Despite South Carolina’s disappointing finish in the SEC East and conference overall, it has been a historically above-average season.
A win in the Belk Bowl Saturday against Virginia would mark the seventh back-to-back eight-win seasons for the Gamecocks. It would also be the 17th win in the last two seasons, an accomplishment the program has reached just five times and not since 2013-14. South Carolina’s recent bowl history is a loss to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl two years ago and a win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl last year. The Gamecocks have won five of their last six bowls since the end of the 2011 season.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are in a bowl game in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002-06.
Here are 10 bold predictions for the Belk Bowl:
1. A high-scoring affair
Virginia allowed at least 30 points in four games during the regular season while South Carolina had five such games, including two opponents who topped 40 points. The Belk Bowl has a history of being a high-scoring bowl, with the winner in each of the past six meetings scoring at least 30 points and three scoring at least 48. The over/under opened at 54.5.
2. Jake Bentley will pass for 3 TDs
The South Carolina QB is slowly making his way across the program record book, and he is in striking distance of 30 touchdowns, which would make him the first player in program history to accomplish such a feat. Steve Taneyhill set the school record of 29 in 1995. Bentley is sitting at a career-high 27 touchdowns and 2,953 yards. The yardage mark is still a ways out, 3,564 from Dylan Thompson in 2014. But 254 yards would give Bentley second place.
3. Bryce Perkins will torch the Gamecocks secondary
The Virginia QB set the Cavaliers’ single-season record for total yardage this year with 3,314, plus 31 touchdowns. He has drawn comparisons to former South Florida QB Quinton Flowers, who lit up the Gamecocks for 261 passing yards and 105 rushing yards in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl. However, Flowers is 5-foot-11 and 214 pounds and moved to running back in the NFL, while Perkins is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds.
4. Airing it out
South Carolina will have a sixth pass of at least 70 yards this season. The five in the regular season are already a school record, and Bentley has thrown 9 completions of at least 50 yards, including one in six straight games.
5. Dakereon Joyner will make a splash
Gamecocks fans have waited for this all season, and there have been glimpses, such as when Joyner passed Jay Urich on the depth chart. Joyner is an ideal scout team performer to model after Virginia QB Perkins. But that doesn’t mean he’ll make a play at quarterback. Look for a trick play at wide receiver or running back to deliver something to talk about in the offseason.
6. A receiver not named Deebo Samuel will shine
With the star wide receiver sitting out the game, the Gamecocks will have plenty of time and space to give Bryan Edwards and the rest of the receivers a chance to make a play. There have been plenty of games, such as against Tennessee and Ole Miss, in which Samuel hasn’t made the most plays. And with him leaving for the NFL, the bowl will offer a glimpse of the passing offense in 2019, meaning Shi Smith and Josh Vann will get more opportunities.
7. Rashad Fenton will deliver an interception
The team interception leader hasn’t made one since the Kentucky game on Sept. 29. But he’s one of a handful of Gamecocks playing their last game, and coach Will Muschamp has made it clear that they should focus on turning in a memorable effort as their final college football memory. While Fenton has struggled some late in the season, he also can line up at nickelback, which gives him plenty of opportunities to make at least his fourth pick.
8. Bryson Allen-Williams will make silver-screen performance
The once-injured linebacker was initially thought to be finished for the season, but after ankle surgery, he’s set to start at the “Buck” position. He was injured in the Ole Miss game on Nov. 3; at the time he was fifth on the team with 36 total tackles to go with 2 sacks and 5 quarterback hurries. He’ll return after missing four games and will leave an indelible memory on the season.
9. South Carolina will spark dark horse talk again
The Gamecocks were a popular dark horse pick to win the SEC East this season. But after they started 3-3, that discussion quickly evaporated. However, they shrugged off inconsistent play to win four of their final six games. With an upgraded recruiting class, a bowl win and one of the more experienced quarterbacks around, South Carolina will kickstart another round of offseason talk that it can unseat Georgia in the East.
10. Rico Dowdle again emerges as the featured back
Dowdle has shown flashes, such as against Tennessee with 140 rushing yards and a touchdown, but overall he has topped 100 yards just three times this season. Against the ACC’s sixth-ranked rushing defense, Dowdle will make another splash with a 100-yard game and 2 touchdowns. The team hasn’t had a rushing touchdown the last two games, and with A.J. Turner moving to defense, Dowdle has a clear path to retake the featured role.