Gamecocks, Michigan have much at stake

BY DENNIS BRUNSON
dennis@theitem.com
Posted 12/31/17

Back somewhere around the end of August, I read where a wise college football soothsayer predicted the University of South Carolina football team would go 7-5 in 2017.Of course, USC went 8-4, and this sage said if that happened then it was …

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Gamecocks, Michigan have much at stake

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Back somewhere around the end of August, I read where a wise college football soothsayer predicted the University of South Carolina football team would go 7-5 in 2017.

Of course, USC went 8-4, and this sage said if that happened then it was heel-clicking time for Carolina fans considering the youth of the team.

So, should Gamecock Nation be satisfied with the program's progress in the second year under head coach Will Muschamp regardless of what happens against Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Monday? Yes - and no. As for the players, it's an emphatic no.

South Carolina has the chance to win nine games in a season for only the seventh time in program history, but more importantly, a bowl triumph makes a greater statement of what Muschamp has accomplished, and it definitely gives a different look to the public perception of the program on a national level.

While the vast majority of the bowl games outside of the obvious College Football Playoff semifinals and the other "big name" bowls do not have a lot at stake, both USC and the Wolverines definitely have much for which to play.

And for Michigan, just as mentioned above with Carolina, it is that public perception on a nationwide level. A win makes the Wolverines 9-4 and makes it look as though they were victims of a tough Big 10 Conference after winning 10 games in the first two seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

A loss though, coupled with a combined 1-5 record against main rivals Ohio State and Michigan State in Harbaugh's three seasons, makes it

look as though the program has taken a bit of a dip.

Thus, there is quite a bit on the line for both teams, but it is the Gamecocks who should be playing with the chip on their shoulders. Say what you will, but Michigan is regarded as one of the premier programs in the country, regardless of record. South Carolina is not, and that should provide it with plenty of motivation.

The fact USC is debuting a new offensive coordinator in Bryan McLendon adds to the intrigue. McLendon will be calling his first game. He is being considered for the gig on a permanent basis, so how he does will likely have something to do with Muschamp's ultimate decision.

And that raises the question as to what exactly will McLendon do. With predecessor Kurt Roper having been accused of a lack of creativity and no real identity in what he was doing, McLendon is likely to spice things up a bit. However, one has to think he doesn't want to go too overboard in case none of his innovations work.

This leads the Wolverine defense not quite knowing what will be coming its way on Monday, and that could certainly work to Carolina's favor. Michigan though has one of the top defenses in the country, and its prowess may cause USC all kinds of problems.

Also, the knowledge that assistant coach Bobby Bentley has had a few weeks to work with son and Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley adds to the questions surrounding the offense. South Carolina fans are no doubt hoping that daddy's work causes an amazing transformation to his son's play.

There's no secret that the Wolverines' offensive success hinges on their running game. They have no player with 30 catches and none of the three quarterbacks they've started have had any real success.

Therefore, Carolina would be wise to focus on stopping the run and making Michigan win with its passing game.

This is much easier said than done. Somehow though, I think USC will get enough done to pull out a 23-20 victory.