touchdown to his credit.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan is ranked third in the nation in total defense. The Wolverines hold their opponents to an average of just over 18 points per game. With that in mind, Carolina may need a little more help stopping the Michigan defense up front.

"Those guys up front are pretty good," Gamecocks tight end Hayden Hurst said. "You've got Hurst, you've got Rashan Gary. Those guys are pretty athletic, pretty strong guys. I think getting in there and blocking those guys and showing them what I'm capable of would be pretty good."

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Michigan's defense is led by All-Big Ten first team selections Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst. Combined, the two defensive linemen have collected 24.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. However, they're not the only members of the Wolverines' defense that the Gamecocks have to keep an eye on. In total, Harbaugh's defense has six All-Big Ten selections from this year's team.

"We've got to have a plan for that," said Gamecocks sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley. "We've got to get rid of the ball fast. They're a great defense. They're top 10 in the nation for a reason. We've got to have a plan going in to get the ball out."

Under Kurt Roper, the Gamecocks averaged just over 24 points per game. However, USC hasn't been known for starting fast in games scoring just 51 points in the first quarter. With Bryan McClendon in as Carolina's interim offensive coordinator, the Gamecocks will add a few new wrinkles in their offense in hopes of changing that. Even with a few new things thrown into how they execute their offense, it still comes down to preparation for the Gamecocks.

"I think he's done a really good job," Muschamp said of McClendon. "Obviously, game day is important from a calling standpoint, from an adjustment standpoint. Certainly, if you make the right call and the right adjustments, you're going to be productive so that is important."

South Carolina takes on Michigan in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on New Year's Day at noon. The game can be seen on ESPN2. Check your local listings for channel information.

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