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Gamecocks, Cavaliers Both Seek Eighth Win in Belk Bowl Showdown

Jake Bentley

Defense meets offense as the Virginia Cavaliers face the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Belk Bowl on Saturday in Charlotte. Virginia rode a 24th-ranked defense to a 7-5 campaign (4-4 in ACC play), rewarding its backers to the tune of an 8-4 record against the spread. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s strength this year has been on the offensive side of the ball, where the Gamecocks (7-5 overall, 4-4 SEC) offset a 92nd-ranked defense by gaining the 24th-most yards in the nation. South Carolina is a 5-point favorite, and the total was promptly bet down to 53.5 points after opening at 55.

SHARK BITES
  • South Carolina is 4-1 ATS in its last five games.
  • Virginia is 1-4 SU and ATS in its last five games against the SEC.
  • South Carolina is 12-4 ATS in its last 16 games against the Atlantic Coast.

South Carolina vs Virginia Belk Bowl Game Center 

SOUTH CAROLINA EXCITED TO PLAY IN BELK BOWL

While some teams from Power 5 conferences don’t seem to get too excited about playing in lower-profile bowl games, South Carolina players and coaches are saying all the right things about the opportunity to play in the Belk Bowl. “We’re going to go out there and prepare and we’re going to treat it like it’s the national championship,” Gamecocks senior quarterback Michael Scarnecchia told reporters.

Under head coach Will Muschamp, South Carolina is 2-0 ATS in bowl games, including a 26-19 upset of Michigan last year in the Outback Bowl. The Cocks have also won five of their last six bowl games, with the one loss coming in overtime two years ago against the favored South Florida Bulls. That said, Muschamp makes sure not to burn his players out during preparation for bowl games, noting that playing in a bowl game is a “reward” for players when he explained why the Gamecocks will practice only nine times in advance of the Belk Bowl (most teams practice at least 15 times before a bowl game).

South Carolina also comes into this game with plenty of momentum. The Gamecocks have covered four of their last five, and the non-cover was as a 25.5-point favorite over Akron (South Carolina won 28-3).

VIRGINIA HAS STRUGGLED AGAINST TOUGHER OPPOSITION

At first glance, the Cavaliers’ season-long defensive numbers look impressive. Virginia was 14th in the nation against the pass, 24th in total yards allowed and 27th in points allowed per game.

However, much of the Cavs’ defensive success this year came against weaker attacks. Virginia allowed a combined total of 43 points in wins over Richmond, Louisville and offensively challenged squads Miami and Duke. The strongest pass offense the Cavaliers faced this season was North Carolina State (sixth in passing yards per game), and Virginia allowed 25 first downs and 35 points in a 35-21 loss. The Cavaliers also gave up 64 points in their final two games of the year and haven’t held an opponent below 21 points since late October.

South Carolina’s Jake Bentley may be the best quarterback Virginia has faced this season. And while the Cavaliers defense has trended the wrong way down the stretch of the campaign, Bentley’s been getting better, posting a 12:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his final three games while averaging nearly 350 yards per contest.

LOOK FOR SEC DOMINATION OF ACC TO CONTINUE

It likely comes as no surprise to hear that the SEC has dominated matchups with the ACC in bowl games over the years. The SEC has won 43 of 69 all-time meetings between the conferences in postseason play, although the average margin of victory in those games is less than four points.

The results of SEC/ACC play are even more pronounced when these programs are involved. Virginia has lost four of its last five against SEC opposition and been outscored 74-31 in its last two. Meanwhile, South Carolina has fattened up on ACC foes over the past decade, going 14-6 ATS and 12-8 overall in its last 20. If you exclude Clemson from the mix, the Cocks have won seven of their last eight against teams from the Atlantic Coast.

Expect these trends to continue here. South Carolina’s got the superior athletes and is battle-tested from games against Clemson, Florida, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Missouri, while Virginia has played a much softer schedule and struggled in its step-up games. I expect a double-digit victory from South Carolina and a relatively easy cover.

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