Photo: Sara Yang/The Daily Gamecock

Gamecocks selected to face Michigan in Outback bowl

Sunday was like Christmas for many college football fans who found out which bowl game their teams will play in this postseason. 

For the Gamecocks and their fans, the news was something they've heard before. 

On Jan. 1 at noon, South Carolina will take on a familiar foe in the Michigan Wolverines. 

This will be the first matchup between these two teams since 2013 when the Gamecocks took on the Wolverines in the Outback Bowl. 

As almost every college football fan knows, that game in 2013 was also when Jadeveon Clowney delivered the "hit heard 'round the world." This game displays two completely different teams compared to the 2013 squads, but it still has all the makings of a highly contested ball game. 

This matchup features two teams that both finished with eight wins on the season. 

For Gamecock fans, eight wins is a sign of improvement and shows that the program is trending in the right direction.

"I’d like to congratulate head coach Will Muschamp for his leadership of our football program,” said  athletics director Ray Tanner. “It’s a compliment to him, his staff and the players for the tremendous strides we’ve made over the past two years, and their hard work has been rewarded with a New Year’s Day bowl."

For Wolverine fans, eight wins was not the desired outcome.

After starting the year with four straight wins and cracking the Top 10, Michigan was riding high and hoping that this was its year. With losses to Michigan State and Penn State in a three-week span, things began to fall off for the Wolverines. After losing their starting quarterback Wilton Speight to a neck injury, the Wolverines could never quite get back on track. The Wolverines are currently on a two-game skid and will look to end their season on a high note against the Gamecocks. 

South Carolina was able to find more success on the field this year compared to last season's 6-7 campaign. A large part of its success came from a defensive standpoint. Compared to last year's defense, the Gamecocks have improved in key areas that hurt them last season. For the year, South Carolina led the SEC in turnovers forced with 23, increased its sack total and turnover margin and decreased its points per game allowed and rushing yards — all areas that are key to winning close ballgames.

The offense would sputter at times, but more times than not, the defense has been able to hold the weight and handle tough situations this season. 

Another bonus for the Gamecocks will be the extra 15 bowl practices that come with the game. South Carolina is no doubt still in the middle of a rebuild, but head coach Will Muschamp knows that this game is an opportunity to get better and to become the seventh team in school history to win nine or more games in a season. 

With 70 percent of the roster made up of freshmen and sophomores, this extra game allows the Gamecocks the opportunity to improve, Muschamp said. 

"As much as anything, football is a developmental game," Muschamp said. "Probably the first three or four practices will be strictly our underclassmen to continue to work and develop those guys ... It's an opportunity for these guys to take a huge step forward, and feel good about themselves going in the offseason and going in the spring ball."

Competition for starting roles will be more tough at some positions for the Outback Bowl. Muschamp expects Rico Dowdle, Shi Smith and K.C. Crosby to all be healthy for the game. All three of these players are capable of making a statement. 

"We're there to win the game, the fun's in winning. If you don't win, they give you all these nice bowl sweats, and you don't want to wear them. You might as well win the game, and that's what we're going to do," Muschamp said. 

The official time and date for the Outback Bowl is Jan. 1st at noon on ESPN2. 



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