Five fearless predictions for Saturday’s Belk Bowl, South Carolina vs. Virginia, at Bank of America Stadium:
1. Gamecocks’ offense still works without WR Deebo Samuel
Expecting South Carolina’s offense to run flawlessly without star receiver Deebo Samuel just isn’t realistic. Samuel, a 6-foot, 210-pound speedster, has been one of college football’s most dangerous players this season. But his absence, as he prepares for the NFL draft, also isn’t necessarily a death sentence for the Gamecocks. Bryan Edwards, USC’s No. 2 receiver, said Friday he’s already heard all the concerns about Samuel missing the game, but that he and South Carolina’s other receivers are ready to prove it’s not a one-man show. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Edwards especially will get the opportunity to prove what he can do as a defense’s primary point of emphasis. He will have at least 75 yards receiving and a touchdown. Watch him if the Gamecocks get into the red zone.
2. Bryce Perkins scores a passing and rushing touchdown
Perkins has been Virginia’s do-everything guy at quarterback this season, accounting for 22 passing touchdowns and nine others rushing. Factor in his 3,300 yards of total offense, including more than 800 yards on the ground, and the Cavaliers’ offense only goes as far as the junior college transfer takes it. Given the multitude of injuries across South Carolina’s offense, expect Perkins to do his damage on the ground and through the air. He’s had six games this season with both a passing and rushing touchdown, and while he figures to account for more than two of Virginia’s scores on Saturday, he’ll need at least that if the Cavs have a chance at winning.
3. Virginia secondary gets at least one interception
Even playing an intimidating slate of SEC games, Edwards said Virginia’s secondary was one of the two best South Carolina will face all season. That’s true, if they’re not the best. Between 6-1 cornerback Bryce Hall, who led the nation with 20 pass breakups, and senior safety Juan Thornhill, who had five interceptions this season, the back end of the Cavaliers’ defense is teeming with NFL talent. South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has thrown at least one pick in eight of 11 games this year, and has thrown three in his past two games. And that was with his best receiver playing. Advantage Virginia.
4. QB Jake Bentley gets the school record
In just his second season as South Carolina’s full-time starter at quarterback, Bentley is inserting himself into the school’s record books. His 27 touchdowns this season are second-most in a season by a Gamecocks quarterback, and two touchdowns against Virginia would give him a share of the all-time record. After struggling to begin the year, Bentley has tossed at least two touchdowns in six of his team’s final seven games, including five against College Football Playoff participant Clemson two games ago. Bentley won’t be perfect against an imposing Virginia secondary, but he will have at least two passing touchdowns given his team’s dependence on him... and with that, a share of his school’s all-time record.
5. Not another shoot-out in Charlotte
Last season’s Belk Bowl, which pitted an upstart Wake Forest team against a Texas A&M group in transition, resulted in the fourth-highest scoring bowl game in college football history. Wake Forest eventually edged the Aggies 55-52, but both schools accumulated more than 600 yards of total offense and set countless records. Don’t expect that this time around, as neither defense is as porous as Wake and A&M were. This should be another close affair, but given Virginia’s daunting defense and South Carolina’s sometimes-electric offense, a much lower-scoring one. It wouldn’t be a surprise if these teams fell short of the over-under (54), and in close matches, favor the team with the turnover edge.
Prediction: Virginia 28, South Carolina 24