For the third straight season, a team coached by Will Muschamp ended up in the Birmingham Bowl, but this will be the first time Muschamp has been around in late December to coach in it. Muschamp's South Carolina team finished the season 6-6 to earn a bid to Birmingham and will face the USF Bulls, which finished 10-2 in the American Athletic Conference, second in their division.
Date: Thursday, Dec. 29
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Location: Legion Field -- Birmingham, Alabama
South Carolina: The Gamecocks just want to finish the season on a high note and wash the taste of the 56-7 loss to Clemson out of their mouths. Quarterback Jake Bentley is the signal-caller of the present and future for the Gamecocks, and while they finished the season 120th in scoring offense, South Carolina was an improved offense under Bentley.
The Gamecocks scored 30-plus three times in six games with Bentley at the helm after not scoring more than 20 in the first six. Against USF, there will be opportunities to score points as the Bulls were 86th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 31 points per game. It will be important to take advantage of those opportunities and score points because the Bulls are one of the nation's best offenses, averaging 43.6 points per game (7th in the nation) and the Gamecocks will need to keep up to stay in this game.
USF: The Bulls are a 10.5-point favorite over South Carolina for a reason. Mostly because of their high-powered offense led by quarterback Quinton Flowers, who had 3,976 total yards (2,551 passing and 1,425 rushing) and 37 touchdowns. The South Carolina defense was solid against the pass this season but struggled against the run, which is a bad combination for going up against the nation's fifth best rushing offense.
For Flowers in particular, he can look at the success Deshaun Watson had against the Gamecocks on the ground in the season finale -- rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns -- as a good omen for what he can produce with his legs. South Florida's offense should be able to run on the Gamecocks. The key will be on the other side of the ball and whether the Bulls defense can keep the Gamecocks out of the end zone enough to cover the big spread.
Players to watch
Rico Dowdle, RB, South Carolina: The freshman running back came on late in the season along with Bentley, only appearing in the final eight games, but still finished as South Carolina's leading rusher. In the Gamecocks' final three wins, Dowdle had at least 21 carries and 127 yards on the ground. In USF's two losses this season, they allowed a combined 797 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground to Florida State and Temple. For the Gamecocks to pull off the upset in this game, Dowdle will have to have a massive game, but the precedent for it is there -- albeit by far superior offenses.
Marlon Mack, RB, USF: Mack averaged 7.1 yards per carry this season on 161 carries and will be going up against the nation's 89th ranked defense (202.8 ypg allowed). Mack has big play ability on every carry and with South Carolina's struggles with tackling in the second level, don't be surprised to see him get loose for a few big gains against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina's offense did improve at the end of the year, but I don't think it will be enough to keep pace with the USF offense, even though the Bulls' defense has been suspect at times this season. The Bulls rushing attack is too good and South Carolina's tackling at the second level is a big concern. I expect over the course of the game the Gamecocks' defense will start to fade under the pressure of USF's rushing attack and the Bulls will pull away for a convincing win and a cover. Pick: USF -10.5