The 2018 Outback Bowl will take place on New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., and it will host a matchup between a team from the Big Ten Conference and a team from the Southeastern Conference. The game will be played at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
While it can be argued that the Wolverines had a somewhat disappointing season at 8-4, they still landed in a prime bowl against a South Carolina team that arguably overachieved with an 8-4 mark of its own.
The Gamecocks prevailed 33-28 in the previous Outback Bowl meeting between the two teams, but the Wolverines enter Monday’s contest as the clear favorite.
With two power conference teams looking to end their seasons on a high note, here is everything you need to know about how and when to watch the Outback Bowl between Michigan and South Carolina.
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
When: Jan. 1, 2018 at 12 p.m. ET
Odds (via OddsShark): Michigan (-7.5)
Michigan Player to Watch: Karan Higdon
In a season that saw Michigan employ a quarterback carousel between Brandon Peters, Wilton Speight and John O’Korn, running back Karan Higdon has been the one constant on offense.
The junior from Sarasota, Florida, has oftentimes put the Wolverines’ offense on his back in rushing for 929 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with seven receptions for 120 yards.
If Higdon can gain 71 or more yards in the Outback Bowl, he will become the first Michigan player since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
As a team, Michigan has rushed for more than 2,200 yards this season, and while Higdon has led the way, he is far from alone.
Chris Evans has added 661 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, while bruising senior Ty Isaac has contributed 548 yards and two scores as well.
Although Michigan will undoubtedly deploy multiple running backs and hit South Carolina with a varied attack, Higdon is the most dynamic and efficient back the Wolverines have to offer.
With Michigan quarterbacks accounting for just 2,023 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions through the air this season, the Wolverines’ offense will be dependent on running early and often against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina Player to Watch: Jake Bentley
Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley has had his ups and downs for the Gamecocks this season, but there is little doubt he will be one of the primary deciding factors in whether South Carolina is able to pull off an upset in the Outback Bowl.
So far this season, Bentley has completed a solid 62.4 percent of his passes for 2,555 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing for 86 yards and six more scores.
He is coming off his worst performance of the season, Clemson’s dominant defense limiting him to 126 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions with much of that yardage coming when the game was well in hand for the Tigers.
Bentley rushed for two touchdowns in three of the four games prior to that, though, proving he is a dual threat capable of taking matters solely into his own hands when needed.
Unlike Michigan, South Carolina isn’t a great rushing team, as it rushed for 1,527 yards this season, and its leading rusher is A.J. Turner with just 517 yards.
The Gamecocks aren’t exactly brimming with big-time playmakers in the passing game either, as Bryan Edwards is tops on the team with 59 receptions for 705 yards and four touchdowns.
South Carolina is a work in progress around Bentley, and the way the team is currently constructed requires him to be its primary playmaker on offense, while the defense forces turnovers and limits the opposition.
Michigan’s defense is among the best South Carolina has faced all season, and it will be a major challenge for Bentley, especially on the heels of his struggles against Clemson.
Michigan and South Carolina aren’t quite mirror images, but there are many similarities between the teams that should make the Outback Bowl an intriguing game. Both teams have excelled on defense this season while struggling on offense, so it could be a battle of attrition where every point and every yard matters significantly.
Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines are a disappointing 88th in the nation in scoring at 25.8 points per game, but they are 14th in scoring defense at 18.2 points per game.
Similarly, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks are 98th in scoring offense (24.1 points per game) and 26th in scoring defense (20.8 points per game).
The biggest difference between the two teams may be the fact Michigan is more battle-tested, as it faced the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State in Big Ten play.
South Carolina played Georgia and Clemson; however, it was thoroughly outclassed in both of those games. It also suffered a bad loss to Kentucky and had close calls versus the likes of Tennessee and Louisiana Tech.
The Outback Bowl figures to be a low-scoring affair, but with Michigan’s ability to control the ball on offense and stop the run defensively, it holds a clear advantage over the gritty Gamecocks.