5 things to know about Michigan's Outback Bowl opponent: South Carolina
This wasn’t exactly the year that Michigan fans had hoped for. Finishing 8-4 and fourth in the B1G East was a bit disappointing after back-t0-back 10-win seasons. But the Wolverines will have a chance to get reach the nine-win mark, post a second win over an SEC opponent and get a momentum boost heading into the 2018 season. Michigan will battle South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, scheduled for Jan. 1 at noon ET.
Here are five things to know about the Gamecocks, who finished the year second in the SEC East with a 5-3 conference mark and an 8-4 record overall.
Brand new play-caller
After a sluggish season offseason, head coach Will Muschamp opted to fire offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper, promoting co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon to the play-caller for the Outback Bowl. This will be the first time McClendon has been tasked with that duty.
McClendon has spent his entire coaching career in the SEC, primarily at Georgia under Mark Richt. While he has plenty of experience on the offensive side of the ball, this will be a new venture for the offensive coordinator. After South Carolina’s offense finished 12th in the conference, the change might be a breath of fresh air for the Gamecocks.
Inconsistent quarterback play
Jake Bentley has been a solid quarterback for most of the year, but his season has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Against Arkansas, he threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns. A few weeks later, he had three interceptions without a touchdown pass against Florida. It’s been the type of inconsistency you expect from a young quarterback.
At the end of the year, Bentley’s numbers were commendable, throwing for 2,555 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing passes at a 62.4 percent clip. He’s not one of the best gunslingers in the game, but he’s good enough to win a lot of football games in the SEC.
No stranger to close games
Seven of South Carolina’s games were determined by 10 points or less, with the Gamecocks going 5-2 in those contests. With the exception of the season finale against Clemson, they weren’t really blown out of any games, either.
Thanks to a strong defense, South Carolina has hung around in just about every matchup this season. This is a team that’s comfortable competing in fourth quarter games.
First winning season since 2014
Yes, South Carolina reached a bowl game last season, but a loss in the Birmingham Bowl cost the Gamecocks an opportunity to be on the right side of the .500 mark. Instead, they ended the year 6-7, posting a second-straight losing season.
There’s not been too much to celebrate in Columbia since Steve Spurrier departed in 2015 but this is a program on the rise. With an 8-4 mark in the regular season, the Gamecocks are guaranteed a winning year regardless of the outcome in the Outback Bowl.
All-SEC caliber defenders
Linebacker Skai Moore was a First-Team All-SEC selection after posting a team-high 88 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three interceptions. He’s been the heart and soul of a really talented SC defense.
Defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum wasn’t an All-SEC pick — somewhat of a snub — but he’s good enough to start on a lot of front lines across the country. Wonnuum had the second-most tackles for loss in the SEC (13) and 13th in sacks (6). He’s a tough guy to stop in the trenches.