The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl is back in a big way this year.
After snaring one of the best bowl matchups outside the New Year's Day Six games, the expected crowd at TIAA Bank Field on Friday is likely to surpass the combined attendance of the previous two games, which had challenges for two different reasons:
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, capacity was limited to around 17,000 for Kentucky's 23-21 victory over N.C. State in 2020.
When Texas A&M had to opt out last year because of injuries, players leaving early to prepare for the NFL Draft and a rash of positive COVID tests within the program, and Rutgers was an emergency replacement just a week before the game. Because of the short notice and travel difficulties from the Northeast, only 28,508 attended Wake's 38-10 victory — the lowest since 1954.
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This time, with college football's strongest national brand in No. 21 Notre Dame against one of the hottest teams in the nation over the final two weeks of the regular season, No. 19 South Carolina, the attendance is projected to more than double last year and could be the largest crowd since the bowl record was set with 84,129 at the 2010 game between Florida State and West Virginia that was Bobby Bowden's final game as the Seminoles' coach.
The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and aired on ESPN. It's the lead-in to Tennessee vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl — coincidentally, the two top-10 teams that the Gamecocks beat to insure their 8-4 regular-season record.
The Irish (also 8-4) rebounded from an 0-2 start to win eight of nine games and five in a row at one point.
This will be the fifth meeting between the two teams. The Irish won three of the four games, winning 13-6 in 1976 in Columbia, S.C., 18-17 in 1979 in South Bend, Ind., and 30-6 in 1983 in Columbia.
South Carolina won the last game, outlasting Notre Dame 36-32 in 1984 in South Bend.
South Carolina at a glance
Coach: Shane Beamer (15-10 overall).
Bowl record: 10-14.
Last bowl: Defeated North Carolina 38-21 in the 2021 Duke's Mayo Bowl.
Gator Bowl record: 0-4.
Last Gator Bowl: Lost 30-13 to LSU in 1987.
Players to watch: QB Spencer Rattler (2,780 yards, 16 TDs, 11 interceptions, .667); WR Antwane Wells Jr., (63-898, 14.3, six TDs); RB Juju McDowell (191 yards, two touchdowns, 21 receptions, 192 yards, one TD); SS Nick Emmanwori (78 tackles); LB Sherrod Greene (65 tackles, 2.5 for losses, one interception); DT Tonka Hemingway (29 tackles, seven for losses, four sacks, two fumble recoveries); CB Marcellas Dial (three interceptions, 11 PBUs); P Kai Kroeger (46.8 per kick, 27 downed inside the 20).
Best victories: The Gamecocks routed No. 5 Tennessee 63-38 and edged No. 8 Clemson 31-30 in their final two games. They also beat Texas A&M 30-24 and No. 13 Kentucky 24-14. In beating the Vols and Tigers, USC became the seventh team in NCAA history and the first since 2003 to be unranked and beat top-10 teams two weeks in a row.
Inside football: Football Outsiders, which ranks college special teams, has the Gamecocks first in the nation and ESPN has them first in special-teams efficiency. South Carolina is tied for third in the nation with six blocked kicks (Notre Dame has seven), is sixth in kickoff returns, third in punt returns and fifth in net punting.
Beamer on a dozen players who have left the team before the bowl: "We told the players in the first team meeting that if you’re in this room, you’re telling us this bowl game is really, really important to you. The way they’ve practiced and the way they’ve handled themselves has shown me that."
Notre Dame at a glance
Coach: Marcus Freeman (8-5 overall).
Bowl record: 19-21.
Last bowl: Lost to Oklahoma State 37-35 in the 2021 Fiesta Bowl.
Gator Bowl record: 1-2.
Last Gator Bowl: Lost 28-6 to N.C. State in 2003.
Players to watch: RB Audric Estime (825 yards, 11 TDs); RB Logan Diggs (732 yards, three TDs); WR Lorenzo Styles (30-340, 11.3, one TD); QB Tyler Buchner (378 yards, .560); DB J.D. Bertrand (74 tackles, eight for losses); CB Benjamin Morrison (30 tackles, five interceptions four PBUs); S Houston Griffith (33 tackles, school-record tying 61 games played).
Best victories: The Irish beat No. 16 BYU 28-20, No. 16 Syracuse 41-24 and No. 5 Clemson 35-14.
Inside football: Notre Dame is tied for 15th in the nation in committing the fewest penalties per game (4.6), tied for 24th in the fewest yards per game (42.5), is 23rd in third-down conversions (.459) and 29th in time of possession (31+ minutes per game). When the Irish keep the ball for 30 or more minutes, they're 7-0 this season.
Freeman's take on Buchner returning as a starter: “He’s done great. He’s progressing from not playing football for so many weeks. Every day he gets better and better in his decision-making and just getting back there and having live reps. To have him out there getting live reps has been really good.
Game Day information
Parking: Stadium lots are sold out. Private lots vary in price and are more expensive the closer they are to the stadium. Stadium lots will open at 8 a.m., and stadium gates will open at 1:30 p.m.
Traffic: City and Gator Bowl officials remind fans to arrive early due to the anticipated crowd and continued road construction around the stadium area.
Clear bag policy: TIAA Bank Field has a clear bag policy. Nonclear bags or wallets must be no larger than 4.5 by 6.5 inches and clear bags no larger than 12 by 6 by 12.
Mobile tickets and cashless transactions: Tickets are mobile and should be downloaded on cell phones before arriving at the ticket kiosks. Cash is not accepted for parking, concessions, or other merchandise.
Smoke-free: TIAA Bank Field and surrounding areas are smoke-free. Tobacco products, including e-cigarettes are prohibited.
Public transportation: JTA will begin its Gameday Xpress shuttles at 1:30 p.m. from two lots, SouthBank — Kings Avenue Parking Garage at 1201 Kings Avenue ($10) and Southside — JTA Park-n-Ride at 7000 Philips Highway ($15). The fare is round-trip. Shuttles will run until one hour after the game.
Gameday Xpress is cashless, with passes available for purchase and use through the MyJTA App. You can purchase your passes at any time, but JTA recommends buying them prior to arriving at the shuttle lots.
All Gameday Xpress riders will be dropped in Lot B, located on Haines Street between Gates 3 and 4 at TIAA Bank Field.
Following the game, please return to Lot B to board your shuttle back to the Gameday Xpress lots.
The JTA Skyway is complimentary and will open at 6 a.m. and close at midnight.
The Jacksonville River Taxi is available from the SouthBank Hotel dock and on the NorthBank at Riverfront Plaza. The fee is $20 round-trip and fans will be dropped off and picked up at the stadium dock.
Rideshare passengers will be dropped off and picked up at Lot Z on Duval Street.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Notre Dame vs. South Carolina: What to expect, how to get there for TaxSlayer Gator Bowl