The new year kicks off with the 2018 Outback Bowl between the Michigan Wolverines and South Carolina Gamecocks. Kickoff is at noon EST on Monday, January 1 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Oddsmakers view Michigan as an 8.5-point favorite over South Carolina. The over/under is set at 43 points. Click here for a full list of bowl game betting odds and links to game previews.

Outback Bowl Vegas Odds Preview: Michigan vs South Carolina

The season as a whole has to be seen as a disappointment for Michigan. After back-to-back 10-win seasons in Jim Harbaugh’s first two years in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines were just 8-4 in 2017, going 5-4 in conference play. Even worse, the Wolverines lost all of their big rivalry games.

That being said, Michigan should be inspired to play their best in the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines lost their last two games of the regular season, and they’ll want to get that taste out of their mouth. Harbaugh and Michigan will also relish the opportunity to knock off a team from the SEC.

Conversely, the Gamecocks will be quite pleased with their 8-4 campaign. Two of South Carolina’s four losses came to teams in the College Football Playoff, so they won’t be too upset about being 8-4, especially since they finished second in the SEC East. 

These two schools are not frequent opponents of one another. But they did meet in a rather memorable Outback Bowl at the end of the 2012 season. That game is best remembered for Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith and South Carolina’s game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left. We can only hope for an equally memorable game this time around.

2017 Outback Bowl Free Pick & Betting Predictions: South Carolina +8.5

My early lean in this game is toward South Carolina. For the record, I like Michigan to win the game, but I can’t get onboard with a spread this big. The Gamecocks are too tough defensively, and I don’t see how Michigan can score enough points to beat an 8.5-point spread. I’ll gladly take South Carolina and the points in this game.

Of course, the caveat to leaning toward South Carolina in this game is that they’re unlikely to score many points. The Gamecocks struggled so much this season that they actually fired their offensive coordinator after the season.

South Carolina is still lacking dynamic skill players on offense. Meanwhile, quarterback Jake Bentley became turnover prone late in the season. In his final four games, he had just three touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. To be fair, two of those games came against Georgia and Clemson. 

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However, playing a Michigan defense that’s had a month to prepare isn’t likely to help the South Carolina offense. The Wolverines gave up an average of 18 points per game this season. The only three teams that scored more than 20 points against Michigan are currently ranked in the top-10. In short, points will be at a premium for South Carolina, who may struggle to sustain drives in this game.

At the same time, I’m not expecting much from the Michigan offense. Quarterback Brandon Peters will return from concussion protocol to get the start against South Carolina. He played well this year, but primarily as a game manager against overmatched teams. Moving the ball against the South Carolina defense will be far more challenging than facing Minnesota or Maryland.

The South Carolina defense was nearly as stingy as the Michigan defense this year. The Gamecocks allowed just over 20 points per game. Against an inexperienced quarterback and an offense without much of a downfield passing game, I don’t see the Gamecocks giving up too many points to the Michigan offense.

Ultimately, I expect this to be a low-scoring, defensive slugfest. If either team has an easy time moving the ball I’d be surprised. That translates to neither team being able to build a comfortable lead. In the end, I think Michigan will win, but they won’t cover the spread.