Saturday features the most important bowl games of the season. Sorry Belk Bowl, you are not one of them. Notre Dame and Clemson will meet in the one semi-final, the Cotton Bowl, while Oklahoma and Alabama in the Orange Bowl, which is the other semi-final. After Saturday, the National Championship will be set.
We also have a few games to lead us into the College Football Playoff. Other than the Cotton and Orange Bowl, the Peach Bowl is the biggest game of the day. The Peach Bowl features the Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines. It almost feels like an annual event Florida and Michigan meeting in a bowl game. Elsewhere in college football, there is the Belk and Arizona Bowl.
The Belk Bowl keeps it in the Southeast, as the South Carolina Gamecocks take on the Virginia Cavaliers. South Carolina was decent this season, but that’s been the recurring theme for the Gamecocks. Decent isn’t good enough in the SEC, and as such, they had an average 7-5 season.
Going to marginal bowl games has to be getting exhausting for South Carolina fans. The last three bowls for South Carolina resulted in appearances in the Outback Bowl, Birmingham Bowl, and Independence Bowl. They didn’t play in a bowl in 2015.
Virginia went to a bowl game for the first time in six years last season. Bronco Mendenhall has this program heading in a positive direction. After finding success at BYU, Virginia signed on as the new Cavaliers’ head coach in 2016. They went 2-10 in his first season, 6-7 last season, and now they’re 7-5 with one more game pending.
Virginia were an embarrassment for several years before Mendenhall arrived on campus. If he keeps this program heading in the right direction, it’s likely he starts to attract schools with bigger pockets to spend on his services. The story of the Belk Bowl has been the absentees for South Carolina. We’ll see if they can overcome the losses against Virginia on Saturday. Get our free South Carolina vs. Virginia pick in the Belk Bowl below.
South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Virginia Cavaliers Belk Bowl Betting Odds:
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South Carolina vs. Virginia Pick:
South Carolina will be down star-studded wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Jake Bentley’s favorite target bowed out of this game in preparation of the NFL Draft. Samuel is projected as one of the first receivers off the board, so it makes sense for him not to risk injury for the Belk Bowl. Also out for the Gamecocks is defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and cornerback Keisean Nixon. All three are starters and will have to be replaced.
This is a game for Bentley to show that he can be a good quarterback without a wide receiver like Samuel in his arsenal. He’s had the benefit of playing with Samuel this season and flourished late in the year. Bentley threw 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions through the final three weeks. Overall on the season, he’s recorded 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The Cavaliers have the horses to neutralize Bentley, though. Virginia, before their downturn following the 2011 season, were a team with one of the better defenses in the nation. Mendenhall has gotten the Virginia program back to having a solid defense in only two years. The Cavaliers are 14th in the FBS, allowing just 180 yards per game through the air. They’ve also given up 157.1 yards per game on the ground.
South Carolina are 66th against the pass and 94th against the run. They’ve given up just under 200 yards per game on the ground. Virginia will throw dual-threat Bryce Perkins at South Carolina. He doesn’t get much recognition, but he’s been playing well and nearly had his team going into bowl season with 9 wins. Virginia brought Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech to overtime in the final two games of the regular season, but ultimately got edged out by 3 points.
Perkins has thrown 22 touchdowns and 9 interceptions for a more than respectable season through the air. What could really bother South Carolina in this game is his legs, though. The Gamecocks are struggling against the run and Perkins is heading into Saturday with 842 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns on the ground. It doesn’t help that a senior cornerback will be absent for SC as well. Virginia should be the more motivated team her. Mendenhall hasn’t won a bowl at Virginia and the program hasn’t won a bowl since 2005. The points with UVA looks like the best option in the Belk Bowl on Saturday afternoon.