South Carolina’s football team plans to use its berth in the Outback Bowl as part audition for its younger players and part opportunity to make school history.
The Gamecocks (8-4) would become only the seventh team in school history to win nine or more games in a season if they can beat Michigan (8-4) on Jan. 1 in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
“That’s a huge deal to our football team,” head coach Will Muschamp said Sunday evening after the bid was announced.
It will be South Carolina’s fifth Outback Bowl appearance and first since it played the Wolverines in 2013, a 33-28 Gamecocks victory that included “The Hit” by Jadeveon Clowney. South Carolina is 3-1 in its four previous appearances in the game, which will be played at noon and broadcast on ESPN.
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“It’s another opportunity to show more progress within our program,” Muschamp said. “We have shown some tremendous progress. Seventy percent of our roster is freshmen and sophomores. We’re an up-and-coming team. It’s an exciting time as a Gamecock.”
South Carolina was 3-9 in 2015, the season before Muschamp took over. He is 14-11 in two seasons with the team.
“It’s been a fun team to be around as far as preparation and how they have competed and played. It’s been exciting,” he said. “We have to continue to move forward. We have to continue to get better. We still have a ways to go, but we certainly have made some progress. I see it as a coach because I am around it every day. For your fan base to see the progress from three wins to where we are today is very exciting.”
South Carolina is 2-1 all-time against Michigan, which has the nation’s winningest all-time football program (943 wins). Both teams have played Florida this season. The Wolverines (8-4) beat the Gators 33-17 in the season opener. The Gamecocks beat the Gators 28-20 on Nov. 11.
Running back Rico Dowdle and tight end K.C. Crosby both will return from broken legs to play in the game. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel (leg, foot) and linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams (shoulder) will not play. Wide receiver Terry Googer (concussion) is doubtful.
Muschamp did not announce when his team will begin bowl practices but did say he will approach it as “essentially another spring practice” and have several practices for only the team’s underclassmen and players who haven’t played much this season.
“Football is a developmental game,” Muschamp said. “You have to take snaps, and it’s hard to do it one-on-one or two-on-two. You have to be able to go out there and play the game. This will give us that opportunity.”