For the first time in three years, South Carolina football will go bowling.
The Gamecocks (6-6) are headed to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl to face the North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Thursday, Dec. 30 to cap off head coach Shane Beamer’s first season at the helm.
South Carolina’s most recent bowl appearance was in the same spot — today’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl was known as the Belk Bowl from 2011-19 — where the Gamecocks lost to Virginia 28-0 in 2018.
The Gamecocks and Tar Heels have met 58 times in their history. UNC carries a 35-19-4 advantage in the rivalry and won the last matchup 24-20 on Aug. 31, 2019, a game also held in Charlotte. South Carolina has won three of its last four meetings with North Carolina.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Gamecocks’ 2021 bowl game.
How to watch South Carolina vs UNC in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl
Who: South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6, 3-5 SEC) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6, 3-5 ACC)
Where: Bank of America Stadium (74,867) in Charlotte, N.C.
When: 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 30
USC bowl game betting odds
South Carolina opened a 5.5 point favorite in the game, according to Caesars Sportsbook.
The state of the Gamecocks
The odds were stacked against a South Carolina bowl berth in 2021, with Vegas predicting three or four wins for Beamer’s first season. The Gamecocks reached six wins with an Oct. 17 victory over Auburn, adding to its previous victories over Eastern Illinois, East Carolina, Vanderbilt, Troy and Florida.
The Gamecocks were strong defensively in 2021, led by USA Today All-American Jaylan Foster, who finished the regular season tied for first place with five interceptions.
First-year defensive coordinator Clayton White coached the SEC’s sixth-best total defense (357.7 yards per game) and second-best passing defense, which allowed 178.8 yards per game in 2021. South Carolina’s passing defense finished the season ranked No. 9 in the nation.
USC’s primary issues came on offense, which struggled to find consistency under first-year offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield. South Carolina finished the season ranked No. 116 in total offense, No. 96 in passing offense and No. 104 in rushing offense out of 130 FBS teams.
The Gamecocks were forced to play three different quarterbacks due to Luke Doty’s preseason foot injury that was reaggravated, requiring surgery in mid-October. The subsequent back-and-forth between Game 1 starter Zeb Noland and current starter Jason Brown resulted in Brown — initially a third-string quarterback and transfer from FCS St. Francis — taking the reins to close the season.
South Carolina ended 2021 with a 30-0 shutout loss at home against Clemson behind the season’s second-worst offensive performance (206 total yards) and will look to avoid finishing Beamer’s first season with a losing record.
The state of the North Carolina Tar Heels
Head coach Mack Brown, in the third year of his second stint leading North Carolina, had the Tar Heels ranked in The Associated Press preseason top 10 before falling from grace in their season opening 17-10 loss against Virginia Tech.
UNC fell out of the Top 25 after a Week 4 loss to Georgia Tech and didn’t crack the polls again, finishing 6-6 (3-5 ACC). The Tar Heels had a tough time playing away from Chapel Hill, going 0-5 on the road in 2021.
North Carolina upset then-No. 9 Wake Forest at home Nov. 6 for its best win of the season, taking a 58-55 victory over the eventual ACC Atlantic Division champions. The Tar Heels then recorded close losses to then-No. 21 Pittsburgh (30-23 in overtime Nov. 11) and then-No. 20 N.C. State (34-30 on Nov. 26) to close out the season.
UNC junior quarterback Sam Howell has sent mixed messages on whether he’d declare for the 2022 NFL Draft, though he walked for the Tar Heels’ senior day. It’s uncertain whether or not he’ll play in the bowl game or opt out to prepare for the draft.
In his three seasons at North Carolina, Howell has set a number of program records, including total offense (11,084 yards), passing yards (10,078) and passing touchdowns (91). In 2021, he completed 62.7% of his passes for 2,851 yards and 23 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
3 UNC players to watch
Josh Downs, WR: The top choice at wideout for program record-setting quarterback Sam Howell, Downs set UNC records himself with a school-high 98 receptions for 1,273 yards in his sophomore year. He tallied five games with at least 100 yards receiving this season, highlighted by a 203-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Tar Heels’ 59-39 victory over Virginia on Sept. 18.
Ty Chandler, RB: Chandler rushed for 1,063 yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season and earned All-ACC second team honors for his performance, which included another 215 yards and a touchdown receiving. Chandler rushed for 213 yards and four touchdowns in the Tar Heels’ upset over Wake Forest, averaging 9.7 yards per carry in the UNC win.
Myles Murphy, DL: The 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive lineman and former Gamecock recruiting target earned All-ACC second team designation behind a sophomore season where he came down with 32 tackles (8.5 for loss), four sacks and three pass break-ups.