It just means more. That SEC maxim will be put to the test when we see crowd shots of this year’s Belk Bowl between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Virginia Cavaliers. South Carolina finished fourth in the SEC East this year, while Virginia finished in a tie for third in the ACC Coastal. The Cavaliers should be plenty excited for this one though. They are seeking their first bowl win since 2005.
Virginia Cavaliers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Belk Bowl Betting Odds: South Carolina -4, O/U 54.5 Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina Date and Time: Saturday, December 29, 2018, 12 p.m. ET Belk Bowl TV Coverage: ABC
South Carolina were seen as the team most likely to win the SEC East if Georgia were to stumble by many prior to the start of the year, but the Gamecocks didn’t have a lot of success in conference play. They went 4-4 in SEC play this year and three of those wins were by four points or less. The only team they convincingly defeated was Vanderbilt, but to be fair, South Carolina nearly defeated both Florida and Texas A&M. The Gamecocks closed out their season with a ho-hum 28-3 victory over Akron.
The Wahoos are going to be wondering what could have been for much of the offseason. They were 6-2 and in the driver’s seat to win the ACC Coastal at the end of October, but Virginia fell apart in the month of November. The Cavaliers blew a halftime lead over Pittsburgh and lost in overtime to both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech to go 1-3 down the stretch.
Injuries and Absences
You’d be forgiven if you looked at South Carolina’s injury report and assumed the Gamecocks reserved a hospital ward for themselves. They have had a number of injuries this year, and the defensive line and receiving corps have been particularly hard hit. Defensive linemen DJ Wonnum, Aaron Sterling, Daniel Fennell, and Jesus Gibbs are all out for this game, and Keir Thomas is considered questionable. Wide receivers OrTre Smith and Deebo Samuel have been ruled out for this game too, while Shi Smith and Randrecous Davis are questionable.
Virginia is banged up in the front seven. Linebackers Dominic Sheppard and Malcolm Cook were lost for the season, and defensive linemen Mandy Alonso, John Kirven, and Richard Burney are out as well. Offensive tackle Gerrick Volmer is questionable to play.
Will Muschamp appears to be in it for the long haul at South Carolina. The defensive guru is in his third year as the head coach at South Carolina, and his fiery attitude and intensity meshes well with the fan base. He has continued to make the Gamecocks relevant after the retirement of Steve Spurrier, and Muschamp’s defenses have been among the best in the country during his tenure. He is 1-1 in bowl games at South Carolina.
Many saw it as a coup when Virginia was able to steal Bronco Mendenhall away from BYU, and after a disastrous first season, he has rebuilt the program. The Cavaliers were ranked for the first time in seven years earlier this season, and the school is guaranteed to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2011 as well. Like Muschamp, he is more of a defensive mind, and he isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Player to Watch
There’s a chance that this is Jake Bentley’s last game as South Carolina’s quarterback. Bentley is a potential mid- to late-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and he may decide to test the waters as this is a relatively weak quarterback class. The junior from Opelika has the measurables NFL teams are looking for, and he has put up good numbers in a conference known for its defense. He has been asked repeatedly about his intentions since the conclusion of the regular season, and he has yet to give a definitive answer.
Bentley has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards this season, but he is very likely to throw at least one interception in this game too. Virginia has a good secondary, and Bentley threw 12 picks in 11 games.
Belk Bowl Pick
Virginia is likely to be motivated for this game, but South Carolina is a more talented team and Bentley will have something to prove. I think the over is a good play, and I would lean towards backing the Gamecocks too provided Bentley plays.